MADISON - There's a reason there were four stars next to the names of Jason Bohannon, Trevon Hughes, Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil when they gave their verbal commitments to play for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team.
While all four were known for either their ability to shoot from the perimeter and handle the basketball or be physical and rebound in the post, all were lauded from their high school to their AAU coaches about their work ethic and how it can be molded within the Wisconsin system.
What UW coach Bo Ryan and his staff have done is mold the blue-collared athletes into one of the Badgers best defensive teams, comparable to the 2006 Sweet Sixteen squad that led the nation in defense.
"We haven't changed anything," Bohannon said Sunday. "You can compare all the teams and every team does the same thing. "We don't change our rules, and guys just buy into what coach says. Anytime you have a team that buys into what coach says and does the thing he wants, you are bound to be successful."
The success for No.11 Wisconsin (18-5, 8-3 Big Ten) has come from its defense. When the Badgers host Illinois (16-8, 8-3) Tuesday night at the Kohl Center, Wisconsin will once again showcase a stingy defense that is allowing opponents to score only 56.2 points per game, fifth best in the country.
Saturday against Michigan, the Badgers held their 11th opponent under 50 points, tops in the nation. Michigan's 44 points were a season low, eclipsing its previous low of 48 in the first meeting with UW.
"It's all about the discipline and focus," Ryan said. "If you have guys that are not in tune with precision, guys that (defense) doesn't mean as much to them. This group, it's like a lot of teams that we've had, they're committed. They understand that it is a group thing, and our best defense is when we play 5-vs-5."
It's also about playing smart. Through 23 games, Wisconsin has turned the ball over just 214 times, a turnover ratio of 9.3 per game that is best in the nation. The Badgers are also tied for eighth in the nation with a 1.41 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"As many years as I have been involved with the game, if you take care of the ball, you tend to not give up as many easy baskets, because there are strength in numbers," Ryan said. "If you are taking good shots, decent shots and taking care of the ball tends to help you defensively and this group understands that.
"I just think these guys care, a lot, about not letting people do what they want to do easily."
Illinois is averaging 74.2 points per game and is 3-1 when it scores under 60 points this season.
Hughes in mix for Cousy Award
Before heading out to Ann Arbor for the weekend, senior guard Trevon Hughes got the good news from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame that he is one of 11 finalists in consideration for the 2010 Bob Cousy Award, an annual award given to college basketball's top point guard.
Named after Hall of Famer and former Boston Celtic great Bob Cousy, an original list of 73 candidates made up of players from Division I, II and III schools was trimmed by a Hall of Fame appointed, nationally based committee to 20 and has now narrowed that list to a final 11.
"It's always special to be associated with that," Ryan said. "The fact that Cousy is still around and still with the game …that's pretty good stuff for Trevon to be in it as they keep whittling it down."
Hughes leads the Badgers and ranks ninth in the Big Ten averaging 15.5 points per game. The Queens, N.Y. native also leads UW in steals (36), ranks second in assists (69) and third in rebounds (109).
Against Michigan, Hughes scored 14 points, his 58th game in double digits and his 18th of the season.
Like many outstanding basketball players of that time, Ryan was able to watch the former Holy Cross star on the weekends when he would go watch the Philadelphia Warriors get frustrated by Cousy's abilities in the mid 1950s.
"He was beating my Philadelphia team," Ryan said. "I was mature enough at an early age to if somebody is beating you, find out why and if there was something to learn from that. I learned a lot from watching Bob Cousy beat on my Philadelphia teams that I tried to put to use when I played."
Former UW point guard Devin Harris was the runner-up for the Bob Cousy Award in 2004, and Ryan still gets a chance to visit 81-year-old ambassador every year at the Final Four banquet.
"He was great with my dad," Ryan said. "Of course, my dad brought up stories Cousy long forgot about, because my dad new a couple of players on the Warriors. Finally I had to say, ‘Dad, let's go. The luncheon has been over for an hour.' But Cousy didn't seem to want to leave."