By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Nov 06, 2013 at 1:02 PM Photography: David Bernacchi

Bo Ryan is celebrating his third decade of coaching the college level, and 13th at the University of Wisconsin. He’s won 72 percent of his games in Madison overall, and 70 percent of the games he’s coached against the Big Ten. He has five conference championships and 12 NCAA tournament appearances under his belt.

His rosters change, but Ryan remains the same. Success can be found in consistency.

"Really, does it really matter who Bo has," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo joked at Big Ten media day on Oct. 31. "Face it, they're going to win 25 games either way."

The Badgers do indeed win, especially at the Kohl Center. That can’t be disputed. But the 2005 Elite Eight appearance is quickly disappearing into the rear view. Three Sweet 16 appearances since then have been nice, the four second round appearances, OK.

Can this young Badgers team, a roster that includes six freshmen and two eligible sophomores (former walk-on Zak Showalter is redshirting this season) and just two seniors, prove that new blood can win bigger?

Some in the Big Ten think so.

"Wisconsin, I think, is going to take another step up even though they lost some key people," Izzo said.

It might be difficult with St. John’s, Florida, Horizon League favorite UW-Green Bay, St. Louis, Virginia and Marquette on the non-conference schedule.

"If it's not the youngest team we've ever had since I've been there, it's close," Ryan said at Big Ten media day on Oct. 31. "We're trying to get old in a hurry. We will play a lot of teams that are used to winning, teams that are used to being on the left-hand side when the score comes out. So you hope that … I’ve always been big on preparing for whatever conference, whatever league I'm coaching in, and get ready for the Big Ten. So I'm sure that the opponents that we're playing non-conference will give us the test that we need, and how we respond to them, we'll see."

The Badgers will likely field a starting quintet of senior Ben Brust, juniors Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky, sophomore Sam Dekker and freshman Nigel Hayes.

But, Sam Gasser could be worked in for a smaller lineup. The sophomore is back after missing all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He established himself as a capable point guard his freshman year, but Jackson assumed that role last season.

Gasser’s return now gives Ryan some options in his backcourt, even though the coach admitted his guard is still gaining confidence in the knee.

"Right now I'm using Josh more as a wing, but still also as the point, because he has the leadership ability and the capability of being a good ball handler," Ryan said of Gasser. "He looks like he's ready.
I think Trae getting that experience at handling the ball and running the team a little bit, I think that's going to help us going into this year, because our front line will be so young."

One of those front line players is Dekker, one of the more hyped recruits to land in Madison in years, who scored in double figures in 20 of his 35 games and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten and Big Ten All-Freshman team pick last year.

If his play in the Badgers’ Canadian exhibition tour (19.4 points, 8.2 rebounds per game) is any indication of the progress he’s made over the offseason, it could mean the Badgers finally have an impact individual who can take over games when things break down.

"Just like every other player, he's learned a lot," Ryan said at the Badgers media day in mid-October. "He's in the process of really tinkering with being pretty special. And it's going to be on him how far he wants to take it".

Then there is Hayes, a 6-7 freshman out of Toledo, Ohio. He saw his first action in an exhibition with UW-Platteville, going 4-for-7 from the field and pulling down six rebounds in just 14 minutes.

"When you look at the stats and say, wow, for that number of minutes to get that many rebounds, I don’t care if you’re playing a team of three seven-footers or a team of six-five to six-eight guys, he positioned himself well," Ryan said after the game on Oct. 30. "He’s strong and he finished. A couple times early on he was just a little tight, and that’s what happens sometimes with a guy that’s used to starting in high school and playing right away, and then has to come in off the bench. It’s something you have to learn.

"He showed that he’s here for a reason, and he’s not going away anytime soon."

For the Ryan and the Badgers, they have to hope that’s the case for all of the youngsters.

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.