MADISON -- Junior point guard Jordan Taylor had some simple advice for NCAA tournament viewers and college basketball fans who thought that Wisconsin's deliberate and methodical style wasn't very entertaining.
"If we're that boring, change the channel," Taylor said.
No, Wisconsin's offensive attack will never be confused with the Phi Slamma Jamma era at the University of Houston. The Badgers were 190th (tied with North Dakota, Oklahoma State, Texas-Pan American and Navy) in the country with an average of 68.2 points per game and 124th in the country (along with five other teams) with a .445 shooting percentage.
So what makes it possible for a team that scores so few points to be so successful?
"We're one of the most efficient teams in the country, year in, year out, and it's a lot of fun being that, because you give your teams a chance when they go out on the court," head coach Bo Ryan said Monday, as his team prepared to face Butler Thursday in an NCAA tournament regional semifinal.
Wisconsin is No. 2 (behind Ohio State) in offensive efficiency (based upon field goal percentage, turnovers, offensive rebounds and free throws).
After defeating Kansas State, 70-65, Saturday to advance to the Sweet 16, Ryan was asked about his team's style of play and its ability to be successful against the Wildcats who tried to play a more aggressive, up-tempo type of game. Ryan has since denied being irritated by the question, but has spent a lot of time over the years defending his swing offense.
"I just don't understand when people always refer to 'Wisconsin basketball,'" Ryan said. "We score. We'll push. How did we get that three to (Mike) Bruesewitz? We got a turnover, boom, we pushed it to the other end, a wing clears. We're opportunistic.
"I'm sure there's a manual out there that said that if you don't turn the ball over a lot, you get to the free-throw line, you make your free throws, and you work hard on defense, and you take good shots, if you want to call that Wisconsin basketball, amen. That is us."
Finding the right players
The key to the swing is finding the right player. He may not need to be the "type" of player to fit the system but has to be willing to learn. Many of Ryan's best players aren't considered high-profile recruits yet, under his tutelage, their sound fundamentals and coachable personalities lead to victories.
Jon Leuer flew under the radar before averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds during his junior year at Orono (Minn.) Senior High School but that was enough to attract the Badgers' attention and Leuer committed to Wisconsin in the fall of his senior year.
Josh Gassner had a good career at Port Washington High School, earning a spot on the Associated Press All-State first team after averaging 23.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists as a senior. Still, he was first offered an opportunity to walk on at Wisconsin for his first year. With offers on the table from Northwestern, Maryland, Arizona State and St. Louis. Gasser chose Wisconsin when a scholarship became available.
Both players have proven valuable to the Badgers. Leuer is considered one of the best players in the Big Ten and found himself on the watch lists for several national awards.
Gasser, just a freshman, started 29 games and averaged 5.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists, including 11 in the 70-65 victory over Kansas State Saturday.
"We pride ourselves on hard work and getting better," Leuer said. "I think guys have proven that over their careers, that maybe they might not commune in highly touted as freshman but they keep working and just getting better they can prove themselves as some of the best players in the country."
Of course, in basketball, it all starts with the point guard and the Badgers have one of the best in Taylor. A 6-foot-1, 195-pound former Minnesota Mr. Basketball, Taylor is averaging 18 points and 4.8 assists this season and is one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Award -- given to the nation's top collegiate point guard.
His ability to score -- especially from beyond the arc, where he has 57 three-pointers this season -- isn't as impressive as his ability to create for others when his shot isn't falling, which was the case in the Kansas State game. (2 of 16 shooting). He dished out six assists in the game and made it to the free throw line six times, converting all of his attempts.
Most importantly, Taylor rarely turns the ball over. He's No. 1 in the country with a 4.18 assist to turnover ratio.
"He just grew on us the more he came around," Ryan said. "Evidently, he must have liked what he saw the first time and then the second, the third and fourth when he would visit unofficially. We made the commitment to a scholarship because we felt he could be a heck of a leader and he certainly hasn't let us down."
Putting Wisconsin on the map
The Badgers' turnaround was well underway when Ryan arrived in Madison 10 years ago. The program was brought back to life in the mid '90s, under Stu Jackson. Wisconsin basketball legend Dick Bennett took things a step further and his 2000 team advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 1941.
Citing burnout, Bennett stepped down early the next season and as the program struggled to move forward under interim coach Brad Soderberg, then-AD Pat Richter knew a change was necessary.
Enter Ryan, who reached the pinnacle of the Division III ranks by leading UW-Platteville to four national championships. He'd moved on to UW-Milwaukee and in two years there, laid the foundation for the program's first NCAA tournament berth and other future success.
Ryan wasted little time at Wisconsin, turning his first team into a surprising Big Ten co-champion -- the first conference title in basketball at Wisconsin since 1947. That title was shared with three other teams but a year later, it was the Badgers alone.
As a Madison native, senior Keaton Nankivil has been witness to the Badgers' turnaround -- before and during the Ryan era.
"This is the brand of basketball I've always known," Nankivil said. "Wisconsin basketball has a reputation, a brand to it. You hear people say things like boring and slow but when you play in this system, you learn to respect quality basketball."
In 10 years, Wisconsin has won three regular season and two conference tournament championships. Ryan's teams have never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten and the Kohl Center, the Badgers' home court, has become an intimidating venue for opponents. Under Ryan, the Badgers are 154-11 at home.
Whether it's a system or not, that's for others to decide. Ryan doesn't take offense to his critics. He just tries to enlighten them.
"There are a lot of people that don't even bother to understand th most important thing about offense is to be efficient," Ryan said. "I never get offended about anything. I just try to educate people who aren't as committed or spend as much time around this game as maybe others do.
"I'm never offended, I just try to educate (about) taking care of the ball and getting good shots. Now if they don't go in, which has happened a couple of times, if you're not hitting good shots or if you're just not making something happen, you deal with that. But you have to give yourself a chance."
And if that doesn't work, they're free to take to Taylor's advice.
"We just know how to win games," Leuer said. There's a lot of other channels on television. If they think it's boring, then watch something else. We're just going to do whatever we have to do to get the job done and move on."