CHICAGO — Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Wisconsin, a men’s basketball team devoid of All-Americas or future NBA stars, defeats a Big Ten team with both.
Going through life underestimated can be fun. Constantly befuddling people with your own abilities can be richly satisfying. The Badgers’ 68-59 victory over sixth-ranked Michigan in the Big Ten tourney quarterfinals Friday afternoon was yet another example of Bo Ryan’s team finding ways to defeat a team that seemingly has superior skills.
But Michigan, a squad that had been ranked No. 1 in the nation in early February, is the team that is 6-6 in its last 12 games. Wisconsin, ranked a more-modest 22nd, is the team that will challenge Indiana in Saturday’s league seminfinals.
CBS surely craved Indiana-Michigan on the heels of the great game those two staged on its network five days ago. Such is life in this tourney, where No. 6 seeds Minnesota and Penn State reached the title game in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
This Wisconsin win was a wonder. The Badgers shot an appalling 5-for-29 from the field in the first half, yet trailed by only 20-17. A showcase for the league, it wasn’t.
But then something remarkable happened. Wisconsin scored 51 points in the second half and won, 68-59. Frank Kaminsky, a 6-foot-11 sophomore from a Chicago suburb, took shots fearlessly and made them as starting center Jared Berggren watched from the bench.
“Frank was loose, Frank was into it,” Ryan said. “He had that look in his eye. Frankie was doing just fine.”
Frankie Kaminsky, getting it done for a team from Wisconsin. Perfect.
After the game, someone asked Ryan how his teams are able to compete so well against the clubs with the four-star and five-star recruits. It was probably the thousandth time he’s been asked a variation of that question in his 12 seasons as the Badgers’ coach. Twelve seasons that have produced a 144-60 record in Big Ten regular-season games, an upcoming 12th NCAA tourney berth, and never a seed of lower than fourth in this tournament.
Ryan said he takes little stars and “I put four or five on each locker.”
“‘Hey, you’re a 5-star guy!’
“It’s what that star shines like at the end of your career. It’s about us, not individuals. But individuals can thrive. I’ve got good players who are much better as the result of playing together.”
Ryan is the 2013 Big Ten “Coach of the Year.” He was the head coach at Wisconsin-Platteville for 15 years, where he won four NCAA Division III national championships. He is 65, and he just keeps putting teams on the floor that don’t look like all that much. Then you look up and they’ve won at Indiana, they’ve beaten Ohio State by 22 points, they’ve beaten Michigan twice, they’re in the league tourney semifinals, they’ll have another high seed in the NCAAs.
I told you to stop me if you’d heard this one before.
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