MADISON - It's not surprising when Wisconsin head football coach Bret Bielema gets asked a question about his football program when he's in a public arena.
It is, however, a little surprising when people start asking him about Bo Ryan's basketball program. That doesn't mean the sixth-year head coach doesn't have an answer to the question, though.
"They play football out there," Bielema said. "A guy grabbed me last week and he goes, 'How come Wisconsin football and basketball are so similar?' I go, it's because they're all Wisconsin kids."
While that's not entirely true, at least for basketball purposes, Bielema has a point. Bo Ryan typically recruits guys that are willing to do all the little things needed to be successful on the hardwood. Guys have to be coachable, they have to be disciplined, they have to be willing to work hard and they have to be smart, intelligible individuals.
Just as Bielema recruits for the gridiron, Ryan goes after guys with a bit of a mean streak about them. That grittiness is a staple of Wisconsin sports.
"Mike Bruesewitz is a great competitor," Ryan said. "They come in all shapes and sizes I guess. Jordan Taylor is a pretty determined guy, too. Between Jordan and Bruesewitz we don't lack for guys who are afraid to stick their faces in. Those two will battle with anybody at any time.
"Jordan's steal at the end, keeping the ball from Curtis Kelly, was probably one of the best defensive plays of the year for us."
Getting back to Bielema's point about Wisconsin guys, he has some credibility because players such as Josh Gasser, Tim Jarmusz, Keaton Nankivil and his black eye and even Brett Valentyn or Wquinton Smith are constantly getting after it whenever they're on the court.
"Josh isn't afraid to stick his nose in there," Ryan said. "We have other guys, too, like Tim Jarmusz. Some guys are just a little more aggressive than others and play with a bit of an edge. I don't want to rank them, but I think it's pretty obvious when people watch us play.
"There are guys that are maybe a little more physical than others. Those kind of guys can usually find time on the court for me."
A CONFIDENT CREW:
Whatever happened between UW's disappointing, if not embarrassing, loss against Penn State in the Big Ten tournament and this past weekend, it sure jump started this team. Even during its first game with Belmont it was obvious UW was coming into this tournament with a different type of tenacity and focus that was sorely lacking against the Nittany Lions inside Conseco Fieldhouse.
With giant-killer Butler next on the docket, Wisconsin looks to be headed toward the 'Big Easy' with a confidence riddled shot in the arm.
"I think they came into the season with the idea that they didn't worry too much about the fact that people weren't talking about them too much," Ryan said. "I don't recruit guys that worry about what other people say. It's a lot of fun coaching those kind of guys. They just wanted to be a good team. How corny is that? They just wanted to work hard and be a good team and continue the tradition of getting to the tournament and competing for the Big Ten.
"It might sound like one big cliché, but these guys were bound and determined to do something. And they have."
NOT CHANGING A THING:
When a team advances out of the first weekend unscathed and enters into the national spotlight that is the Sweet 16, certain things tend to change. Teams get more attention, the pressure is more noticeable, stadiums are different (sometimes monstrous) and the competition tends to increase.
But for a veteran team that has plenty of tournament experience, even if it hasn't been to this stage in three years, nothing needs to be changed during the few short days of preparation in front of the game.
"I think New Orleans temperature is going to be the same as it was in Tucson," Ryan said. "I'm just going to warn them about staying away from the foods that are too spicy. But you know what goes on between those lines on the court is not going to change. They have to stay focused on the task and I'm sure they will.
There is one difference, though, and it's kind of glaring. Last week Wisconsin had all week to lock in on basketball because it was UW's annual spring break week. There were no classes to be had so everything circled around basketball.
This week, though it's no different than any other portion of the schedule not called winter break, UW is back into its given routine.
"Last week was all basketball," Ryan said. "But they lifted early this morning and went to class. It's back to the routine we had before, but they can handle that. They're a group of bright young men.
"There won't be anything different."
Bo Ryan on the first weekend of NCAA Tournament play:
"There are teams that you know when you watch play and know that they're better than the way they're playing. Then you look at other teams and you're like, 'Man, they haven't played like that all year.' That is why it's the greatest three weeks of competition in any sport. It's still the greatest because there is so much you can step back and reflect on but know whatever happens you're never that bad or you're never good as what's going to play out when it's one and you're done. It's what makes this game and this time of the year stuff that people can really get excited about."
The following is the audio file from Ryan's presser: