Bo knows when not to change a thing; can Irish slay Goliath?

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Posted: Mar 27, 2015 2:24 AM
Bo knows when not to change a thing; can Irish slay Goliath?

Bo Ryan is no fan of change.

He said so himself answering the question — "What's the most important change your team needs to make here?" — as he left the locker room to start the second half, down by two to North Carolina in Thursday's Sweet 16 matchup.

Wisconsin was shooting just 37 percent, almost 30 points lower than the pass-completion percentage posted last season by that other icon of the Badger state, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was in the stands with girlfriend Olivia Munn in LA.

"Well, we don't need to change here," Ryan practically growled in response to sideline reporter Rachel Nichols. "We just have to play better."

Coaches have been saying that since the dawn of time. Ryan wasn't around then, but he's only changed so much in his 67 years.

He still recruits leftovers, which means his players often stick around four years and learn plenty. His teams still play man-to-man defense and the motion offense he devised back in his days at nearby Wisconsin-Platteville, called the Swing, in which all five positions are interchangeable. It's why 6-foot-11 Frank Kaminsky spends so much time on the perimeter and conversely, why the Badger guards routinely post up inside.

Yet eight minutes into the second half, it was the Tar Heels bossing the game. They built their biggest lead at 53-46, on the same play that ended with Kaminsky taking an inadvertent slap to the face. The Badgers, meanwhile, were still shooting poorly, hovering around 40 percent.

Then Josh Gasser made a crucial (if questionable) strip to ignite a 6-0 Wisconsin run and backup Zak Showalter did the same while starting another 9-0 surge around the five-minute. The Badgers sewed up the 79-72 win with good (in this case, perfect 8-for-8) free-throw shooting, which along with few turnovers and a decisive rebounding edge, have been hallmarks of Ryan-coached teams. Arizona, their next opponent in a much-anticipated rematch of last season's Elite eight showdown, knows that isn't likely to change, either.

"They've seen the good runs. They've seen the bad runs," Ryan said afterward. "But this group never gets discouraged to the point where they get down on themselves or their teammates, and that's what's fun."

So for all the things Bo knows, panicking early is not among them.

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WAKING UP THE ECHOES: Notre Dame has a long and storied tradition. Just not in basketball — though the Fighting Irish have demonstrated a knack for playing David and knocking off Goliath No. 1 teams. They've done it eight times, including bookend wins that began and ended UCLA's 88-game winning streak in the 1970s. Whether that's worth much against Kentucky in the regional final remains to be seen.

Given the opportunity to summon up just one thing from their past, however, chances are good Notre Dame would choose to repeat its sizzling shooting numbers from Thursday's win over Wichita State. The Irish shot 75 percent for the second half, 56 for the game and 47 from 3-point range for the game. The Shockers took their only lead of the game with 16:37 to go, then got buried under an avalanche. Or as Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall put it: "I've never seen a 1-point lead get out of hand so quickly."

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THROW THE BOOK OUT: West Virginia's Bob Huggins isn't just another sideline model-coach in a windbreaker. He's also an author. The smart money opined the best way to beat Kentucky — if one even exists — could be relentless defensive pressure all over the floor. And as it happens, Huggins has cranked out two books on that very subject. Asked about them a day before the game in Cleveland, he conceded, "That was a long time ago; honestly, I don't remember what I wrote."

The still-perfect Wildcats apparently haven't read it, either. They shredded the Mountaineers' press time and again en route to a 78-39 snoozer.

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IT'S BETTER IN THE BAHAMAS: Or so the advertising slogan goes. But pals and fellow Bahamians Tum Tum Nairn of Michigan State and Buddy Hield of Oklahoma will stage their reunion Friday in much-colder Syracuse, NY. Hield is one of those guys who thinks defense is the break between his last shot and his next one, but he made enough this season to lead the Big 12 in scoring. He met Nairn at a Kansas prep school, where their one-on-one marathon duels in almost everything — sprints, drills, weightlifting — were legendary.

"Whoever finally lost would be mad," Hield told the Lansing State Journal recently. "Real mad."

Maybe he hasn't met Spartans coach Tom Izzo yet.