MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor provided the most memorable quip so far to sum up the biggest criticism the Badgers get every March in coach Bo Ryan's swing offense.
"If people think we're boring, there's a lot of channels on TV they can watch," Taylor said after Wisconsin's 70-65 win over Kansas State on Saturday.
The Badgers may not be "must-see TV" to their detractors, but the gritty victory over the Wildcats was a strong statement of their belief in Ryan's tutelage.
"Our team personifies what he's all about. We all understand his system and what he's trying to preach since Day 1. We've bought into that," forward Jon Leuer said Monday. "Our team as a whole resembles his character and the character of the team."
The Badgers have been in the NCAA tournament each of the past 13 years. This year, they're back in the round of 16 for the first time since 2008 and the fourth in Ryan's 10 years in Madison.
Wisconsin (25-8) faces Butler (25-9) in New Orleans on Thursday with the winner playing either BYU or Florida on Saturday for a Final Four berth.
Wisconsin has dynamic playmakers in Taylor and Leuer. Role players Keaton Nankivil, Mike Bruesewitz, Tim Jarmusz and freshman Josh Gasser have all come up big, too, in the evolving offense.
Ryan says he doesn't get offended when the swing is picked apart, but there's a time when the coach gets tired of questions about the offensive style.
"I just don't understand when people always refer to 'Wisconsin basketball.' We score. We'll push," Ryan said after the win over the Wildcats. "I'm sure there's a manual out there that says 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."
Add in toughness, something on display this past weekend.
Against Kansas State, Taylor shot 2 of 16 from the field but came up with a key block against Wildcats star Jacob Pullen.
Leuer needed three stitches on his head to close one cut and later got bumped on the head by Bruesewitz when celebrating. Nankivil said he needed "five or six" stitches after an inadvertent elbow. Bruesewitz is still wearing a bulky brace after spraining his right knee three games ago.
"They always say that a team is kind of a reflection of the coach," said Nankivil, still sporting a big black eye. "As much as it's Xs and Os, it's the toughness, the intangibles. Physically what people ended up seeing in that game, that kind of stuff goes on all the time.
"He just encourages us to fight through it and get the job done. When you can see it in terms of blood or whatever it might be, it brings it to the forefront."
Wisconsin is 242-90 under Ryan and has been to the NCAA tournament every year with the swing, advancing to the regional finals once. He won four national championships at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville and spent two years at Wisconsin-Milwaukee before taking over the Badgers.
"There are constants. The constants are good shooting, good cuts, trying to get to the free throw line and if people don't see a lot of high-flying dunks, that's too bad," Ryan said Monday. "I'm still about substance, not flash. I like my players to be that way and it's out of respect for the game. I think the game of basketball is something that needs to be respected and one of the ways it can start is by the way teams play it."
Ryan's swing offense is designed to keep the ball moving from side to side and allows everyone who touches the ball multiple options to either pass or look for an open shot after each screen and cut.
"There are teams out there that for 40 years ran what was called motion offense. And people never went, 'Oh my god, the motion offense, that's terrible or that's this or that's that. What is motion offense?'" Ryan said. "We don't get offended, we laugh when people think the swing is just an up screen and a back screen. But that's OK. If people are guessing, that's to our benefit."
The Badgers' patience pressures defenders to stay fundamentally sound deep in the shot clock and Taylor's ability to improvise allows him to slash to the rim or look for Leuer or others for jumpers.
Since all the Badgers are capable of making open 3-pointers, defenders must decide whether to collapse on Taylor or take their chances that he'll make a wrong decision. It rarely happens — Taylor has the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the nation.
And the cries from rival programs that the swing hinders players' development or keeps them from getting early looks from NBA scouts? Don't buy it when it comes to Taylor.
"He certainly has never been retarded in his development in playing what we play," Ryan said. "There's always people that want to keep certain people down. And that's OK. But we just keep playing."