Wisconsin beats Michigan, is amazingly in second in the Big Ten

Four Wisconsin starters scored in double figures, led by Bronson Koenig’s 19 points. (USATSI)

The most recited statistic of the Bo Ryan era at Wisconsin is this: He never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten while coach of the Badgers.

From 2001-2014, Ryan managed to be near or at the top of the league standings. It was an amazing thing to watch fall into place every season. It became so well-known, within league circles, it wasn’t even worth bringing up or writing about any more — even as impressive as the run was.

But Bo’s not there anymore. He abruptly retired in December. Yet here we are, one week away from the end of the 2015-16 regular season, and a Wisconsin team that was at one point 9-9 this season is now 19-10 overall, 11-5 in the league and sitting in second place, only behind Indiana. Interim coach Greg Gard has absolutely coached his way to a permanent post as coach of the Badgers. Wisconsin held its Senior Night on Sunday, and in beating Michigan 68-57, the Badgers moved ever closer to lock status for the Big Dance.

I’m typing these words and I still kind of can’t believe it. This was very much a broken team by mid-January. It’s rallied to the point where Gard should be the coach of the year — and how often do you ever seen an interim guy land that award? Has it ever happened?

The Badgers have six wins against the top 50 of the RPI. They have a top-10 strength of schedule. They have road games remaining at Minnesota and Purdue. Split those and they’re a lock for the tournament.

Michigan remains interesting. It’s 20-10 with victories over Texas, Maryland and Purdue. It still doesn’t have Caris LeVert … and it’s looking like it might not get LeVert back again. The Wolverines’ record is one game better than Wisconsin’s, but it doesn’t have the wins. John Beilein’s team can become a lock if it can win its season finale against Iowa next weekend.

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