Photo: Kansas City Star
KANSAS CITY -- Seated at courtside, Marv Albert and Steve Kerr greeted Bo Ryan near the end of Wisconsin's practice here Thursday at the Sprint Center. Upon shaking Albert's hand, Ryan cracked, "I've got a son who does you better than you.''
Matt Ryan has been known to impersonate the voices of Albert and Bill Walton, among other sports celebrities. The younger Ryan, who once worked on his dad's staff in Madison, is now living in California and giving private basketball lessons to youngsters.
Albert and Kerr will be on the call of Wisconsin's opening game in the NCAA tournament Friday against Ole Miss for truTV. To this end, Kerr already has a book on the Badgers from having watched them last weekend against Indiana and Ohio State in Chicago while broadcasting for CBS.
"They're just unflappable,'' said Kerr, 47, the owner of five NBA championships, three with the Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. "They're not always going to make shots but they're going to take care of the ball and they're going to run their stuff.''
Kerr has an appreciation for good defense because he was so good on offense; he's the NBA's all-time percentage leader (.454) in 3-point shooting. At that, opponents are shooting just 29 percent from beyond the 3-point arc against the Badgers, a school record.
That figure was even lower in the Big Ten tournament, where Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State converted on only 9-of-46 attempts (19.6). Wisconsin is giving up 3.9 triples per game, the fewest among all BCS conference teams and the sixth-fewest overall in Division I.
"They're going to fight you on every possession,'' Kerr said. "They're a nightmare to play against because they don't give you anything easy. You have to earn every basket.''
Jared Berggren, the Big Ten leader in blocks per game (2.1) and UW's career leader (141), has played his way onto Kerr's radar. "I'm so impressed with what they do on defense particularly on the interior,'' he said. "Berggren is an amazing defender.''
Kern has a pretty discerning eye, too, considering he's the former general manager of the Phoenix Suns. "You don't really see it until you watch him closely,'' he said. "He's obviously a good shot blocker, but I'm talking about his positioning defensively.''
On ball swings, Kerr pointed to Berggren's ability to "find a way to get around his man and beat him to the spot'' along with "cutting off driving angles for guards.'' How is Berggren viewed by NBA scouts? Does he have a future at the next level?
"People love his defense,'' Kerr said. "But the key is that he would have to be a floor-spacing, 3-point shooter, which he has shown he can be. But he has been very inconsistent.''
As a junior, Berggren shot 37 percent from 3-point distance. But his numbers have dropped off dramatically this season to 26 percent. In the Big Ten, he was 8-of-48 (.167).
"You always have to find a place offensively on the floor in the NBA otherwise it becomes a four-on-five game,'' Kerr reasoned. "But he's big, he's a smart player. He can do some things. But if he could perfect that outside shot it changes everything.''
Bo knows defense, Kerr knows guards. That's why he had nothing but praise for the transition that Traevon Jackson has made to point guard, especially in Ryan's system.
Beyond the loss of Joss Gasser, he said, "What a tough role to fill Jordan Taylor's shoes.''
On top of that, Kerr noted that Jackson had to learn how to play the point "for a demanding coach who demands ball security.'' Based on his Chicago effort, he added, "I thought his play last weekend was one of the reasons why they had such a good run.''
When quizzed on the steady growth of UW freshman Sam Dekker, there was a twinkle in Kerr's eyes when he said, "He's got a little Doug McDermott to his game.''
McDermott, a 6-foot-7 junior wing, is the All-American for Creighton.
"He (Dekker) has that kind of potential, size, shooting touch and toughness,'' said Kerr. "I think he has just scratched the surface. He's going to be a big-time player.''
Dekker has been explosive in the open floor when the situation has presented itself. "If there's an opening,'' said Kerr, "they will run down and shoot a 3.''
But where the Badgers can frustrate an opponent is in the half-court. "No matter how hard you guard,'' Kerr said, "they're going to work even harder to get a good shot.''
How will Friday's game here unfold? "Even though they're playing well,'' he said of the Rebels, "I like the matchup for Wisconsin because I think they can control the pace and tempo and frustrate Ole Miss by making them guard for the whole clock.''
Still, he cautioned, "In the end, you have to make shots -- all the usual things.''
This has been an unusual season in college basketball because of parity, which led Kerr to conclude, "I think Wisconsin could make the Final Four." (He paused.) "I think they could also lose in their first game. You could say a lot of teams are in that situation.''