The Wisconsin Men’s Basketball team has never been short on quality players since Bo Ryan arrived on the scene in 2001 and Greg Gard took over in late 2015. The program has prided itself on having guys that could come in and stretch the defense with their outside shooting, but also have the ability to play with their back to the basket. The inverted philosophy of the “Swing Offense”, and variations since, have seen many a Badger guard post up a less than comfortable opponent on the low block.
The beauty of the way both Ryan and Gard recruit is that offensive positions are essentially interchangeable. A player like Bronson Koenig can be on the court at the same time as Traevon Jackson and both could play either guard position. We have seen that the last few years with D’Mitrick Trice and Brad Davison and will see the same thing down the road with Lorne Bowman and Chucky Hepburn.
Ranking the Top 5 Shooting Guards since 2001 was certainly not a simple task. In fact, I had many sleepless nights manipulating the order I saw fit. Is it fair to only look at stats? How much do you factor in team success? How would placing a player on a different team look for them? I was able to whittle the list down to seven players I thought were deserving. Here goes nothing:
Honorable Mention – The players that did not make my Top 5 were Brevin Pritzl and Zak Showalter. Pritzl had an excellent senior season, especially down the stretch, but lacked the overall consistency that players on the list had. Showalter was the most difficult omission in my Top 5. His career stats are not off the chart as he averaged 5.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game, but I appreciate winners and Showalter was absolutely that. He was an integral part of two Sweet 16 teams and one Final Four team and was an All-B1G Defensive team player in the 2016-2017 season. Leaving him off either shows how good the shooting guards have been recently, or how little I know about Wisconsin Basketball.
#5 – Michael Flowers –
Watching Michael Flowers on the defensive end was an absolute thing of beauty. The only other recent guard that is in the conversation with him at that end of the court is Mike Kelley. Flowers could absolutely shut down an opponent and was awarded All-B1G defensive honors in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008. The reason he is not higher on the list is that his offensive production does not come close to what he did on defense. Of all the players on the list, Flowers has the lowest field goal, three point and free throw percentages. This isn’t to say that he didn’t have some big time plays on the offensive end. There are a ton of games when you look back and can remember where you were and what you were doing at the time they happened — Brian Butch bank shot vs. Indiana, Freddie Owens corner three vs. Tulsa in the NCAA tournament, Bronson Koenig corner three vs. Xavier in the NCAA tournament (which I still hold a grudge with my wife about, but that is a different story for a different day). Flowers gave us one of those moments in 2007 in an away game against the #9 Texas Longhorns when he nailed a three pointer and stole the inbounds pass to secure a 67-66 win for the Badgers…affectionately referred to as the “Bo Ryan is Thief” game (thanks Jay Bilas). Flowers would have been higher on the list had he given the Badgers more moments on the offensive end like this. But man could he put the clamps on an opponent on defense.
#4 – Jason Bohannon –
The young man from Iowa had an excellent career at Wisconsin, averaging 8.7 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Bohannon was an absolute minutes eater, leading the team in minutes played in his junior and senior years as a starter. His sophomore year saw him earn the B1G 6th Man of the Year award as the top player in the conference off the bench. Earlier I mentioned that I like winners, and Bohannon checks that box as well. Teams he played on won a B1G Regular Season Championship, a B1G Post-Season Championship and he was on the roster for 105 overall wins in four years. The biggest black eye on Bohannon’s resume is lack of post-season success. He only had one Sweet 16 appearance while in a Badger uniform. Still, he was the model of consistency in his four years at Wisconsin and very deserving of this spot in the rankings.
#3 – Ben Brust –
You knew that Ben Brust was going to be a great Wisconsin Badger as he learned from his mistakes even before stepping foot on campus. Brust originally committed to the University of Iowa. Some will say that a coaching change was the reason he didn’t land in Iowa City, but I prefer to believe that he simply woke up and realized who in their right mind wants to spend four years in Iowa City… Ben Brust had a solid overall career at Wisconsin, but was an absolute force his junior and senior years where he averaged 12.8 and 11.1 points respectively. Brust was a big part of a Sweet 16 team and a Final Four team at Wisconsin and is the second all-time leader in three pointers made for the Badgers (Koenig passed him for the all-time spot a few years ago). Brust also had one of those moments that I spoke of earlier when his half-court heave against #3 Michigan in 2013 forced overtime and led to a Badgers upset victory over the Wolverines. Where was I when that happened? Watching the game from the comfort of my couch holding my two-month old daughter. I only have one son out of my four kids who will watch games with me because I have a tendency to yell and celebrate a lot. It took everything in my power not to wake my precious daughter that day. Anyone who knows what taking care of a newborn entails will appreciate my self-control.
#2 – Kirk Penney –
The decision who to place #1 and #2 was the hardest one for me as I compiled my list. This was the case for two reasons. First, Kirk Penney was statistically the best shooting guard Wisconsin has had since 2001 and it’s really not all that close. Second, Penney is my personal all-time favorite Badger. The New Zealander was the total package on offense. He could stroke the ball from outside and was the best post-up guard Bo’s “Swing Offense” ever saw. He averaged 11.4 points per game for his career, but went for 15.1 in his junior year and 16.2 his senior year. Penney was 1st Team All-B1G both of those years. He was a two-time Big Ten Champion and was a member of a Final Four and Sweet 16 team. He came up clutch in NCAA Tournament games scoring 21 vs. Weber State, 20 vs. Kentucky and 19 vs. St. John’s throughout his career. In the Final Four game vs. Michigan State he went for 6, which isn’t a ton, but felt like half the team’s scoring that night. So who in the world could possibly be ahead of him?
#1 – Josh Gasser –
I love winners. I love leaders. I especially love leaders who win and that is Josh Gasser. Gasser did not have gaudy offensive numbers. He averaged a modest 7.3 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game and 1.9 assists per game in his Wisconsin career. He was the perfect complement to the abundance of talent Wisconsin had at the time he was in Madison. Gasser never tried to do too much. It was never all about him and he didn’t care about putting up big time numbers…which I believe he was very capable of doing if that is what would have been required. Gasser made the right pass at the right time, got the big stop on defense when it was needed or snatched an important rebound to secure a possession for the team. The kid came onto campus and started instantly, finishing with 144 starts in his 148 games in the Red and White, overcoming an ACL tear along the way that forced him to redshirt his third year in the program. Gasser had a rare triple double as a Badger and hit a game winning buzzer beater against Michigan his freshman year. He was a three time All-B1G Defensive player and a member of the NCAA All-Region Team in 2015. Gasser helped lead the team to a Big Ten Regular Season and Big Ten Tournament Title as well as being a member of a Sweet 16 team, a Final Four team and a team that played for a National Championship. Josh Gasser may not have been the best player on any of those teams, but he was the heart and soul of what was happening on the court and why I ranked him as the #1 shooting guard in the Bo Ryan/Greg Gard era.
Making a list like this is hard….and a lot of fun!! There are so many different dynamics to what people think make a player successful. The list I made is very subjective, but that is what makes it so interesting. And let’s be honest, right about now, this is all we have to discuss!!