Greg Gard and the Wisconsin men’s basketball program followed up a regular season Big Ten championship in 2021-22 by missing the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in the last 25 years.
This outcome might be more concerning if expectations had been higher entering the season — but results are results, and missing the dance won’t be tolerated at UW in back-to-back seasons. Chris McIntosh expects Wisconsin to compete for Big Ten titles — he’s set a precedent.
Gardo wasn’t coaching for his job last season; that would have been irresponsible and laughably premature, especially considering the contract extension he just earned. However, he’ll need to right the ship heading into 2023-24, or his seat could quickly start heating up.
Knowing the importance of this particular offseason, I will conduct an exercise — where I map out what I would do If I were Greg Gard or, in the future, [insert coach here].
*I will preface what’s next by saying it’s much easier to make these declarations when my decision-making has no ramifications and doesn’t affect personal relationships.
Unlike the men and women who work for the Wisconsin basketball program, my life isn’t affected by how many games the team wins or loses in any given year.
Have tough conversations to clear up roster space + regain scholarships
There was plenty of evidence of player development under Greg Gard last season. Look no further than Connor Essegian, Kamari McGee (albeit a slow burn), Carter Gilmore, and Isaac Lindsey. You could easily argue that Steven Crowl, Max Klesmit, and Chucky Hepburn took steps forward too.
That said, an overall lack of depth and talent held Wisconsin men’s basketball back last season. Credit to Gardo for squeezing the most juice from the group he had — but you can only give so much when it’s the roster you built.
I know that’s not entirely fair because of extenuating circumstances (Johhny Davis going pro early, Carlson/Mors/Bowman transferring, etc.). Still, it’s the reality of college basketball, and you can either adapt or die.
So, how do you start to fix a program with depth issues and multiple players holding scholarships that might not be Power 5 talents? Tough conversations.
Step into my office…I’d like to have a word…
Although he has potentially two years of eligibility remaining, Jahcobi Neath was a miss in the transfer portal, IMO. That’s not because of injuries; I just don’t see his style of play meshing with the returning cast. Perhaps an honest discussion about the lack of minutes available heading into next season could lead to a mutual parting of ways.
Second, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Isaac Lindsey in the short stints we’ve seen him, but unless you’re unable to fill his year-to-year scholarship spot with a better player — that should be a slot Gard looks to fill in the transfer portal (again).
Last but not least, a conversation needs to be had with Chris Hodges. There are myriad reasons he’s behind in his development that don’t need re-hashing, and maybe I’ll eat crow on this one, but I don’t see him panning out. If he can’t even sniff minutes in a season where UW is STARVING for a reserve big man, consider me even more skeptical than I was before.
I’m not typically in favor of recruiting over players — and I doubt UW would. Still, I’d love to see Wisconsin men’s basketball try again at the position with a more established player that can immediately slot into the rotation.
Greg Gard must find Wisconsin men’s basketball a big man at all costs
Greg Gard discovered the hard way this past offseason that Chris Vogt may have been fool’s gold. And by that, I mean 7-footers willing to accept a bench role to play Power 5 basketball don’t grow on trees.
“I think we have to add depth regardless [of internal development],” Gard told UW reporters during the season. “I’m not naïve. We have to get bigger, more experienced, stronger, more athletic, whatever you want to throw out there.”
He wanted to add a big man last off-season and failed. Failure isn’t an option this time, or his seat will continue getting warmer until he finds himself searching the want ads for his next job.
Credit to Carter Gilmore for making strides in his development, particularly on defense, to give Wisconsin men’s basketball sufficient minutes off the bench. But you cannot have a 6-foot-7 tweener off the bench in the Big Ten as your top reserve — it’s a recipe for disaster.
When UW goes portaling, come hell, or high water, he NEEDS to find another true center that can play behind Steven Crowl or a power forward capable of playing the five for prolonged periods if need be. It will also help bridge the gap to the talented incoming duo of Gus Yalden and Nolan Winter.
Land Wisconsin men’s basketball a lanky, floor-spacing wing
I said this all last offseason, and I will repeat it again: Wisconsin men’s basketball needs a wing taller than 6-foot-4 to play the “3” and defend other teams’ small forwards.
UW kicked the tires on several wings but didn’t make any headway. Thankfully Connor Essegian emerged the way he did, or the failure to add one would look even worse, considering Jordan Davis wasn’t consistent enough to warrant starter minutes.
Thankfully, an option with in-state ties played himself out of low-major St. Thomas in Minnesota.
I’m talking about Andrew Rohde, a 6-foot-6 wing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who averaged 17.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.6 assists on 44.8% shooting from the field, 32% from three, and 81.5% from the FT line.
There were rumblings throughout the season that Greg Gard and company would make Rohde a high priority if he was available — and there is no doubt that he would fill an immediate long/short-term need within the Wisconsin men’s basketball program.
He’s a wing with the ideal size to play the “3” that can score the rock and has multiple years of eligibility remaining.
I’d be on the phone with the boosters, ensuring the right amount of NIL money was in place to bring Rohde home at all costs.
Adding someone like Rohde to a guard/wing rotation consisting of Connor Essegian, Max Klesmit, and Jordan Davis would make for a rock-solid group and a near-perfect fit stylistically.
Enter the transfer portal season with a clean slate of playing time to offer
It was clear that Greg Gard and his coaching staff went into transfer portal season with a rough allocation of minutes in mind before they went garage sailing.
That’s one of several reasons that UW struggled to land any big fish. For that to change this offseason, everything needs to be on the table — no promises to anyone.
The Wisconsin men’s basketball program has several clear-cut needs and is only a few players away from competing for a Big Ten title in 2023-24.
UW’s foundation is solid, but to strengthen the roster — you can’t go into meetings with portal kids searching for greener grass and say you have 10-15 minutes to promise them no matter how they perform.
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