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Wisconsin Basketball: Is Greg Gard What Ails Badgers Hoops?



Wisconsin Badgers Basketball head coach Greg Gard and forward Tyler Wahl
Jan 17, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Tyler Wahl (5) talks with Wisconsin Badgers head coach Greg Gard during the second half against the Penn State Nittany Lions at the Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

As a relatively new follower of Greg Gard and the Wisconsin basketball program, I have been very impressed with UW fans’ passion for their Badgers.

I became interested in Wisconsin basketball through daily fantasy sports and the 2014-15 squad with the legendary Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky. I have always been impressed by how the Badgers seem to find success without the most talented athletes.

Since I’ve started covering the Badgers this year, the repeated refrain echoed in the fanbase is that Greg Gard isn’t a good recruiter. In addition, I have continued to hear about Wisconsin’s poor history of shooting free throws.

There is absolutely no doubt that this squad has its foul-shooting struggles. As a fan of the Big East in the ’80s and ’90s, I know all too well about poor FT shooting. Has this problem plagued Wisconsin basketball before, or is it just under Gard’s watch?

Mixed Success with Recruiting

Starting with the 2016-17 season and including the class of 2023, the Wisconsin basketball recruiting classes have averaged a national ranking of 65th.

However, this average is somewhat skewed because two recruiting classes (2019 and 2022) only contained one 3-star player. By comparison, Bo Ryan’s average recruiting class in his first seven years ranked 93rd in the nation.

In the history of Wisconsin basketball, there have been two 5-star recruits (2003’s Brian Butch and 2012’s Sam Dekker) and 15 4-stars. Greg Gard has accounted for over a quarter of those 4-star recruits, bringing in four.

While no one will mention Wisconsin’s recruiting in the same breath as Kentucky or Duke, it seems that recruiting under Greg Gard isn’t a negative at all.

Building Houses From the Foul Line

Another widespread critique I’ve heard is that Wisconsin basketball has been horrible from the foul line. While there is no denying poor free throw shooting plagues this team, is this a trend under Greg Gard or just an aberration?

In the six-plus seasons Gard has been the head coach, Wisconsin has averaged shooting 70.3% from the foul line. This year’s squad is currently converting just 66% from the charity stripe. by comparison; the Badgers made 70% of their free throws in the first seven seasons under Ryan.

It would seem that free throws are cyclical in nature but not a suddenly new weakness under the Gard regime.

Hitting the Boards Hard

Maybe because I am a little older, I believe that the fundamentals should be the cornerstone on which you build the entire structure. I have discussed Wisconsin’s lack of rebounding all season, and in only a few games have they had more boards than the other team.

Could Greg Gard be the man to blame?

Compiling the stats, I found not so much. In Gard’s time as head coach, Wisconsin basketball teams’ have averaged 33.9 rebounds a game. This number includes offensive and defensive boards, and Ryan-led squads grabbed an average of 34.2 RPG.

For the record, this year’s team has hauled in 31.8 rebounds per game. While this year’s Badgers are off the mark, poor coaching isn’t the culprit.

Overall Record and Big Ten Championships

Overall, the coaching record is the only area damaging to Greg Gard. His six full seasons as head coach have produced a record of 129-70, for a 64.8% winning percentage. The legendary Bo Ryan led Wisconsin basketball to a 142-55 tally, winning 72.1% of his games.

Yet this double-digit increase in wins yields the same number of Big Ten regular season champions. Ryan and Gard each won the Big Ten regular season championship twice in their first six full seasons.

Wisconsin Basketball is in Good Hands

I have all of the respect for Bo Ryan and think he is one of the great modern-day coaches. So It would have been difficult for almost anyone to follow in his footsteps. But after a little digging, it appears that Greg Gard is doing just that. 

Some teams are just better than others, but that doesn’t suddenly make a good coach terrible. That is exactly what Greg Gard is: a good coach. 

Wisconsin basketball doesn’t get an overwhelming amount of talent on paper, yet they usually seem to perform above expectations. That is because of good coaching. 

Even more importantly, Wisconsin basketball continues to put out student-athletes that are well-spoken and respected among their communities.

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