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Wisconsin Basketball: Is Greg Gard What Ails Badgers Hoops?

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Wisconsin Basketball-Greg Gard-
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.


Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Joey Lovell on Twitter @JoeyHouse14

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4 Reasons Wisconsin Men’s Basketball Will Miss the NCAA Tournament

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Greg Gard Wisconsin Men's Basketball

After another grueling loss in the Kohl Center Sunday night at the hands of the Northwestern Wildcats, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s tournament chances are on life support.

As an optimistic UW fan, this was a tough lede for me to type. But even I’m ready to throw in the towel.

A squad as offensively challenged as the Wisconsin men’s basketball team needs to be smart, scrappy, and tough-minded. On top of this, they need to convert free throw attempts at a high rate, limit turnovers, rebound well on both ends, and take high-percentage shots. Unfortunately, these are all things UW has struggled with in Big Ten play.

It hasn’t been a pretty season at all, and because of that, here are four reasons why the Wisconsin men’s basketball team will fall short of the NCAA tournament in 2023.

Poor Free Throw Shooting

After Sunday night’s loss, the Badgers are now shooting a cumulative 65% from the charity stripe. Honestly, the only guy I feel confident in at the line is Connor Essegian. But the freshman sharpshooter isn’t the issue, it’s the guys who get to the line more frequently. Chucky Hepburn, Steven Crowl, and Tyler Wahl. Crowl and Wahl are shooting just a lick over 60%, while Hepburn is at a 71% clip. It’s not like these aren’t big free throws either — most come down the stretch of tight finishes. Good teams make free throws, and UW hasn’t hit that mark.

Remaining Schedule

The Wisconsin men’s basketball team now sits at two games under .500 in the Big 10 and 13-9 overall. With tough games remaining against Purdue, Penn State, Michigan, Iowa, and Rutgers to name a few, it’s tough to envision the team losing less than at least three games. And with very few top-tier wins during the season (The Kansas win would have been huge), UW’s strength of schedule isn’t anything to write home about. Wisconsin currently sits 67th in the Kenpom adjusted ratings, with a 46th-ranked non-conference strength of schedule and a 19th-ranked overall strength of schedule. As it sits, their best win this season would be the victory at Marquette.

Lack of Offense and Depth

The Badgers rotation realistically only goes 6-7 guys deep before they begin grasping at straws. The only player that has shown the ability to create his own shot consistently has been Hepburn. As a team, the Badgers have shot 36% from deep this season, good for 70th in the NCAA. Not good enough for a team that relies so heavily on it.

Tyler Wahl has been uncharacteristically bad — especially since returning from injury — at finishing in the post, and Crowl now receives double teams, which hampers his ability to control the game down low. Mix in Connor Essegian’s growing pains (even though the future looks bright), and Jordan Davis’ and Max Klesmit’s inability to get to the hoop or consistently knock down threes and you have a team that can’t hang with the big boys of the Big 10.

Lack of Toughness, Physicality, and Basketball IQ

What i’ve noticed always seems to separate Wisconsin men’s basketball teams from the rest is their peskiness. They are tough, physical, and outsmart you on the court.

However, the 2023 squad hasn’t been up to their own standard. They currently rank 345th in the country in offensive rebound percentage, are averaging 8.9 turnovers per game, and don’t seem to have the dive on the floor for loose balls mentality like past groups.

Whether it’s coaching, player mentality, lack of depth, or simply players being in the wrong positions at the wrong time, it has come back to haunt them. Don’t get me wrong, every rotation player has found their niche in 2023, but it simply feels like there are a few pieces missing.


Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Trent Tetzlaff on Twitter @ttetz5.

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How Can Wisconsin Men’s Basketball Right the Ship?

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Wisconsin Men's Basketball Team Forward Tyler Wahl
Jan 28, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Tyler Wahl (5) reacts to a foul call during the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at the Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

Madison, Wis. — Greg Gard and the Wisconsin men’s basketball program (13-8, 5-6 Big Ten) are in a rut. The Badgers have lost six of their last eight games and are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in 24 years. 

Perhaps the most troubling part is that UW hasn’t played with the same passion, grit, and cohesion we’ve seen that helped the Badgers overcome talent gaps in the past. 

With the Big Ten season halfway through, here are a few areas Wisconsin men’s basketball can clean things up to right the ship.

Get Tyler Wahl Back on Track 

Honestly, I don’t see a route for the Wisconsin men’s basketball team to figure out things on offense—scoring will continue to be challenging. But UW can be markedly better/more efficient if they figure out how to get Tyler Wahl back on track. 

Wahl’s regression in the low post has been a real head-scratcher, to say the least. 

According to Synergy, Wahl averaged 0.992 points per possession on post-touches last season – placing him in the 80th percentile among all division one players. He was one of the best low-post scoring options in the Power 5 from an efficiency standpoint. 

The Minnesota natives shooting splits went from an impressive 51.6% from the field and 57% on two-point baskets last season to an underwhelming 41% and 43.4% in 2022-23.

Some of Wahl’s struggles could be explained by his ankle injury, increased role in the Wisconsin men’s basketball program, and being the top player on the scouting report. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward has also seen a substantial uptick in usage — going from 20.7 USG% to a team-high 29.6% this season. 

Potential Solutions

But on the other hand, Wahl simply needs to be better and stop forcing the issue. Greg Gard needs him to play within the framework of the offense, improve his shot selection, and take a back seat to his teammates if he doesn’t have a great matchup that night. 

“You don’t have to force things when we don’t get exactly what we want,” UW head coach Greg Gard said. “The post is – as you’ve heard me call it so many times – a playmaking position. That doesn’t mean you have to shoot it.”

His teammates must also move better without the ball on offense to allow him room to work in one-on-one situations.

Wahl is the best and most versatile defender in the Wisconsin men’s basketball program, and nobody is disputing that. But if the offense is going to find its way, UW will need more from its senior forward. 

Wisconsin Men’s Basketball Must Stay Together + Lock In Defensively

Like it or not, the best way for the Wisconsin men’s basketball program to start winning close games has more to do with defense than offense. 

Before Tyler Wahl’s injury, the Badgers defense held opponents to 61.2 points per game. Since then, UW has allowed 66.3 points per game on a much higher field goal percentage. 

If Wisconsin men’s basketball is going to turn their season around and make a push for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the toughness and grit we’ve seen this group play with needs to become consistent again. 

“I think the No. 1 thing is you got to get back to being who you are,” Gard said after a recent loss. “That was a conversation we’ve had with these guys; we talked about where have we strayed from who we are. You can’t fix everything, but the number one thing … was what we were not doing defensively.”

Even though the rotation is tight, UW has to ride its horses and play with a sense of urgency every night — knowing the outcome of a close game could be the difference between them going dancing or making the NIT.

Get to the Charity Stripe

It was Bo Ryan’s golden rule that Wisconsin men’s basketball needed to make more free throws than their opponents attempted. 

And although UW is a low-possession team, that hasn’t been the reality for the Badgers this season. UW has shot fewer free throws than its opponents – and they’ve also made less. Not exactly a recipe for success. 

Wisconsin is No. 348 in the country in free throw attempts and No. 13 in the Big Ten in both FT attempts and makes. And if the low number of trips to the FT line wasn’t enough — the Badgers are ranked No. 12 in the Big Ten in free throw percentage as well (65.8%).

The offense as a whole isn’t going to be fixed with one wave of a magic wand, instead, it will come from cleaning up areas on the margins. More attempts from the charity stripe would go a LONG way in helping this offense — especially in close games. 


Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Dillon Graff on Twitter @DillonGraff.

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Three Things: Wisconsin Basketball vs. Ohio State

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Wisconsin basketball came into tonight’s matchup against Ohio State, desperately needing a win. Having lost six out of their last seven games, the Badgers played a great game in Columbus. They get the win 65-60; here are three things from the win.

 

Strong First Half

After what was Wisconsin basketball’s worst half of the year last time out against Illinois, scoring only sixteen points. They knew a much better start would be crucial to a victory tonight. Starting with an 8-0 run, the badgers took control in the first half, scoring 43 points and building a sixteen-point lead behind the excellent play of Chucky Hepburn, Steven Crowl, and Connor Essegian. Starting strong and gaining a lead allows Wisconsin to settle in on the defensive end and withstand those cold spells on offense. As we saw in the second half, Wisconsin went scoreless for over six minutes. Thanks to the excellent start and big lead, they were able to sneak out with the win.

Big Steve

Wisconsin basketball big man Steven Crowl has been the most impressive improvement so far this season. The big man has gotten more assertive, more skilled, and gained confidence. He arguably has been the Badger’s best player as of late, and he continued his excellent play tonight. Big Steve finished with fourteen points and nine rebounds. He has been such a pleasant surprise for Wisconsin basketball this year.

Free Throws

A common struggle for Wisconsin basketball has been from the free throw line. For a team that has spent most of their games within a couple of scores. To struggle so severely from the free throw line is a serious issue moving forward. A team that struggles offensively needs all the “free” points they can get. One of the worst in the Big Ten at just 66%, Wisconsin went 13/22 tonight. Shoutout to Chucky Hepburn, who rattled in a few clutch free throws at the end of the game.

Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Griffin Gamble on Twitter, @gamble_griffin3

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