Don’t get too excited Greg Gard haters, your favorite Wisconsin Basketball scapegoat likely isn’t going anywhere.
Despite missing the NCAA tournament for the second time since his inaugural season in 2015, Gard has done enough to earn at least one more year at the helm.
Yes, the season was embarrassing at times. Especially as the inexperienced team failed to score down the stretch and finish games. A double-digit blown lead to Nebraska. Failing to foul up three against Michigan. Getting smacked in the face all game long in the Big 10 Tournament by Ohio State. The season was full of things Wisconsin basketball fans clearly aren’t used to.
A Luke Warm “Hot Seat”
Gard’s seat has warmed up at the university no doubt, but let’s not forget his two Big 10 titles since he took over for Bo Ryan.
Fans need to take into account the numerous unexpected changes on his rosters the past couple of seasons, NIL rules which have flipped the game upside down, the consistency the team has shown since 2015, and the respect around conference and country that Gard has earned. No surprise, but UW had seven losses by four points or less and two overtime losses.
The biggest factor in sticking with Gard, though, is the lack of coaching talent available right now. Wisconsin Director of Athletics, Chris McIntosh, showed he isn’t afraid to pull a quick trigger and let coaches go, but fans should remember Luke Fickell was a near-perfect fit for the football program, and Tony Granato ran the hockey program into the ground.
Here’s a short list of college basketball coaches that will be available, or simply could make sense for UW.
The former Duke point guard and Buffalo head coach has Arizona State back in the NCAA tournament. Hurley gained respect in the coaching ranks after bringing Buffalo to their first NCAA tournament in 2014-2015 and has now led the Sun Devils to the tournament multiple times now. Most notably he led an upset win over then-No. 1 Kansas in 2018. Hurley is a household name, but nothing makes him a perfect fit for a storied UW program.
It’s easy to see why Kelsey has made a name for himself in 2023. His Charleston Cougars went 31-3, won a conference championship, and earned a top-25 ranking before landing a 12 seed in the NCAA tournament. Kelsey runs an up-tempo offense that would get many Gard haters excited. Fun to think about, but Kelsey remains inexperienced and young.
This one may be a little far-fetched, but so is the idea of Gard getting fired. It’s not surprising that Smart led Marquette to a Big East championship in just his second season. He’s recruited a well-rounded, hard-nosed team that can flat-out score and play defense. Despite his struggles during his Texas stint, Smart hasn’t wasted any time building a Marquette powerhouse.
It’s unlikely Smart could be lured away from what he’s built in Milwaukee, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his ties to the Wisconsin basketball program. According to an article by the Wisconsin State Journal, not only was he raised in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, but he also attended Badger basketball camps as a kid and remains close with former UW assistant Lamont Paris, among a number of other things.
Looking Ahead to 2023-2024
Gard now can regroup and think about what steps need to be taken to get the program back into Big 10 title contention after the 2023 NIT.
Outside of the strong incoming recruiting class, Gard will need to work the transfer portal. Athletic forward talent or a backup point guard is a big need. Any portal moves will likely hinge on Tyler Wahl’s return for a fifth season though.
It’s going to be a long off-season in Madison. Coach Gard will have another shot, and he more than deserves the backing of the grateful red.
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