Madison, Wis. — Greg Gard and the Wisconsin men’s basketball program are in the middle of a pretty substantial rut, losing six of their last seven games and falling to 11th in the Big Ten standings.
Because of this, the anti-Gard crowd has been out in full force, calling for his job following each and every loss, and maybe I’m the only one, but it’s starting to get old.
It’s OK to be concerned about UW’s recruiting efforts and talent level without firing a head coach who’s won two of the last three Big Ten regular season championships.
Let’s explore a few narratives surrounding Greg Gard and the Wisconsin men’s basketball program and use context to explain why a change at this juncture is laughably premature.
The Paul Chryst & Greg Gard Comparison
If I could have just one wish, it would be that Wisconsin men’s basketball fans stop comparing Greg Gard and Paul Chryst’s situations like they’re identical.
Right now, they’re not even remotely similar; the comparison is lazy and baseless. Could they become identical down the road? Sure. But we’re far from them being the same as I write this today.
*I want to make one thing clear, none of this is to pile on Chryst – he was a good coach at UW and an even better man – PC is simply used as a frame of reference.
Accolades + Program Trend
First, Chryst never won a Big Ten Championship at UW. Although he won the West several times, that’s not the same as winning the B1G regular season title in basketball – it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.
Second, the football program had, by my count, three consecutive seasons trending in the wrong direction after reaching its pinnacle. No matter how you try to spin it, that’s not the reality under Greg Gard.
Sure, the Wisconsin men’s basketball program is struggling this season. Nobody is disputing that. The offense is a problem, and the overall depth of this program doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence at the moment. But even if UW can’t right the ship this season, that would be ONE year of sub-par production – which is hardly grounds for dismissal.
Gardo has led the Badgers to a Big Ten championship in two of the last three seasons in a loaded conference – that’s no small feat. Remember, Gard sent Johnny Davis, a three-star prospect previously ranked outside the top 150, to the NBA two years early, which drastically altered the program’s development schedule.
The comparison could gain some traction if UW continues a downhill trend into next season.
Willingness to Adapt
Lastly, Paul Chryst didn’t appear to adapt his offensive system to his personnel. While Greg Gard has traditionally played a style many people dislike, you can’t ignore the adjustments he made last season because it doesn’t fit your narrative. UW played at its fastest pace in 20 years — because he had a star (Johnny Davis) and adjusted accordingly.
According to KenPom, Wisconsin men’s basketball finished at No. 215 in adjusted tempo in 2021-22, which is hardly the mark of a run-and-gun team, but it’s a stark contrast from what we’re used to.
Before last season, UW had never finished higher than 320th in adjusted tempo since the metric started being recorded by KenPom.
At the end of PC’s coaching tenure — UW labored to compete with other teams in the Big Ten West. Three weeks ago, before Tyler Wahl and Max Klesmit got hurt, UW was No. 14 in the country and undefeated in conference play. It hasn’t been a shit show all season long.
Again, could Greg Gard’s situation mirror Paul Chryst’s down the road? Absolutely. But to suggest it’s happening now is simply incorrect.
Show patience — let things play out — and remember, the grass isn’t always greener.
Greg Gard’s System
One of the biggest criticisms of Greg Gard is the system he runs. His teams aren’t exactly the Showtime Lakers on the basketball court.
If you don’t enjoy the system he runs — that’s ok — but let’s at least not pretend it hasn’t worked during his tenure.
In the previous seven seasons, Wisconsin men’s basketball has had a KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency rating of No. 56, placing the Badgers offense in the 85th percentile during his tenure. Additionally, the defense has registered an adj. efficiency rating of No. 22 – placing UW in the 94th percentile.
His system might not be the most fun to watch or attract high-level recruits, but it consistently gets the job done in one of the toughest conferences in the country.
If you think Greg Gard needs to change his system to elevate the program’s ceiling — that’s a discussion worth having. Albeit a small sample size, Gardo has adapted his system on several occasions when the personnel warrants it (Ethan Happ, Johnny Davis) – so I have no reason to believe he couldn’t do it again.
The issues facing Wisconsin men’s basketball right now have less to do with the system in place and more to do with the lack of talent, which falls squarely on the shoulders of Greg Gard.
Greg Gard’s Recruiting
Recruiting is a hot-button topic relative to the lens from which you’re evaluating it.
Greg Gard has done an excellent job identifying and recruiting players that fit his playing style perfectly and developing them into meaningful contributors. It’s why the Wisconsin men’s basketball program has been consistently successful. The whole point of recruiting is finding players who will win you games, and Gard has done that – with a pretty high level of success, I might add.
But there’s also the flip side to that narrative. On many occasions, Gard identified talented players well before other Power 5 programs and failed to close the deal before blue-bloods swooped in and took their guy.
We could also blame Gard for not casting a broad enough recruiting net, his system not accentuating the strengths of top-tier athletes, or passing on too many players – holding out for the home run. Only to be left scrambling for plan B options. All of those things are reasonable.
Could a change in the offensive system make UW a more attractive option? Absolutely. Beyond that, Wisconsin men’s basketball might need to consider alternative options to enhance efforts on the recruiting trail.
Coach Gard has to close recruiting battles before July and land better athletes capable of raising the ceiling. Even though I don’t have an issue with his recruiting – there is plenty of room for growth.
If Wisconsin men’s basketball can improve even marginally on the recruiting trail, the Badgers could find another gear on the court.
Chris McIntosh is the athletic director of a top-tier university, so all coaching situations are under constant evaluation. But let’s be real here, Greg Gard’s seat isn’t/shouldn’t be hot.
Greg Gard is a really good basketball coach, and I’ll never understand why anyone in the fan base wouldn’t root for him to succeed. We all want the same thing — for Wisconsin basketball to win games.
This past offseason, McIntosh extended Gard’s contract through 2027, which increased his base salary, provided additional compensation bonuses, and upped his termination buyout.
If UW shows no signs of growth under Gard, misses the tournament, and continues a freefall that snowballs into next season, then it’s worth entertaining a change. Wisconsin is an attractive landing spot. But firing a head coach one year removed from winning a Big Ten title; that’s incredibly premature for my taste.
Greg Gard has earned the right to fix the cracks in the foundation without having to look over his shoulder.
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