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Wisconsin Men’s Basketball: How Did the Badgers Depth Get So Thin?



Wisconsin Basketball
Jan 25, 2023; College Park, Maryland, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Greg Gard looks onto the court during the first half against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Madison, Wis. — It’s no secret that Greg Gard and the Wisconsin men’s basketball program have had their fair share of struggles in 2022-23.

Part of those struggles come from UW’s inconsistent offense, which ranks No. 111 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. 

The defending Big Ten regular season champion Badgers have no elite strengths that set them apart from the pack and have played with a razor-thin margin for error all season long as a result. 

There are no two ways about it; Wisconsin has some serious warts, and there aren’t many shot creators who can get to the charity stripe to offset a poor shooting night.

That said, three weeks ago, Wisconsin men’s basketball was off to a 3-0 start in conference play and ranked No. 14 in the nation. Then Tyler Wahl and Max Klesmit got hurt, and things began to spiral. 

With all starters being healthy, UW is 12-3 and 0-5 when missing one. Pretty stark contrast.

The Badgers clearly need all hands on deck to play competitive basketball in the Big Ten. Unless this team is fully healthy, they will continue struggling because they don’t have the depth to overcome anyone significant missing time.

I’m not particularly eager to make excuses because having depth is essential and falls squarely on Greg Gard’s lap. But let us not pretend it’s been a shitshow all season.

BadgerNotes explores the lack of depth and how we got here just one season after claiming a Big Ten regular season crown. 

Johnny Davis Going League

One conveniently overlooked part the “Greg Gard can’t recruit” crowd tends to ignore is that he helped develop Johnny Davis into an NBA lottery pick after just two seasons with the Wisconsin men’s basketball program. 

Davis, a Lacrosse, Wisconsin native, was the Big Ten Player of the Year, Lute Olson National Player of the Year, and a consensus first-team All-American last season, averaging 19.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.2 steals. In other words, he’s tough to replace. 

For a recruit and develop program like UW, losing a player of Davis’ caliber after his sophomore season is significant. And while Davis becoming the 10th overall pick in the first round of the 2022 NBA draft by the Washington Wizards is a huge selling point for the program, it left an unfillable void. 

The 6-foot-5 guard became the first player selected from the Wisconsin men’s basketball program since 2015, ending a seven-year drought.

The rarity illustrates just how rare and difficult it can be to plan for losing a star player at UW. Johnny was so damn good he broke the schedule. 

Transfers Out 

Everything comes back to the Wisconsin men’s basketball program being a recruit and develop-centric team. 

This past offseason, UW lost Ben Carlson and Lorne Bowman from its 2020 recruiting class to the transfer portal. Both were members of Greg Gard’s rotation last year and would have been key pieces this season, + clear upgrades over the likes of Carter Gilmore and Kamari McGee. 

Additionally, the Badgers lost forward Matthew Mors, a highly-regarded member of the 2021 recruiting cycle who redshirted last season and would have been another player vying for time. 

Depth across college basketball is down; any coach will tell you this, and it’s because the transfer portal makes it tougher to hold onto your home-grown players and develop them into meaningful contributors. 

It’s become common for players to test the waters at the first sign of adversity to see if the grass is greener on the other side. Remember, Greg Gard spends years recruiting these players, so when one leaves, it’s often a more significant blow than people realize. 

Wisconsin Men’s Basketball is a Tough Sell in Transfer Portal 

Finding a player like Chris Vogt in the transfer portal last season may have been an anomaly for Wisconsin men’s basketball. Multi-year veterans with experience, willing to come in and play a role off the bench to play high-major basketball, don’t grow on trees. 

Greg Gard learned this the hard way. With so many of his core pieces returning (Chucky Hepburn, Tyler Wahl, Steven Crowl), coach Gard and his staff went portaling with little to offer outside of a starting spot at the two, which landed them Max Klesmit. 

Beyond that, you’re hoping players searching for more prominent roles would consider tossing those hopes aside in favor of a backup spot with little to no hopes of earning more playing time behind UW’s established options.

That’s why UW pursued point guard Kamari McGee from UW-Green Bay. Although he wasn’t a Big Ten caliber player, he was willing to put aside individual aspirations in order to play Power 5 basketball for his home state. And while that addition hasn’t paid any dividends yet, McGee was brought in as a long-term solution at backup PG and has ample time to develop into someone capable of running the second unit behind Chucky Hepburn.

Playing style is also an issue for many transfer portal targets. Still, Wisconsin men’s basketball doesn’t prefer building its core through the transfer portal, so finding niche additions can be challenging. 

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Dillon Graff is a Substack Newsletter Best Selling Author and the Owner of, your go-to source for in-depth coverage of the Wisconsin Badgers. His work has been featured in top media publications like USA Today, Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, B5Q, Saturday Blitz, and Fansided.