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3 Point Takes: Northwestern 60, Wisconsin 52

Wisconsin dropped another home game as its season continues to unravel. What did we take away from UW’s loss to Northwestern though?

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It was over from the opening tip at the Kohl Center, and not in the way Badgers fans were hoping to see. Northwestern gathered in the opening tip, nailed a three-pointer and raced to an 18-1 lead before UW knew what hit them.

Wisconsin made runs of their own in the game, but the 17-point deficit was simply too much to overcome. The loss was the seventh in the last eight games for the Badgers and dropped them to 10-14 overall and 3-8 in the Big Ten.

Not even a team-high 15 points from junior forward Khalil Iverson was enough for the Badgers to fend off an equally frustrated Northwestern squad.

So, what do we take away from arguably the most disappointing loss of the season? Here are our three takeaways from the game:

This isn’t a completely lost season

Sure, in terms of the larger goals of making the NCAA tournament and contending for a Big Ten championship, it is indeed a lost season. There’s no denying that fact. But, it isn’t the whole story either. With a young group of players having to play major minutes, this season is far from being a lost one.

It is in fact a valuable lesson for players like Brad Davison, Aleem Ford and Nathan Reuvers. Let’s also not forget that we have begun to see the version of Khalil Iverson we all thought we’d see earlier in the season. He’s becoming a force for the Badgers and gives them the second scoring option they need to go with Ethan Happ. In the eight-point loss to Northwestern, it was Iverson that led the team in scoring with 15 points. He also was 5 of 8 from the field and 5 of 6 from the free throw line and had 9 rebounds and 2 assists.

More importantly, Iverson is becoming a consistent scoring threat overall. He’s now averaging 10.2 points per game and has scored in double figures in four of the last five games. Of course the sad news is that even Iverson’s improvement and consistency hasn’t been enough, as only one of the last five games was a win.

Still, the point here is that this isn’t a lost season for player development. It may be in terms of wins, losses and post-season play, but there is plenty left for this team to work on and learn from for next season.

This Loss Stung

This was the game this Badgers team needed to have. UW was going up against an equally struggling Northwestern team and it was playing at home. Instead of getting off to a fast start, it was the visiting squad that did most of the early scoring and simply choked any life out of the Kohl Center crowd and the Badgers hopes.

The loss also stung because there was a large fight in this team after that 18-1 hole it dug itself. Yet, that fight was never enough to really get back in the game.

Finally, the fact that Thursday marked the first time since 2009 that the Badgers have lost four consecutive Big Ten games and that  Northwestern’s back-to-back wins in Madison marked a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since 1969-70 just added to the pain of this loss.

It’s a strange feeling, because usually any pain of a loss came because UW was fighting for a conference title or a deep run came to an end in the NCAA tournament. Now, the losses are coming fast and furious and it’s not fun to be in this position.

Wisconsin Isn’t Alone Amongst National Powers Struggling

It is easy to take this season in a vacuum and see it as awful, this team as “talentless” and countless other negative remarks that have littered Twitter in the past few weeks. No doubt the standard of acceptable basketball has been raised at Wisconsin, but this is one bad season in nearly 20 years of NCAA tournament-level basketball.

That’s gotten me to think about the bigger picture here. Let’s step away from the Cardinal and White-colored glasses for a second and take a look at the rest of college basketball. When you do that, guess what? Wisconsin’s bad season isn’t the only one for long-time nationally recognized programs.

Kentucky is having one of its worst seasons under John Calipari with three losses in conference play (12-6 is the worst UK has done under him), Indiana is below .500 in conference play, UConn is a shadow of its former self, Pitt and Notre Dame are two of the bottom three teams in the ACC, Baylor and Iowa State are last in the Big 12 and the once-proud Vanderbilt program has just eight wins all season.

The point here is that Wisconsin isn’t the only big-named program to have struggles this season or in any season, and we should be remembering that what the Badgers accomplished since the 1999-2000 season is an exception to the ebbs and flows of college basketball.

Right now, the Badgers are experiencing the first down year in nearly a decade. It’s painful to watch, but some of what we’ve seen from the fanbase is completely ridiculous. Some are acting line spoiled brats who didn’t get that candy bar they wanted at the store or the toy at the local Shopko or something.

Arguments like this can be found in numerous parts of the Twittersphere. If you want to point to the 5-man junior class and note that 4 of the 5 are failing to contribute in ways that are good enough, you’ve got no qualms from me. But, to suggest that Happ, Davison, Kobe King, Aleem Ford and others lack talent is just patently false. All except Happ are young, playing injured, out for the season or just growing in a developmental program and showing glimpses of the talent they are developing.

Wisconsin isn’t going to be a program that plugs and plays freshman every season, they simply aren’t recruiting at that level and never really have. Now, are they recruiting at a higher level lately? You bet, but with two-thirds of the class injured there’s not a lot to go on in terms of their “talent” level. Let’s see a full healthy season from Davison and King and then judge.

Furthermore, we wouldn’t even know these guys’ struggles or triumphs this season if the 5-man class that Bo Ryan swung and missed on would be playing up to their potential. Davison likely would be playing, but Ford, King and Reuvers likely wouldn’t even see the floor had the junior class not been a big miss.

I mean, it’s gotten to the point that some in the Badgers fan base are calling out Ethan Happ as a bum and the problem for this team. Even Iverson, who is playing his best basketball of his career is getting roasted by some.

Yes, that All-American who is leading the team in every single stat category is the problem. Lashing out at players like Happ is just ridiculous, because he’s doing all he can for the program.

Chill out on the negativity a bit, chalk this up to being a season of transition. Few programs not named Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke could see 4 starters gone, replace them with all new faces to the program and still survive.

There’s a difference between being angry/disappointed in the results of the team and going full-on rage tweets. Luckily there are some even-keeled thinkers in the Twittersphere.

Wisconsin’s season doesn’t get any easier from here on out with the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue still to go on the schedule. Could wins even come against equally struggling teams like Maryland or Minnesota? Perhaps those are places for glimmers of hope in a dark season for the Badgers.

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Taylor Currie announces transfer from Badgers program

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And then there was one.

The 2018 Wisconsin Badgers basketball recruiting class had three players, but in the span of a month there is but one member of that group remaining.

On Tuesday, it was announced that 6-8 forward Taylor Currie will transfer from the program after redshirting last season.

He joins point guard Tai Strickland in the leaving the program.

That also means that 7-foot center Joe Hedstrom, who took a grayshirt offer and will go on scholarship next season, as the lone member of the 2018 class still with the program.

It also means that the Badgers will be down to just nine scholarship players as of now for the upcoming season, leaving plenty of space for a big haul in the offseason if they want to.

Wisconsin already came in to the offseason looking to even out the scholarship situation between the 2019 and 2020 class. Now, it may be able to really accomplish adding good pieces in 2019 and saving room for 2020.

The Badgers may fill two of the unused scholarships with Joey and Same Hauser, who are transferring from Marquette.

A decision will be coming from the Stevens Point natives in the next few weeks as they are scheduled to visit both Michigan State and Virginia.

Neither of those schools currently have the room for both brothers to join up, something the Badgers clearly don’t have to worry about.

As for Currie, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, he’ll head back to his native Michigan and play and Mott Community College in Flint, where he will still have two years to play there should he chose to use those years.

Wisconsin isn’t likely to limit its looks at the transfer market to just the Hauser’s either. There is a glaring and immediate need for experience up front, so the Badgers could fill that with a graduate transfer.

That was something the coaching staff was kicking around prior to any transfer out of the program anyway. Now, the Badgers have the flexibility to add that extra one-year player to the mix.

Stay tuned for the next few weeks, as things could move fast on the transfer front.

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Are Badgers fans right to have a case of Bennet envy?

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No offseason, or for that matter, in-season, topic surrounding Wisconsin Badgers basketball was hotter in 2018-19 than what to make of the Gard era after nearly five years.

Some have become enraged at the lack of recruiting wins at the highest level and the seeming shortcoming of head coach Greg Gard’s in-game decision making.

Wisconsin basketball feels like it is regressing rather than progressing on so many levels. There’s the major inconsistencies on offense, a lack of free throw shooting and a seemingly overall lack of athleticism to get UW out of a jam if needed.

Let’s just say a vocal group of Badgers fans are very much in the anti-Gard mode. Most in that camp will point to the Virginia Cavaliers and their head coach Tony Bennett and say, why can’t the Badgers do that?

It’s easy to have program envy when the guy many wanted at Wisconsin a long time ago just cut down the nets for a national championship with another team.

More importantly, he did it with the very style of hard-nosed defense and a slower-paced offense that Wisconsin has been famous for for awhile now.

All of that got me to thinking…why not take a look at both programs and coaches head-to-head and see if facts back up the arguments for or against Gard?

After all, the offseason is all about taking stock. So, let’s take that deep dive.

What Does History Tell Us?

First off, the Badgers have made an appearance in four Final Fours as a program, which puts them in with 27 other programs to make at least that many in program history.

Wisconsin is tied with Arizona, Kansas State, LSU, UNLV and Utah at four. Leading the way with 20 is North Carolina, who won in 2017 and has made three final four appearances in the past decade.

But, beyond that since the 2000 Final Four, where the Badgers lost to eventual national champions Michigan State, there have been eight schools to go to back-to-back Final Fours.

Those schools would be Michigan State (2000, 2001 and 2009, 2010), Maryland (2001, 2002), Kansas (2002, 2003), Florida (2006, 2007), UCLA (2007, 2008), Butler (2010, 2011), Kentucky (2011, 2012), Louisville (2012, 2013) and your Wisconsin Badgers (2014, 2015).

Considering there have been 20 tournaments (including the 2000 edition), that means 80 possible teams and Wisconsin is one of just nine teams to have occupied a spot in back-to-back Final Fours.

Yes, that was four years ago, but just 11 percent of the teams were back-to-back Final Four participants overall. That’s some rarified air and a good reminder of just how difficult it was to do what the Badgers did.

Getting to that level and doing it over and over again is a very difficult ask, even for the most blue-blood of programs. So, let’s take that in to consideration.

In fact, just 37 total teams have made an appearance in a Final Four since 2000. Wisconsin is in the top 5 for most Final Four appearances with three — tied with Kentucky, Louisville, Syracuse, UCLA and Villanova.

Michigan State leads all schools with seven, UNC is next at six and they are followed by Kansas (5), and Duke and UConn (4).

Virginia on the other hand has made just one appearance in the Final Four since 2000. It was a national title winning appearance, but the point of longevity of a program is important here.

Gard vs. Bennett’s First 5 Years

Which brings us to today, with Greg Gard fully in charge and leading this program without many legacy recruits from the Bo Ryan era around.

Can Gard get the Badgers back to that promised land? It’s the million-dollar question around Madison and the Badger fandom nationwide.

UW fans had a taste of the blue-blood air and they want some more. That’s understandable and its where the comparison to Virginia and Tony Bennett comes in to play.

Could the answer simply be that Greg Gard is not Tony Bennett? That’s to say one coach is not like the other.

I think so.

Let’s remember the Wisconsin gig was Gard’s first ever head coaching gig anywhere. Bennett was born to be a coach, it literally is in his DNA.

His father got the Badgers to the 2000 Final Four, led one of the 90’s biggest upsets while coaching at Wisconsin-Green Bay and his family has had a historic amount of success while coaching at Wisconsin-Stevens Point as well.

The level of success running through the veins of the Bennett family is scary to be honest.

But, success just doesn’t come because you were born around quality coaching or playing. It comes from hard work, and to that end, Tony has certainly put in his fair share of work.

He wasn’t handed anything when he started coaching other than an opportunity to prove himself to his father.

Bennett won wherever he went, including on staff at Wisconsin and when he eventually took over for his dad at the basketball powerhouse known as Washington State. While there, Bennett went 69-33 and never had a losing season in his three years before leaving for Virginia.

But, people have quickly forgotten that Bennett was not an overnight success at Virginia.

Let’s take the first five years of Bennett’s career at UVA to that of Gard’s at Wisconsin for example. Bennett had a record of 106-60 (.638), while Gard has a record of 80-47 (.630) in just 4.5 years.

That winning percentage is nearly identical and so are a few other things. Both Gard and Bennett missed at least one NCAA tournament (Bennett’s Cavs actually missed 3). However, Gard has two Sweet 16 tournament runs compared to just one for Bennett after the first five seasons at the helm.

It all adds up to two coaches who look pretty similar on paper over the first parts of their tenures at Virginia and Wisconsin. Perhaps there’s another piece to the puzzle that is missing for Gard to be as successful as Bennet?

There comes comparison point No. 3…recruiting.

Recruiting

Perhaps nothing has driven the doubters of Gard more crazy than what has, or more appropriately, hasn’t happened on the recruiting trail in the first five years of Gard at the helm.

In one sense, you can probably throw the 2016 class out of the window, given Gard only had a half of a recruiting cycle to get things going his way.

But, beyond that class, the Badgers have really struggled to elevate their recruiting game and thus make them more than an occasional contender for a national championship.

The fact of the matter is, Wisconsin got lucky that Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes developed like the coaching staff thought and that Sam Dekker had an affinity for the state of Wisconsin. Those three formed the backbone of a team capable of competing at the highest levels.

But, where has that player been under Gard’s leadership? Yes, Ethan Happ was fun to watch, but he was a Bo Ryan recruit first and foremost.

Maybe Kobe King is that guy, but his redshirt freshman year wasn’t a tell-tale sign of a player capable of taking over a program and leading it back to the promised land immediately.

There were glimpses of that being possible, but nothing sustained this past season.

In fact, no such signing has emerged as a must-see player for the Badgers to date. D’Mitrik Trice has been good in spurts, Brad Davison struggled to find his rhythm as the season went on this past year and about the only one that has emerged as a real star is big man Nate Reuvers.

He came to Wisconsin as the No. 66 ranked player in the country, and after putting on some weight and getting all the knowledge in a true freshman season, Reuvers became a go-to player on both ends of the court.

But, showing that one recruit can be the backbone of the program isn’t going to cut it. Not when you realize the losses that happened along the way.

Wisconsin lost out to Kentucky for Tyler Herro, Maryland for Diamond Stone and never had a chance with in-state big man Joey Hauser. All of those loses felt like a black eye for the program.

But, the biggest misses have come from the Badgers not being able to close the deal with some of the other big names they identified and went after early on.

Those names include point guard DJ Carton (Ohio State) and Zeke Nnaji (Arizona) in the 2019 class, as well as Payton Pritchard (Oregon) and Zavier Simpson (Michigan) in the 2017 class.

Land one or two of those players and there isn’t much room for the critics to talk. But, the reality is that Gard has yet to close on all but one of the big names offered to date.

This is a huge offseason with the Hauser brothers back on the market and Wisconsin named a finalist by 5-star Jalen Johnson. Getting one of the two situations to go in UW’s favor could be the game-changer needed to elevate this program back towards the top.

On the flip side, how did Bennett build his national championship winning squad? He was able to win on the recruiting trail with bigger names than the Badgers have ever had under Gard and it appears to have finally paid off.

But, there were some serious misses early on in that timeframe. In Bennett’s first class ever, he took the commitments of two top 100 players in KT Harrell and James Johnson.

Two years later and both players were gone, with Harrell off to Auburn and Johnson going to San Diego State and then Liberty as a graduate transfer.

The next year Bennett hit big time on the No. 98 ranked player in the country in guard Malcom Brogdon, but missed on No. 112 ranked Paul Jesperson, who ended up up transferring to Northern Iowa.

In total, Bennett had seven players commit to the program that were in the Top 100 in his first 5 seasons. Of those seven players, four ended up transferring away from the program with none of them making a massive change in the programs they landed at outside of Jesperson.

Only two could be considered successes, as Justin Anderson is in the NBA and was a first round draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks and Mike Tobey spent a few seasons in the NBA before moving overseas.

Over the course of his first five seasons, Bennett may have looked like a winner on paper, but he struggled to keep players in the program.

It was only after those initial struggles that Bennett found his form on the recruiting trail and got wins like Mamadi Diakite, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter — three of those coming in just one recruiting class.

Final Verdict

There is no doubt that Tony Bennett has built a near perennial contender in the ACC. What he’s managed to do there is special and as a native Wisconsinite, it’s equally hard to not play the what-if game.

But, the reality is the two coaches have proven to be on similar paths through the first five years as the head coach at these respective schools.

Only time will ultimately tell if Gard is up to the task of making the Badgers back in to true Big Ten and national championship contenders. But, gone are the days where just making the NCAA tournament and finishing fourth every year in the Big Ten would be good enough.

There is and should be pressure on Gard and this program to produce at a higher and more consistent level. Let’s give this coaching staff the chance to do it.

Winning either or both of the recruitments for the transfer of the Hauser brothers or top 5 national 2020 recruit Jalen Johnson would go a long way in solidifying the change in the program.

But, we’ll have a while to wait for those answers it seems.

Until then, there are good lessons to be learned by how Bennett built his program following those first 5 seasons in Charlottesville.

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REPORT: Badgers amongst 4 schools getting visits from Hauser Bros.

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Simply put, no offseason storyline will get more attention for the Wisconsin Badgers than the second pursuit of the Hauser brothers.

After announcing they were leaving the Marquette program a few weeks ago, plenty of speculation pointed to them landing in Madison. Now we have confirmation they are certainly in the running.

According to a report by CBS Sports Jon Rothstein, Wisconsin is amongst four schools that will get a visit from the brothers prior to them making a decision. UW is joined by Iowa, Michigan State and Virginia according to the report.

There’s no doubt that ties are strong between the Badgers and the Hauser family.

Now head coach and then assistant coach, Greg Gard, was hard after Sam in the 2016 recruiting class. However, with a small scholarship pool to work with, Bo Ryan decided to go with a point guard and ended up taking D’Mitrik Trice once it was all said and done.

It arguably was the biggest reason in not getting Joey to sign in the 2018 class as well.

But, just which of the four has the best chance to land the duo? This is where the Badgers could have the biggest advantage.

As of right now, UW has two scholarships open to take the brothers for the 2019-20 season.

Iowa has a personal connection in Fran McCafferey, who closely recruited both players while they were in high school and have a few players whom the Hauser’s would be comfortable with.

Additionally, the style of play in Iowa City is very similar to that of Marquette and if playing style is the key factor, the Hawkeyes could be attractive.

On the other hand, fellow Big Ten team, Michigan State, seems to be a pie-in-the-sky scenario. The Spartans only lost one of the two players they would have needed in order to land Joey and Sam. Instead, only Nick Ward is gone to the NBA after hiring an agent.

Add in three scholarship players coming in to the program and the Spartans have just one open spot available. Sure, maybe one of them pays their own way for a year before joining on scholarship in 2020-21, but that would be a significant hurdle to overcome.

Virginia could be the front-runner, in large part thanks to the decisions of its three biggest names from this year’s national championship team. De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome have all declared and hired an agent.

A few weeks ago, that wasn’t so certain. With those three scholarships opening up, only one official signee in the 2019 class and another player entering his name in the transfer portal this could be the Badgers biggest competition.

The question comes down to what the Hauser brothers are going to value most in their next destination. Will personal connections matter more or will getting to play for a program that just won a national championship matter more? What about distant from home?

All of this will be settled shortly, but don’t be surprised to see this be a Badgers vs. Cavaliers battle for the brothers services.

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Big Ten hands out opponent assignments for Badgers basketball in 2019-20

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The 2018-19 season has been over for just a few weeks now, but the Big Ten is already looking forward to the 2019-20 season.

On Wednesday afternoon it announced the conference opponents for the 20-game slate for each team.

With the switch to the 20-game conference slate last season it means every team will play three team only at home, another three only on the road and the other seven teams in a home-and-home scenario.

Fans will see Illinois, Maryland and Northwestern travel to the Kohl Center for the lone game between them. Wisconsin will travel to Iowa, Michigan and Penn State only.

That leaves home-and-home games against Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers.

Wisconsin’s faithful followers will see five of the Big Ten’s representatives in this past year’s NCAA tournament come to the Kohl Center at some point next season.

Only Michigan shows up as a lone road game against a Big Ten team to make the tournament this past year as well.

UW will also host Fred Hoiberg, the new coach at Nebraska, for the first time and that should certainly be interesting.

The Big Ten has not released a full schedule of the order of games, but it looks like the Badgers are going to have to fight hard given the teams they will face in home-and-home scenarios.

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