As the calendar turned to February, unfamiliar territory became reality as the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball program tumbled down the Big Ten standings and towards missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in nearly 20 years.
But, as the season has wound down, the Badgers haven’t given up on themselves or the future of this team.
That was on full display on Thursday night in a 70-64 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats. UW is now on a three-game win streak, its longest since a five-game win streak to end non-conference play and begin Big Ten play version 2.0.
Ethan Happ has an idea as to why the turnaround has happened, and it’s a simple solution.
“I think early we were finding ways to lose games,” Happ said, via the Wisconsin State Journal. “and now we’re finding ways to win them.”
While beating Minnesota and Northwestern should be expected of this team regardless of the season they are having, winning against fellow bottom half teams has been anything but a given for most of the season for this Badgers team. Confidence certainly grew on Frank Kaminsky’s jersey retirement night, beating at top 10 team in Purdue, and it seems as if the momentum has been contagious.
Once left for dead, juniors Andy Van Vliet, Brevin Pritzl and Khalil Iverson were the backbone of UW’s success against the Wildcats. Pritzl continued his hot-shooting with his fifth double figure scoring effort (11) in the last six games. Van Vliet put up his best effort in the Big Ten season, scoring 14 points and playing a season-high 24 minutes in the process. Iverson had 16 points, 6 rebounds and was 4 of 5 from the free throw line.
It was an effort that few saw coming, but also a sign that all three have been working tirelessly to get themselves in a position to be counted on down the stretch. Iverson has come on sooner than the other two, but Pritzl’s late-season resurgence and Van Vliet’s effort on Thursday show that hope isn’t actually lost for a class that largely (and rightfully) blamed for the Badgers struggles earlier in the season.
Credit has to go to the players and to the coaching staff. Both kept working through some hard times this season and the fruits of that labor are coming just as a seemingly lost season is coming to a close.
Gard could’ve just given up on Pritzl and Van Vliet, and he certainly punished them for a lack of quality play with seats deep on the bench through large parts of the season. But, he also recognized the work they put in, was willing to give a second chance and saw that faith pay off.
While one game and one stretch of wins doesn’t a guaranteed turnaround make, it’s the details of that effort that matter most.
No longer are the Badgers Ethan Happ and no one else. Happ is certainly the cornerstone of this team, as his 15 of 19 points in the second half performance demonstrated, but no longer is this a team that can only count on him to score and get a team going offensively.
It’s led to three straight games where slow starts really haven’t been the case offensively and a defensive turnaround that has been really helpful. Four of Wisconsin’s lat six losses came as teams scored over 70 points, meanwhile in each of the last three wins no team has scored in the 70’s and no team has scored more than 64
Sure, the Wildcats are struggling down the stretch and are on a now five-game losing streak, but the Badgers team that lost to Northwestern at home was not on display on Thursday night and hasn’t been on display in the final two weeks of the season really.
Instead of giving up massive leads due to cold shooting and bad defense, Wisconsin has maintained an even approach and worked to get better despite some in the fanbase giving up on this “talentless” team.
Three wins in a row for the Badgers. Still some things to work out, but for the most part this team looks infinitely better than they did in January. Really fun to watch this young team grow.
— Badger Sports Talk (@BadgerSports1) February 23, 2018
While he season won’t end with the Badgers in the post-season unless they make a run to the Big Ten tournament, it is clear this team is growing.
That’s a good sign for a young team and one that will get to hit the reset button next year thanks to season-ending injuries to both D’Mitrick Trice and Kobe King. Add those pieces to a puzzle that is finally fitting together well and this could be a very dangerous team very quickly next season.
The question will be if the late-season momentum can carry on or will it die off? Considering the players who haven’t given up on themselves, the future seems brighter than it did just a month ago.
Badgers basketball lands pair of 4-star players in 2021 class
Witnessing a win over the Northwestern Wildcats must have done the trick, because two of Wisconsin’s biggest targets in the 2021 class both committed on Sunday.
First to commit was the more surprising name, as Top247 point guard Chucky Hepburn.
The No. 23 ranked point guard and No. 141 ranked player in the country per the 247Sports composite rankings chose the Badgers over offers from Minnesota, Nebraska, and Creighton. He also was beginning to see interest from some of the bigger names in college basketball, but chose to pick a team that had been on him for awhile.
“I called coach Gard 30 minutes ago and committed,” Hepburn told Badger247. “The education part was really great. I loved all the academic advisors are part of the basketball program and how they work with them.
“With the basketball side, I fit perfectly with the system they run. I feel like the assistant coaches will help me get where I want to be, because they all played professionally before.”
But, not long after that news broke, word of the biggest target on UW’s list committing would break as well.
Wisconsin would add 4-star forward Matthew Mors to the mix as well.
Mors comes to the Badgers ranked as the No. 115 player in the country and the No. 22 power forward in the nation as well.
The Badgers had been on Mors since his eighth grade year and the persistence paid off, despite other offers across the Big Ten and Big 12 coming to him.
Mors chose Wisconsin over names like Creighton, Iowa State, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, TCU, and more.
With these two pledges, the Badgers have solidified their 2021 recruiting class rather early and they hit on all their top priority prospects as well.
Hepburn and Mors join fellow 4-star player in 6-8 power forward Chris Hodges. With three 4-star players to their name, the Badgers currently own the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.
Yes, Wisconsin isn’t likely to own that No. 1 ranking by the end of the class, but there’s no doubt that the Badgers have done something special in the 2021 class.
It is a huge statement for head coach Greg Gard after the program missed out on some massive in-state names in the past few classes. Many had begun to wonder if the Badgers could ever hit on big targets with Gard as the head coach.
Those thoughts should be put to rest with this class and how the Badgers closed out the 2020 class prior to this.
It should also be noted that assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft was the lead recruiter on each of the last four overall commitments for the Badgers, including 2020 names Steven Crowl and Ben Carlson.
Of course, we won’t know for a while how these big recruiting numbers stack up once they get on the floor for some time. But, winning on the recruiting trail like this puts the Badgers in a much better spot to be competitive for a very long time than previously thought.
Carlson commits to Badgers 2020 basketball class
It appears the 2020 Wisconsin Badgers basketball class has come to a close.
The four-star center chose the Badgers over a who’s who of basketball offers in the Midwest including Ohio State, Xavier, Stanford, Purdue, Creighton, Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa State, Kansas State, Wake Forest, and others.
Much like Crowl, Carlson took his official visit to Madison earlier this month for the Central Michigan football game.
Carlson comes to the Badgers as the No. 15 ranked forward in the entire country per the 247Sports composite rankings, the No. 82 ranked player overall and with a .967 grade from the composite.
He was high up the Badgers list for a long time, even as they targeted other highly rate options at forward like Jalen Johnson. However, as the board began to shake out, it was clear the Badgers wanted Carlson no matter what Johnson or anyone else was going to do in this class.
It appears that the relationship that Carlson formed with the current roster while on his visit is what put the Badgers over the top in this lengthly recruitment.
“A big focus was on getting to know the players, so I hung out with them a lot,” Carlson told Badger247. “They talked about how the coaching staff tells you straight-up how everything is going to be, they don’t sugarcoat anything. They told me about how much they liked it there.”
“I had a pretty good idea of how Wisconsin was going in,” he continued. “The biggest thing was getting to know the players and I really liked them. I know about the history and the campus, but getting to know the players was big for sure.”
Adding this type of nationally known name to an already big class is huge for the Badgers. In fact, UW has the No. 4 ranked class per the 247Sports composite team rankings.
It would be the highest the Badgers have ever finished in the rankings, with the 2006 class under Bo Ryan the next highest at No. 20 in the country.
Wisconsin is getting easily one of the most skilled big men in the class and an instant impact type of player. What has been a question mark up front could easily be a strength of this team quickly thanks to Carlson and Crowl’s commitments to the class.
Badgers add 4-star center to 2020 basketball class
What could be a historic recruiting class for the Wisconsin Badgers got another boost on Tuesday as 4-star center Steven Crowl verbally committed to the Badgers.
He went on his official visit this past weekend and apparently it was all he needed to see.
Crowl has since cancelled trips to other contenders like Colorado, Iowa, and Northern Iowa. He also had an offer from the in-state Gophers and was thinking about a visit there.
However, his official visit for the Central Michigan football game weekend was all he needed to pull the trigger on a commitment to Gard and the Badgers.
Crowl joins an already loaded Badgers 2020 class that includes in-state star Johnny Davis and his twin brother Jordan Davis, as well as the No. 25 ranked point guard in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings, Lorne Bowman.
This class also already has preferred walk-on Carter Gilmore, who chose that offer over other mid-major D1 offers and saw his recruitment pick up considerably in the July evaluation period.
While his name wasn’t a hot one on the recruiting trail, he was a late riser and currently sits as the No. 102 ranked player in the class overall and the No. 17 center in the nation per the 247Sports composite rankings.
The St. Paul, Minn. native is also continuing the pipeline of players coming from the cross-border rival Gopher state. He comes from the same AAU program — Minnesota D1 — that produced both Tyler Wahl and Nate Reuvers.
With Crowl in the fold, Wisconsin has added 12 players from the state of Minnesota in the 247Sports composite era, according to Badger247.
When you take a look at Crowl’s film, what you see is someone that has begun to both physically and mentally mature. He’s got the skill set that UW likes out of their bigs as well, with a nice looking shot from the outside.
However, what you also see on tape is someone that may need to take a year to adjust to the college game and that may be perfectly fine with the coaching staff as they still will have Nate Reuvers and Tyler Wahl to work with up front as starters.
It will be interesting to see how Crowl digests the speed of the college game early on. If he can adjust to that and the physicality, he may indeed find himself in the rotation quickly though.
He is certainly in the mold of what has become the classic Wisconsin big man.
Former Badger Jon Leur traded to Milwaukee Bucks
They say you can always go home, and for one former Wisconsin Badger he’s coming back to a state he called home for four years.
Former Badgers forward Jon Leuer was traded early on Thursday morning from the Detroit Pistons to the Milwaukee Bucks. In exchange for Leuer, the Bucks gave up the 30th overall pick in tonight’s NBA Draft and traded away Tony Snell.
Last season, Leuer played in 41 games for the Pistons and made just one start. He averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in his ninth season in the NBA.
Leuer is a very similar player to Snell, but comes at a much more team-friendly salary.
In trading away Snell, the Bucks free up an additional $4 million in salary this year and another $12 million next year.
This could be seen as a way for the Bucks to pony up the big money that Khris Middleton wants from the team in order to stay in Milwaukee.
As for Leuer, he is 17th on the all-time Badgers scoring list with 1,376 points to his name. He also finished his career with 551 rebounds.
Leuer’s final season in Madison was his best statistically, as he helped lead the 2010-11 Badgers team to the Sweet 16. He averaged 18.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game that year.
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