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Greg Gard facing biggest test of his basketball coaching mettle



Greg Gard has faced plenty of adversity before — on and off the basketball court. However, following Sunday’s loss to Northwestern he may be facing the biggest challenge of his coaching career today.  

Losing on Sunday at home in the Kohl Center to Northwestern was the titanic finally hitting the iceberg. The signs to steer away from trouble have been coming for a long time, but UW chose to continue to steer right in to it.

What has been a prolonged offensive drought finally bit the Badgers, costing them a prime opportunity to show they were worthy of the top 16 seeds in the upcoming NCAA tournament. Instead, they proved the critics right and laid another egg with a quality opponent in front of them.

It also dropped the Badgers lead in the Big Ten to just one game over Purdue and Maryland, while snapping an eight-game win streak in the process.

That eight-game win streak was certainly impressive, but it also masked problems that eventually caught the Badgers on Sunday. UW was able to lean on one or two guys to get going and pull them over the finish line as of late.

Northwestern’s ability to render Ethan Happ completely useless for one half of basketball coupled with ineffective play from Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes spelled trouble for sure.

Those three players have all been able to help Wisconsin mask its overall struggles and get them victories with stellar individual play at different points. Wisconsin’s three-headed monster couldn’t find one of them to show up for the first time since the loss to Purdue.

In the end it was a seven-point loss for Wisconsin and one that clearly leaves Gard without much in the way of answers. After all, it wasn’t like Gard didn’t try to throw the kitchen sink at the problem on Sunday.

He tried just about every combination possible, thought he had an answer coming out of halftime as UW went on a 10-0 run and then watched as it all reverted back to the pattern that got them in trouble in the first half.

Wisconsin’s most reliable veterans — Vitto Brown, Hayes, Koenig and Zach Showalter had absolutely nothing in the offensive tank when the Badgers needed it most on Sunday. The four senior starters shot a combined 35.5 percent (11 of 31) from the field against the Wildcats.

It wasn’t just them either, as there were no answers at all from a bench that needed to step up.

Rotation players like Jordan Hill, Brevin Pritzl and Charlie Thomas haven’t been able to provide anything on the offensive end of the court either. Those three players along with the usually reliable Khalil Iverson combined for just three points off the bench against Northwestern.

Hayes called this game a wake up call for Wisconsin going forward when speaking to the media after the game.

“Experience has been a great teacher,” Hayes said, via the Wisconsin State Journal. “Like the rat in the box, when you push it, food comes and that teaches you a lot. But if you put your hand on a hot stove, (you get the) same reaction except for some reason you really don’t touch the stove anymore. So apparently we have to lose in order to learn the things that we’ve already been (talking about).”

He may be right about a team sometimes needing that ultimate adversity to right the ship. But, this is still a team full of players who have seen the highest of highs and the craziest of lows in the program.

Should seniors with four years of experience really need a reminder of what is at stake to play well?

If so, that is on them, especially considering what Hayes had to say about the coaching staff on Sunday.

“It’s not like we’ve lost the last six games in a row, we won them,” said Hayes. “But we keep doing those mistakes and it caught up to us. That’s what we’ve said amongst ourselves, the coaching staff was telling us that and you guys have been saying the same thing. Hopefully, now that we had to unfortunately lose a game, we’ll start to take that step in that direction of going from a mediocre-good team to a great team.”

So, everyone around a group of experienced and highly regarded players was warning them of failure to come if changes weren’t being made…and they did nothing to make those changes?

If so, that isn’t good news for Gard and his coaching staff. The whole point of coaching is to teach and have the players execute what you are teaching and preaching. Clearly that isn’t happening, and that is where Gard’s biggest test is going to come from.

How does he get his players attention and how does he turn a team with a systemic issue on the offensive end of the court in to the team that was averaging the highest points per game in school history?

As much as those of us in the media will tell you it is gut-check time for the players, it is also gut-check time for Gard and the rest of the coaching staff.

Let us remember what all the talk was for this team heading in to the season.

It was all about a return to the Final Four and finishing off a National Championship run, right? That kind of talk seems laughable considering the way this team played Sunday and more importantly has played for weeks now.

Learning how to survive and thrive in close games is important come NCAA tournament time, because tough games are going to come your way. No one eases their way to a Final Four berth.

It’s one thing to do that for a game or two, it is a whole different thing to do it for a week or three.

That’s what has happened to the Wisconsin Badgers as of late, and Gard somehow faces a bigger challenge now than he did last season in just getting Wisconsin in to the NCAA tournament.

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Badgers Basketball

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.

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Badgers Basketball

Carlson commits to Badgers 2020 basketball class



It appears the 2020 Wisconsin Badgers basketball class has come to a close.

A day after forward Steven Crowl committed, we now have word that top target Ben Carlson, a fellow Minnesota native, has committed to the Badgers as well.

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.

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Badgers Basketball

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.

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Badgers Basketball

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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