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Greg Gard facing biggest test of his basketball coaching mettle

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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

Former Badger Jon Leur traded to Milwaukee Bucks

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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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Badgers Basketball

Badgers basketball land Davis twins

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After missing out on the Hauser brothers late last month, the Wisconsin Badgers added a different pair of siblings on Saturday night.

Following an offer to the brother of 4-star shooting guard Johnny Davis and an appearance at a team camp this weekend, the Davis brothers announced their pledge to the Badgers according to Badger247.

It took less than a week after head coach Greg Gard gave the O.K. to offer Jordan for the pair to commit to Wisconsin.

Johnny held offers from Marquette, West Virginia, Iowa, Minnesota, DePaul, UNLV and others.

Jordan had offers from UW-Milwaukee and Green Bay, while also becoming a sought after recruit on the football field as well. Once he became serious about wanting to play basketball first, it seemed like a matter of time before Wisconsin offered.

That time came after seeing Jordan play in a camp last weekend.

It also came because it was time to figure out if Johnny was serious about the Badgers or not.

With the July evaluation period coming up, Wisconsin’s coaching staff put the final chips in the middle with this recruitment and it appeared to pay off.

Johnny joins as the No. 141 ranked player in the country and the No. 14 ranked combo guard in the nation according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

The twins will join Detroit, Mich. native Lorne Bowman in the 2020 class.

Wisconsin still has one scholarship available in the class as well, which is likely being held for 5-star and Wisconsin native Jalen Johnson.

After missing out on talented in-state players over and over again, this was a major win for Gard and his coaching staff considering how hard schools like West Virginia and Marquette were after Johnny’s commitment.

As for Jordan, it appears the coaching staff believes he is improving enough to get a scholarship and continue his improvement with this program.

Offers don’t come out just because it may win over a different recruit at Wisconsin. That wasn’t Bo Ryan’s style and it also isn’t Greg Gard’s style.

The trio of players put the Badgers at No. 8 in the country and No. 3 in the Big Ten in the 2020 class as of today.

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Badgers Basketball

Former Badgers get No. 2 seed in The Basketball Tournament Columbus regional

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Who doesn’t want $2 million? That’s the prize at stake for winning The Basketball Tournament and a group of former Wisconsin Badgers want in.

On Tuesday it was officially announced that the Kohl Blooded team — spearheaded by former Badgers point guard Kam Taylor — will be the No. 2 seed in the Columbus regional.

They will take on No. 7 seed Mid-American Unity, which is making its second appearance in the TBT after a year off. That group represents teams from across the Mid-American conference.

As for the Badgers, the roster will be made up of some very strong names from the past. The headline names include members of the back-to-back Final Four teams in Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown. Also joining will be Jordan Taylor, Ryan Evans, Trevon Hughes and recent grad Charles Thomas. You can see the full roster here.

The regionals will take place July 19-21 in Columbus with the winner of this regional meeting seven other winners in Chicago for championship week.

All games will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks, so you should be able to find them either streaming or on cable television.

Kohl Blooded vs. Mid-American Unity will tip at 1pm ET on Friday, July 19.

The winner will take on the winner of Red Scare (Dayton alumni) and The Region (players from Northwest Indiana) in the regional semi-final the next day.

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers play final card in attempt to land 2020 G Johnny Davis

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A week after losing out on Joey and Sam Hauser, the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program needs some positive momentum on the player acquisition front.

With three scholarships available in the 2020 class and two top in-state players in their sites, the Badgers coaching staff has been about as patient as possible.

On Wednesday, Badger247 reports that UW has offered Jordan Davis, the twin brother of top target Johnny Davis. It’s not a walk-on or grayshirt, but a full scholarship offer.

After two years of waiting for that offer to come, it finally did.

Jordan is an unranked player in basketball at this time, but I expect that to change once the scouting services catch wind of this offer. Johnny Davis is the No. 131 ranked player in the country, a 4-star rated prospect and the No. 3 ranked player in the state of Wisconsin in the 2020 class.

With the brothers set to make a weekend visit for team camp in two weeks, this is a move that undoubtably puts the pressure squarely on Johnny Davis at this point.

Simply put, the Badgers need to know if Davis is going to commit or if they need to move on.

Offering Jordan a full ride is about the only thing left in the Badgers quiver at this point. If getting the dream of playing basketball together at the same school and in-state no less doesn’t tip the scales, at least the Badgers know they can move on.

Is it a desperate move? In some ways one could see it as such. Clearly the Badgers want Johnny in a major way and they see offering Jordan as a critical move that could separate themselves from the competition.

However, this also isn’t a coaching staff willing to just throw away a scholarship in an effort to get a coveted player to play for them. That’s simply not Greg Gard’s style.

Jordan is also a player they see as a contributor, or he wasn’t getting an offer. Plain and simple.

There’s no doubt that this move ups the pressure, like I mentioned before. But, that’s not a bad thing, as UW needs to know where they stand heading in to July’s evaluation period.

If the Davis brothers can’t commit or at least internally give the coaching staff the information that will make them feel comfortable, they need to start getting offers out to other big time players whom they’ve been waiting to offer.

Consider UW is an underdog to land in-state five-star prospect Jalen Johnson, and you have to consider this move a smart one for the long term prospects of the 2020 class.

Will the Davis twins jump at the offer to play together at Wisconsin?

Some in the recruiting world believe this was the situation that was holding Wisconsin back all along. So, don’t be surprised to see this affect the recruitment of both players in a big way.

As for Jordan, his game has also caught the attention of Iowa and Minnesota and he did have scholarship offers from both Green Bay and Milwaukee prior to this one.

What may have really held the Badgers coaching staff and others back was the fact that Jordan is also a good player on the football side and wasn’t sure which sport he wanted to pick.

It seems like UW has gotten the clue that Jordan may be more receptive to a basketball future and pulled the trigger on the offer.

We’ll see how much longer the two stay uncommitted, but don’t be surprised to see something happen following July’s AAU season.

Letting that play out and getting all the offers out there on the table is just a smart move for the twins. From there, it’s up to them and clearly the Badgers have left no stone unturned in this situation.

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