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Tom Crean or Greg Gard for Big Ten basketball Coach of the Year?

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The Big Ten basketball season is winding down, and with one game left to play for most teams we have a regular season champion. Conference play has also provided those of us in the media a really difficult choice for Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.

Usually this honor sorts itself out pretty easily, but in the 2015-16 season there were two big surprises. Those surprises were the Indiana Hoosiers taking the regular season championship and the rise of the once-dead Wisconsin Badgers.

With the play of their teams, head coaches Tom Crean (Indiana) and Greg Gard (Wisconsin) have each made a serious case to be named B1G Coach of the Year. So, who should the award really go to?

Let’s break down the cases for and against each man, shall we?

 

The Case For Tom Crean

A 10-3 start to the season has turned in to a Big Ten championship-winning team, something that has only been done one other time under Crean. If winning a regular season title with two games to go isn’t a model of consistency, then what else is?

There was no choke-job, no head-scratching losses. What there was was a team who fought through injuries and adversity from the offseason on to become a true champion. Crean deserves a ton of credit for figuring out the formula that works early and sticking with it even with a guy like James Blackmon Jr. gone after non-conference play was finished.

Yogi Ferrell finally put it all together in his final campaign, while the team had four double-digit scorers and three of them playing all season long. It was a true team effort in 2015-16, unlike anything we’ve seen from the promising Hoosiers of the past.

Voting for the coach of the Big Ten regular season champions seems like a pretty solid bet.

The Case Against Tom Crean

Is it really that surprising to see the Hoosiers at the top of the Big Ten standings? After all, they did have stars like Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon, Jr. and Troy Williams to work with. Even BTN analyst Jon Crispin had them No. 2 in his preseason poll.

The unofficial BTN poll also had the Hoosiers 2nd too. Going 10-3 in non-conference play also proved to be a pretty good indicator this was a team ready to compete for a Big Ten championship. It isn’t like this was an improbable run or something so impressive that Crean is a no-brainer choice.

The Case For Greg Gard

Taking over for an iconic figure midway through a season? Could you ask for anything tougher for an interim head coach with exactly zero head coaching experience at the collegiate level? In the case of Greg Gard you actually could, as the Badgers that he took over faced the very real possibility of being the first team coached by Bo Ryan to not make the NCAA tournament.

Instead of folding and keeping with the status quo, Gard took full control of this team and molded it in the image he believed would make them successful.

After taking over a team that was just 8-5 in non-conference play, Gard’s team went out to a 1-4 start to Big Ten play. That start featured losses to the likes of Purdue, Indiana and Maryland — hardly slouches in conference play.

Still, this team worked and figured out how to work the swing offense quickly. Once the lightbulb went on with their collective backs against the wall, Wisconsin has ripped off 11 wins in the last 12 games and own three wins over Top 10 teams.

Getting little-used point guard Jordan Hill to be a key contributor off the bench and Vitto Brown to become a three-point threat were things few saw coming — but they all happened.

No team in the Big Ten is as hot as the Badgers are, and no team is a bigger surprised based on early season results than UW. A lot of the credit for the turnaround has to go to Gard and his coaching.

The Case Against Greg Gard

While there is a happy feeling to what Gard has accomplished, there is a really bad loss on their record in Big Ten play — at Northwestern. It’s a blemish that Tom Crean and the Hoosiers simply don’t have on their record this season.

Additionally, Wisconsin’s 1-4 start in Big Ten play also coincided with the start of Gard’s tenure. Feel-good story aside, the totality of Gard’s Big Ten season is not nearly as impressive as the mark Crean’s Hoosiers have put up.

There’s also a consistently maddening feature to the 2015-16 Badgers…an ability to find an extended scoring drought in each half of just about every contest this season. Product of youth? Maybe. But also something that should’ve been figured out by now.

Wisconsin and Gard may be lucky it hasn’t suffered further losses given its inconsistency on the offensive end of the floor.

 

Final Verdict

After all of that, voting for this award in this year is perhaps the most subjective in recent memory. Do you value a mild surprise and winning the conference title, or do you value doing what no one thought was possible?

If you love a feel-good story, you’d be totally justified in voting for Gard. If you value championships and quality play over the whole of the season, then Crean is your man.

Ultimately, this writer prefers to wait and see what happens on the final day of the regular season. Should the Badgers upend Purdue on the road to end the season, they will finish as the No. 2 seed and won 12 of their last 13 games to end regular season play. That’s consistency, and that would also mean four wins against Top 15 opposition in conference play.

How could you not vote for that kind of production from a team who was left for dead at 1-4 in B1G play early in January?

Should Wisconsin not win on Saturday at Purdue…well, the choice becomes much clearer and Tom Crean becomes the choice. This is a rare season in which the choice isn’t wrong no matter which way it goes.

Perhaps the bigger question is if we see a split vote like last season with Maryland’s Mark Turgeon winning the media vote and Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan winning the coaches vote.

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers basketball lands pair of 4-star players in 2021 class

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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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Carlson commits to Badgers 2020 basketball class

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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 add 4-star center to 2020 basketball class

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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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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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