The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball program has been one of the most stable programs in the country for nearly two decades. They produce results and have done so without the scandals that affect many other programs such as Louisville and Syracuse. The Badgers have made the NCAA tournament every year since 1999, and put up good results, making to the “Elite Eight” four times, and three trips to the Final Four during that stretch. However, that run is about to come to a close. The Badgers currently sit at 6-11 in Big Ten Conference play and are 13-17 on the season overall. Basically, they are going to have to make a miracle run in the Big Ten Tournament to keep that streak going. So what has led to their demise? We believe we have an answer, and it may not be what you think.
The first place to check are the stats themselves and the Badgers stats this season have clearly represented their issues. They are averaging just 67 points a game and shooting 45% from the field. Their free throw percentage, usually one of the best in the country every year, sits at just 69% on the season. Their defense, which has been their staple for two decades, has failed them over and over again, in key moments, all season long. Yes, those stats do not represent a good team, but they stem from perhaps a deeper issue. When a collegiate team drops off after a long run of success, the second factor many like to look at their recruiting. Taking a look at the Badgers recruiting classes lately, this is not the problem. In fact, due to their back-to-back Final Fours in 2014 and 2015, the Badgers have had better recruiting classes. So what is the problem?
Back during the 2015-2016 season, legendary Badgers head coach Bo Ryan, the man who built this program, retired. Wisconsin selected his top assistant, Greg Gard to replace him. The transitionwas smooth, and for a year or two the decision looked good, as the Badgers kept winning. But now, in year three, as this becomes Gard’s team and these are his players, there are signs of a drop off (see stats above.) We’ve seen this rodeo before in college sports. In 2013 Chip Kelly left Oregon for the NFL and his top assistant Mark Helfrich replaced him. For a year or two, Helfrich won games with Kelly’s players. Then, as they became “his” players that he recruited, the results tapered off. This is not to say that it never works the opposite direction. And yes, there are been injuries to key players on the Badgers roster. This has also forced freshmen into the starting position.The final conclusion here is that Greg Gard is far from finished. If he can steer clear of the injury bug, and get his more experienced players back on the court, the team may turn around. I’m afraid that it’s too late for a tournament run.