Defining Consistency: Greg Gard’s Wisconsin basketball program

Coach Gard's tenure with Badgers has seen many highs, lows

· Apr 13, 2022 Tweet
Mens Basketball vs Iowa State

Justin Mielke/The Badger Herald

Coming into the 2021-22 season, the Badgers Men’s Basketball team had low expectations from basketball pundits all across the country. A disappointing 2020-21 campaign was capped off in the worst way imaginable, with an audio clip being released between former disgruntled senior players and head coach Greg Gard. Because of this, many people were uncertain where current players stood with Gard. 

Additionally, Badgers lost five of their top eight-minute getters to either various professional leagues or to the transfer portal. Though it had only been two seasons since Gard had won Big Ten Coach of the Year, people were beginning to question his leadership and ability to coach and recruit for Wisconsin teams in the future. 

For Badger fans and Gard, this year’s squad was almost a completely brand-new team, with only three players who played substantial minutes the previous season returning to Wisconsin. But an inexperienced team is a small obstacle for a coach who has gone through what Gard has in his short tenure as the Wisconsin coach. The way he began his head coaching career for the Badgers is as unconventional as it gets, with Bo Ryan announcing his retirement just 12 games into the 2015-16 season. 

Even though he started 1-4 in conference play, Gard was able to coach his team to a huge upset victory over No. 4 Michigan State at home. The Badgers would go on to finish the season winning 10 of their last 12 games, which included three more wins over ranked teams. It also marked the end of Gard’s time as interim head coach, as athletic director Barry Alvarez officially gave him the nod for head coach at the end of the season. 

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His most difficult season though was 2019-20, where he and his team dealt with the tragedy of a car accident, seriously injuring assistant coach Howard Moore and killing his wife and daughter. Soon after, leading scorer Kobe King had made the decision to leave the program and enter the transfer portal. In a game in early February, after strength and conditioning coach Erik Helland resigned after the fallout of his using a racial slur and Brad Davison was suspended for a flagrant foul against Iowa, the Badgers were looking like they were in complete shambles. 

Besides all the off-the-field issues Gard and his staff were dealing with, the team itself sat at a disappointing 13-10 overall and 6-6 in conference play. But, the Badgers were able to come together and take down No. 14 Michigan State, where Gard once again outcoached legendary coach Tom Izzo. From there, they would win eight of their last nine games and capture their first regular season Big Ten conference title in five years. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented his team from playing out their true potential in March Madness, but not before Gard would capture his first Big Ten Coach of the Year, voted in by his peers and media. 

His following season, 2020-21, was a letdown and ended with not just a leaked audio of his seniors expressing their frustrations with him but also an anonymous source had claimed an assistant coach was “plotting” to overthrow him as head coach. Even though from the casual fan’s perspective, leading his team to success this season had seemed like a daunting task, for him, it was really a lot simpler than what he had already gone through up to that point. 

Gard, prior to the season starting, commented on how, even though this was a young and inexperienced team, he liked the energy they brought and how everyone was committed to learning and growing together as a team. Though the Badgers came in ranked in the bottom half of basically every Big Ten preseason ranking, they did not let that deter them from succeeding early on. 

The team got off to a red-hot start, winning eight of their first nine games of the season. Sophomore phenom Johnny Davis quickly established himself as the new face of the Badgers offense, averaging 20.5 PPG over that span, including a huge 30-point performance in an upset against No. 12 Houston at the Maui invitational. But, what was much more comforting for Gard and Badger fans was seeing the team only average 8.5 turnovers in those nine games, along with the defense averaging only just over 59 points per game for opposing offenses, something that had become a staple for Wisconsin basketball since the days of Bo Ryan. 

As the season progressed, this young, relatively inexperienced Wisconsin basketball team continued to demonstrate the cohesion and calmness of a team that had been together for years. Freshman point guard Chucky Hepburn was a welcomed surprise, as he played with the poise of a seasoned veteran throughout the season. From the month of February on, he only had six turnovers in five games on the road. Not only that, but he was also instrumental at the end of games, with his biggest moment of the season being a last second three against Purdue in a battle of top ten ranked teams.

His confidence, along with Gard’s coaching, was a big reason why the Badgers were an NCAA best 15-2 in games decided by six points or less. 

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The Badgers would finish the season at a 25-8 clip, along with a Gard’s team best 15-5 record in conference play. Once again, Gard would be voted as Big Ten Coach of the Year by his peers and media — for the second time in just three years. He receives constant praise by his assistant coaches and has responded to every doubt and criticism by winning games year after year, even with constant hardships and distractions. 

Though he has yet to have a deep run in the NCAA tournament, Gard has demonstrated great resiliency as a coach and has truly been a microcosm of what it means to be a Badger. With Davis entering the NBA draft and Davison officially moving on from his time as a player, Gard will once again look to surprise everyone this upcoming season and continue to add to his impressive resume as the Badgers’ head coach.


This article was published Apr 13, 2022 at 8:00 am and last updated Apr 12, 2022 at 9:18 pm


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