It’s time for Wisconsin Basketball to fire Greg Gard

Dec 6, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Greg Gard reacts to a basket made by the Maryland Terrapins during the second half at the Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Greg Gard reacts to a basket made by the Maryland Terrapins during the second half at the Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s time for the University of Wisconsin to fire Greg Gard and bring the men’s basketball program into the 21st century.

Call me spoiled a fan (it’s probably well-deserved), but I’m no longer satisfied with mediocracy and NCAA tournament appearances. I want more. I want NCAA championship-caliber teams or at least teams I can talk myself into having a chance in March. Wisconsin, under Gard, has never been that.

When Bo Ryan took over the program in 2001, Wisconsin considered it a successful season simply by making an appearance in the NCAA tournament. Yes, they made the Final Four just two years earlier, but that was an outlier for the program: They had only made the tourney five times in the previous 54 years.

Under Ryan’s watch, the Badgers evolved into a perennial NCAA tourney team, making it all 14 years of his coaching career, including back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2014 and 2015, raising the bar.

The Wisconsin Basketball team is in a free fall that’s lasted several seasons and it’s time for the program to fire head coach Greg Gard.

Overall, Wisconsin pushed its NCAA tournament streak to 19 straight seasons before reaching a halting stop in just the second full year with Gard at the helm. In 2017-18, Wisconsin went 15-18, missed the tournament for the first time in two decades and suffered their first losing season in 30 years.

To be sure, Gard has had some good moments. They’ve tied atop the Big Ten regular season standings in two of the last three years. He should be credited for those performances, it’s rarely all good or all bad when we’re evaluating anything. It’s usually a mix of both, and, in this case, the bad heavily outweighs the good.

The Badgers have lost six of their last seven games in the Big Ten, but the issues run deeper. Much, much deeper.

Supporters say Gard is a good coach, but I see someone who is outcoached nearly every night. He uses antiquated strategies that make me feel as if I should be watching the game in black and white.

The Badgers’ offense has adjusted slightly since their days under Ryan, but not by much. They still rely on old-school basketball such as guard post-ups, back-to-the-basket play, allowing only their point guard to dribble the ball up the floor and using 90 percent of the shot clock before taking any dribbles toward the basket.

Wisconsin walks the ball up the court, allowing defenses to get set and making the game even tougher on themselves. Gard only allows two guys in his entire program to initiate the offense, ensuring nobody else dribbles unless absolutely necessary. Heck, their days of big men being capable three-point shooters are even long gone. They play like a team that is afraid to lose instead of trying to win.

Wisconsin’s 2022-23 offense ranks a whopping 126th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings (their defense, which they hang their hat on, ranks 37th). They have one top-30 finish under Gard (29th in 2020-21) and three finishes at 62nd or worse.

Gard’s in-game management is also extremely poor. He begins limiting playing time when someone picks up their first foul in the first half, calls timeouts other coaches use to draw up a set play, only to have his team run basic offense instead, and subs out guys like Chucky Hepburn with just over four minutes remaining in a game his team is trying to make a furious comeback in to buy him a little extra rest.

The problems persist off the court as well. The talent entering the program has dried up: Outside of La Crosse Central commits (the Davis brothers in 2020 and Kobe King in 2017), he hasn’t pulled any of the state’s top seven ranked players since he took over as the lead man. That’s a huge miss during a time when in-state talent has never been better.

It’s not as if he’s recruiting well from elsewhere either. Wisconsin currently has the worst 2022 recruiting class in the Big Ten according to 247 sports, and it’s ranked 105th nationally. In the six years Gard has been in charge at Wisconsin, their recruiting classes rank 105th, 33rd, 34th, 132nd, 74th, and 35th, respectively.

Okay, Wisconsin has never been about recruiting rankings, even at Ryan’s peak. However, Gard isn’t developing the majority of talent he’s getting–another weakness in his coaching resumé

To be sure, we’ve seen some progress from guys like Steven Crowl, but the majority of players aren’t developing to a point where they can become positive on-the-court contributors. Check out Jordan Davis and Carter Gilmore as two guys who have spent three years in the program and have had minimal development.

Wisconsin has zero depth this season, barely able to field five starters who are Big Ten caliber. To be this woefully undermanned is a poor reflection of Gard’s developmental abilities.

The biggest reason Wisconsin should move on from Gard is his lack of postseason success.

Gard is 3-4 in his last four Big Ten Tournament appearances and 5-6 overall. We have to go way back to 2016-17 when the Badgers won two conference tournament games–the only time they’ve done so under Gard.

His NCAA tournament resumé is even worse. Wisconsin hasn’t made it past the first weekend of the tourney since 2017 (six years ago!), one year after Ryan stepped down. They missed it altogether in 2018 and could be on the verge of doing so again in 2023. That should be the ultimate measuring stick.

Ryan left in the middle of the season to ensure Gard got 20+ games worth of a trial before the Athletic Director needed to decide the future of the head coach. Talk about nepotism.

We’ve now seen what Gard can do with his own program, and the results are alarming. Wisconsin is not only in a freefall in their last seven games, but their last seven seasons with Gard running the program.

The talent has fallen off, the production has diminished and there aren’t enough signs he can turn it around. It’s a difficult decision, but we shouldn’t be complacent any longer. It’s time to move on from Gard and welcome modern basketball with open arms.