The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team has had, to put it kindly, an up and down 2019-20 season so far. With the team having the rest of the week off from games until Saturday’s big home tilt with the No. 14 Michigan State Spartans we thought it was time to take a look back at how the team has been doing now that we’ve reached the midway point of conference play.
Rock, Belz, Kevin and Ryan sat down around the digital Google Docs table and answered some questions about how they think the season has gone and what they think will happen the rest of the way.
Going back to the beginning of the season, is this where you thought the Badgers, 12-9 overall and 5-5 in conference, would be at the midpoint of B1G play?
Rock: The non-conference record is pretty bad. The wins at Tennessee and against Marquette were probably the ones Wisconsin fans wanted the most and that saves it a bit, but going 2-4 in games that aren’t specifically there to pad out ticket sales is rough.
.500 in conference is fine so far, given that in the preseason mental tabulation you’re automatically taking two losses at Purdue and Michigan State, and there’s only been four home games. With the overall strength of everyone in the Big 10, fine. It’s fine. Don’t complain about how ‘it should be higher, we could have won at Iowa and against Illinois!’ when the Badgers were up a point in the last minute at Columbus and the outright thievery Davison pulled off against Maryland.
Belz: For me personally, no. I think the non-conference struggles might have suggested that this should not be a surprise, but entering the season I assumed that the overall record would be slightly better. A two game swing in record to 14-7 could have easily been accomplished if the Badgers didn’t fall flat during some key stretches.
Kevin: To be honest, this is right about where I thought the Badgers would be at the midpoint of the season. They’re a middle-of-the-pack team capable of beating anyone in the conference, but also susceptible to some extremely frustrating losses (i.e. Illinois, New Mexico, Monday night’s debacle at Iowa).
Ryan: I’m going to say no… usually Wisconsin finds a way to win in conference play, which they have done a couple of times (on the road against OSU and PSU), but they have also lost games that I did not envision them losing, coming into B1G play.
After collapsing on the road against a tough Iowa team and seeing, potentially, Kobe King leave the team all on the same day, what are your thoughts on Greg Gard’s job security?
Rock: Bo Ryan was the best coach in Wisconsin history, and it’s not even close. Memories of back-to-back Final Four runs are still fresh, the paint barely faded from the commemorative t-shirts. In the 50 years before Bo Ryan was hired, Wisconsin basketball had five NCAA appearances, a Final Four run, a pair of NIT bids and two second place conference finishes. Doing about what Butler did after their back-to-back national championship appearances isn’t the worst thing in the world.
If there continues to be issues with roster management that make a transfer like Potter a requirement to put a competitive basketball team on the floor, that’s when you start looking elsewhere. Until then, any single coach worth interviewing is going to ask ‘How quick will I be fired if I don’t match up to the greatest coach in your history?’
Belz: It is definitely not a great look to have one of the more talented players on the team potentially dissatisfied. I would have to imagine Greg Gard would have liked this season to have been better thus far, but Wisconsin still has six quad one wins on their tournament resume, and have plenty of time to bolster it with key contests upcoming. For now I think his driver’s seat is at best lukewarm. I think next season has some serious potential with a core group of seniors returning and an influx of young talent incoming. If the struggles continue then, people can begin to have grumblings.
Kevin: This is a tough one. I’m impressed with how the Badgers have bounced back from a disappointing performance in the non-conference to become a competitive tournament team (for now) in the best conference in the country. But on the other hand, some of Gard’s in-game coaching adjustments (or lack thereof), the continued struggles on the offensive end, and some of his rotation decisions (play Micah Potter more!) have made me question whether he is the right coach for the program moving forward. Losing King would be a massive blow, but I think Gard’s superb 2020 recruiting class will save his job for at least one more season.
Ryan: I want to say for now, his job is safe… given that he just signed one of, if not the best freshman classes in school history. However, if he cannot get the team to turn it around and perform next season when the new frosh’s come in, I think at that point we could see his potential exit. Potentially losing King is also not a good look, but time will tell, what his absence was all about.
Who has been the team MVP so far? Who has been the biggest surprise?
Rock: MVP has to be Nate-dogg, regulating the paint. Still gets into foul trouble a little too much, but a perfect stretch-4 playing center should foul out even more. He has an excellent feel for blocking shots and has nice finishing moves around the rim to go with a decent outside shot.
The biggest surprise on the court has been Aleem Ford. I think the Nebraska game was the first time all season where he really helped the team out when asked, and didn’t hurt otherwise to be a net positive on the court. He fouls to the point where it’s rare he’s subbed out for rest instead of ‘not picking up another too early.’ His freshman year shooting 40% from deep may have set expectations too high there, and he hasn’t developed an ability to drive to the bucket
Belz: It has to be Nate Reuvers for MVP. He has been the most aggressive player offensively, and has done a nice job defensively in the post against some really good big men in the conference. In terms of the biggest surprise, Micah Potter would be a logical choice for his work on offense, but I will go with Tyler Wahl. Back at media day Greg Gard, and the players, praised Wahl’s skill set and believed he would help the team this year. He has been one of the better tone setters for this team with his hustle and he has helped the team out tremendously because of his position versatility.
Kevin: Reuvers is the clear-cut team MVP this season. For starters, he’s really the only player on the team who can consistently score double digits game to game (can you tell I’m frustrated with Wisconsin’s offense). But Reuvers also performed admirably the first month and a half of the season, playing big minutes as the Badgers’ only post player while they awaited the return of Micah Potter.
The biggest surprise for me is true freshman Tyler Wahl. Despite being a heralded recruit, I naively expected Wahl to play sparingly or redshirt his first year on campus. Instead, Wahl has been a key bench contributor from the jump and has gained valuable playing time that will undoubtedly help in his development as a player.
Ryan: Nate Reuvers has been the team MVP so far this season. He has been their most consistent scoring presence, scoring in double figures in all but four games this year. The biggest surprise…Micah Potter. I mean we knew he would make a positive impact once he came back and Wisconsin is 7-4 in games he has played and he has played well, most surprisingly shooting 47.8 percent from outside of the arc. I think if Wisconsin is going to have more success this season, it’s going to be with Potter on the court more. Around 14 minutes per game is not going to cut it.
What is the Badgers record in the last 10 games and where do they finish in the B1G?
Rock: Umm… why do I think we go 7-3 or 8-2? I keep looking at the schedule, and the two toughest games are home against Michigan State and Rutgers, which is a completely normal thing to write. Next would be at Indiana, but then what? Maybe home against Purdue, or at a Michigan team in disarray, or at ~.500 Minnesota, or home against an Ohio State team the Badgers have already beaten. That puts ‘em at fifth, playing Thursday in the BTT.
Belz: Losing three of their last four has been tough, but the remaining games are much more manageable. Outside of the Michigan State game, if the Badgers can sweep their home slate that gets them to five wins. I don’t think it is unreasonable to win two games of their road against Minnesota, Nebraska, and Michigan. I will guess they finished 7-3 down the stretch, but I wouldn’t be surprised by 6-4 or 8-2. Winning at home will be key for them to finish in the top six.
Kevin: It’s really hard to predict how these last 10 games will play out with how up and down Wisconsin has been this season, but I say they go 6-4. If the Badgers can take care of business at home (excluding Saturday’s game against Michigan St.) and get one more road win (likely at Nebraska or Michigan) they’ll finish at 6-4. I think anything 5-5 or better down the stretch will get the Badgers into the tournament.
Ryan: I’m gonna go with 6-4. Of their final 10 games, they only play three teams that are ahead of them in the standings (one of which they beat by 20 at home) and only two ranked opponents.However, we have had trouble on the road and we have been plagued by inconsistency all season. I think we finish somewhere around fifth to seventh in the conference.
Does this team make the NCAA Tournament?
Rock: Listen, I just said I think the Badgers would win seven of the next 10 games – they notch a win in Indianapolis they get to 20 wins in the toughest conference. That’s dancing.
Belz: I think so. If they can win six or seven of their final ten games, 19 or 20 wins should do the trick based on how difficult the Big Ten is this year. I think an upset win over Michigan State would absolutely rejuvenate this team and secure their spot barring a collapse, but I am not banking on that.
Kevin: For now I’ll say yes. Luckily the Big Ten is so deep that the Badgers have plenty of opportunities to secure some resume-building wins down the stretch. However, with King’s status up in the air and long scoring droughts still a major issue, I can see a world where the Badgers collapse down the stretch and stumble into an NIT bid.
Ryan: I’m going to go with a cautiously optimistic, yes. However, it’s going to take a strong finish to get in. And college basketball is weird this year.