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Wisconsin men’s basketball: how did this game against Rhode Island even happen?

Greg Gard walked us through the intricacies of scheduling in the year 2020. Spoiler alert: it’s complicated.

NCAA Basketball: Green Bay at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

We all know that this has been a year with unprecedented challenges. The world of college basketball has not been immune to those, with the main one being: how do you set up a schedule that works and allows for the most games to be played while staying safe during a pandemic?

The Wisconsin Badgers football team already knows all about cancellations, but the men’s basketball team had made it through the first four games of the season smoothly (virus-wise, not basketball-wise) until this week’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Louisville, was forced to go on pause last week.

As UW head coach Greg Gard said in his Monday availability, this was all, “probably a matter of when, not if, with how this whole year is going.”

Gard then went into a detailed explanation on how the Badgers went from playing Louisville on Wednesday night to playing Rhode Island. It involves a lot of moving parts, so buckle up.

First, the Badgers and Rams didn’t even sign a contract for the game until Saturday night. “It’s a quick turnaround in terms of getting them on our schedule,” Gard noted. “To be able to get Rhode Island in at the 11th hour is...about as good as it could get.”

But before that was decided on, Gard and scheduling czar Marc VandeWettering had multiple options to sift through. “Credit goes to Marc for putting this together fast and presenting me with a lot of options,” Gard said.

Here are the options that were at one point considered:

  • “We were looking at moving UNI to this week because their opponent Richmond was also on pause, but then [Richmond] got the green light to practice.” So moving Northern Iowa is out.
  • “Tennessee was back in the mix but then things changed on their end.” The Vols were on the original Wisconsin schedule for this season, so it would have been great to play them especially since they are a top-15 team, however it didn’t work out.
  • “We had a lot of difference options including going to Indy to play a neutral-site game on Tuesday night, although the team we were going to play went on pause, so that wasn’t going to work.” Gard, in a later answer, mentions that UConn was the team they would have played in Indy.
  • And finally, URI came on to the map late Saturday afternoon and turned out to be the best option.

Gard is pleased with the game because the Rams are a good team from a good conference and will provide a challenge for the Badgers. He mentions star guard Fatts Russell as well as the Mitchell brothers, who transferred from Maryland. You’d know all about these players if you’ve been keeping up with B5Q the past two days, btw. Gard also gave a shout out to KenPom (he’s just like us!) and the advent of technology which makes pulling up game film of opponents not difficult on short notice.

The Badgers are still hoping to play Louisville on Sunday, obviously pending any more positive tests among the Cardinals team.

“Trying to play as many games against the best competition we can find,” Gard opined, but he noted that getting a full schedule together is more important.