It’s no secret that the Wisconsin Badgers had a disappointing regular season in their regards, failing to make the NCAA tournament for just the second time since 1998.
While they've currently enjoyed a successful run in the NIT Tournament, placing more hope towards their future, head coach Greg Gard has been frank with the media surrounding the need for additional depth to his roster.
Now, that doesn't come without complications, as the Badgers may return all five of their starters from this season, which may de-incentivize players to join the program, but, nonetheless, Wisconsin is looking to improve.
However, given their current state in the NIT Tournament, it’s been a tough ride for Gard and his coaching staff, who have to maneuver devising gameplans for their current schedule, but also battle other teams in the transfer portal to avoid missing out on top targets.
“The teams that are still playing, that are winning are getting penalized for winning. But you have to do both,” Gard said last Friday. “I mean, I’m in Minneapolis last night watching our guys that are in the state Tournament, and we’re active in the portal. We’ve got a visit going on right now as we’re preparing to play, and you’re navigating all that.”
The Badgers’ mindsets could've changed after strong senior seasons from both Nolan Winter and Gus Yalden, who are set to become incoming freshmen in 2023, but Gard still envisions that contributions will come from the portal.
“You have a decent idea of just what we need, how we need to improve our team. Some of that will come from incoming freshmen. Some of that’s going to come from guys here getting better and getting bigger and stronger and the experience, and some will come through the portal.”
As a result of trying to navigate the current and the future, Gard has already had conversations with current players, gauging their mindsets for next season.
“But, yeah, you really can’t walk down that road completely until you really know who’s [committed to the team next year]. I’ve sat guys down already. I’ve already started that process,” Gard said. “We’re not even to the end of the season, but just to get a feel where guys’ minds were.”
However, Wisconsin’s head coach doesn't like the current structure, emphasizing that teams that are winning get penalized, as they're forced to navigate both playing fields, jeopardizing their current situation and their future plans.
“Teams that are still playing, actually the teams that have had successful years have gotten penalized for winning because you can still do it and we’ve had to do it, but you’re trying to be in two or three places at once,” Gard said.”
The Badgers seem to be trying to add at multiple positions, as reports have linked them to both guards and forwards during the initial transfer portal process, which is vital, given their lack of high-end depth definitely cost them this season.
Gard specifically highlighted former big man transfer Chris Vogt, given his seamless fit with the team and the understanding of his role coming out of the portal, which many didn’t appreciate enough.
“Chris Vogt was a heck of a [player]. Till he was done or near, I don’t think the outside world realized the value of him and coming in as a fifth-year guy, being unselfish enough to play 15 minutes, knowing that Steve [Crowl] was going to be there. And the championship mindset he brought, I think his two years at Northern Kentucky and the year at Cincinnati or whatever it was, vice versa. They won championships in three of those four years.”
The biggest element of the transfer portal is a player’s desire for an increased role, which often leads to poor fits and toxic rosters, which is why Gard and his staff’s main goal is to bring in good culture fits, like Vogt was during his time at Wisconsin.
“Just his voice and knowledge and experience in that locker room,” Gard said. “We don’t win the championship last year without [Chris Vogt]. I know Johnny and Brad had a big impact, but he understood and embraced his role. And that’s the challenge: to find the guys that want to will embrace their role because not everybody will be a star. You can’t function. There’s a role for everybody on a team, and you have to have everybody all-in in the role.”
However, given the uncertainties of the transfer portal, Gard is currently unsure of the outlook of his roster, which should develop more over the next few weeks after the Badgers conclude their season.
“I think we’re nowhere near knowing what our roster will look like. And if there’s any coach in the country telling you, I know what my roster will look like, their nose may grow.”
But, the first stop for the Badgers is the NIT Final Four, where they face off against the North Texas Mean Green on Tuesday evening for a chance to reach the championship this season.