There is no way around saying it anymore: Greg Gard should be the next head coach at Wisconsin.
Even acknowledging that it took some time for the Badgers to find their way under him (remember, the team was 2-4 in his first six games), what Gard has done righting a previously middling team deserves serious notice, to the point where it’s hard to imagine many others could’ve done it better this year. Considering that, plus his understanding of the program and the natural transition he provides from the very highly successful Bo Ryan, from the outside view he is the best candidate to be the full-time coach of this program.
Wisconsin won again Wednesday night for the ninth time in 10 games, defeating Iowa 67-59 on the road for another big win, and one that pretty much put the team in the NCAA Tournament barring a collapse the rest of the way. The Badgers held the Hawkeyes to 14 points in the game’s final 15 minutes and limited them a highly ranked team to 32.7% shooting in its own gym, a sensational defensive performance that backs up everything UW has accomplished in the last month.
Wisconsin followed its 9-9 start with seven straight wins, but there was reason for skepticism even after the first six of those wins. Four of them came at home, and even as two were against Michigan State and Indiana, those victories merely got the Badgers near the conversation for the NCAA tourney. An ominous closing stretch with trips to Maryland, Michigan State, Iowa and Purdue would be big trouble for almost any team, much less one that still was burdened by losses to teams like Western Illinois, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marquette and Northwestern.
The perception changed with a road win at Maryland, though that was somewhat dampened by a mostly uncompetitive loss at Michigan State. A closer-than-should’ve-been shave against Illinois on Sunday also was worrisome, but there’s no worry anymore-a still-young team is finding ways to win, and doing it in hostile territory against some of the country’s best teams.
Once again, the Badgers were helped by the return of their three-point shooting stroke. One of the weaker long-range shooting teams in the country most of the year, Wisconsin now has hit at least 10 three-pointers in four of its last six games, including 10 of 23 from deep at Iowa. It’s still at team that is a work in progress-again, it still is an exceptionally young outfit-but the in-season improvement has been startling, and there’s no way that’s not a testament to Gard.
Athletic director Barry Alvarez will make the call here, and he has a track record of making good choices (even if Badger fans might disagree at times with some recent football hires before current coach Paul Chryst). Though speculation by some has been that Alvarez may want to make a run at a bigger name (think: Tony Bennett, son of another Badger and state legend Dick Bennett) the guess here is he’s very in tune with what’s happening. He won’t make a rushed pick, but history says he’ll likely make the right one. From the outside, it’s sure looking like that right one is also an obvious one.
- The highlight game of the night was in the Big East, where Xavier knocked off top-ranked Villanova 90-83. The Musketeers were balanced-six players in double figures, including 19 each from Edmond Sumner and J.P. Macura. With two top five teams, a raucous sellout crowd on campus and Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery on the call, this one was big time in every way, a great contest.
- Another team picking up a clutch home win was Colorado, which slowed down Arizona for a 75-72 win. Josh Scott was the best player on the court with 26 points and nine rebounds.
- A busy night in the Atlantic 10 saw one team keep on rolling and three others get redemption, though one in particular came at the expense of a team’s NCAA tourney hopes. Saint Joseph’s handled a road test with ease, downing Massachusetts 74-57 to move to 23-5. One never knows what the selection committee is thinking about teams like this, but it sure looks like the Hawks should be a solid pick if they continue to take care of business.
- St. Bonaventure and George Washington both avenged earlier losses, with the Bonnies edging stubborn Duquesne 80-76 and GW winning at always unpredictable Richmond 73-61. George Mason also avenged a blowout loss earlier this season-to VCU, and the Patriots’ 76-69 victory puts the Rams’ in increasing peril as far as their postseason plans.
- Texas A&M beat Mississippi State 68-66, but it’s hard not to continue to be concerned about the Aggies. The hope has to be that the recent win over Kentucky was a better sign of how this team will do in March against higher competition, but its lack of postseason experience is another drawback for a team that is looking more and more mediocre too often.
- Michigan also continues to play with fire, but also continues to do just enough. The Wolverines held off Northwestern 72-63 for their 20th win, with Aubrey Dawkins coming off the bench to hit three big three-pointers in the second half.
- San Diego State wrapped up the Mountain West regular season title with three games left, scoring a 73-61 win at Wyoming.
- Bucknell clinched at least a tie for the Patriot League title, outlasting Lafayette 86-83 in double overtime. The Bison still have red-hot Lehigh hot on their tails, though, after the Mountain Hawks won their eighth straight by defeating Colgate 71-54 to remain one game back.
- Yale starting guard Jack Montague will not be returning this year, as it was announced Tuesday that he has withdrawn from school. The school offered no further comment. Montague averaged 9.7 points per game this year, though the Ivy League-leading Bulldogs have gone 3-1 since his departure from the team.
- Rhode Island’s frustrating year added another chapter as Hassan Martin will now miss the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered Tuesday in the Rams’ loss to Davidson. Martin was averaging 12 points and nearly six rebounds per game, and he’s another all-Atlantic 10-caliber player lost for a team that already missed E.C. Matthews for the season.
Tonight’s Menu: Heavy on a diet of big games in out-of-the-spotlight leagues
- Florida State has a golden opportunity for a take-notice win as it goes to Duke (7 p.m. EST, ESPN). Playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium is never easy, but the thin Blue Devils are ripe for picking, even as Matt Jones is expected to return.
- Providence tries to stop the bleeding of four losses in five games, but the assignment is not easy: at Seton Hall (7 p.m., FS1)
- A lot is on the line as Hofstra faces UNC Wilmington in a key CAA game. With a win, the Seahawks can wrap up at least a share of the regular season crown and the top seed in the conference tourney, but the Pride can pull into a tie with UNCW with a victory.
- The final night of Atlantic Sun regular season play has four teams with a shot at a share of the title, but only one that controls its own destiny. North Florida goes up I-295 to city rival Jacksonville holding a one-game lead over the Dolphins as well as Florida Gulf Coast and NJIT.
- UAB can take firm control of Conference USA if it can handle second-place Marshall at home.
- Arkansas-Little Rock can wrap up the Sun Belt regular season crown and move to 25-3 overall with a home win over Texas-Arlington.
- Winthrop is the latest to take a turn atop the Big South, but now the Eagles have to go to High Point for a national television date (9 p.m., ESPNU).
- OVC surprise Tennnessee Tech-1 1/2 games behind Belmont for first in the East Division-puts its undefeated home record on the line when it hosts Morehead State.
- Wagner can clinch at least a share of the Northeast Conference title when it hosts St. Francis (Pa.), but a win by the Red Flash would put any number of others into contention for first.
- Moving westward, the best game in the Pac-12 is UCLA at California (9 p.m., ESPN2), as the Golden Bears look to keep momentum up after a successful trip to Washington last weekend.
Enjoy your Thursday.