Wisconsin Basketball: Should Greg Gard change the lineup?

Feb 23, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Vitto Brown (30) takes the floor before the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Value City Arena. The Buckeyes won 83-73. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 23, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Vitto Brown (30) takes the floor before the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Value City Arena. The Buckeyes won 83-73. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports /

The Wisconsin Badgers lost their third game in four tries Thursday night in a 83-73 loss to Ohio State.

A lot of uncertainty is currently surrounding head coach Greg Gard’s Wisconsin Badgers basketball team. A squad that has a great experience and a vast load of talent has now lost three of four games and has gone weeks without seeming fully functional on offense.

Every game it appears like a new player is carrying the offensive load, and in Thursday night’s loss to Ohio State, Bronson Koenig’s performance proved just that. His 27 points was a game high, but the next highest Badgers scorer after him was freshman D’Mitrik Trice with 14- the only other player in double figures. Nigel Hayes ended with seven points while Ethan Happ had just four on five field goal attempts.

The status quo surrounding Badgers basketball over the last 15 years or so was rewarding seniors with playing time and rarely ever tinkering with the starting lineup, unless their was injury. As someone who served under Bo Ryan and his system for 15 years, Gard has done the same this season- starting the same starting five game in and game out, with the only exception coming to Koenig’s injury recently. With the offensive struggles present, is it time Gard tries a new starting lineup and rotation?

To answer that question bluntly: it cannot hurt to try. The Badgers are becoming very easy to defend, especially with all these shooting struggles. Ohio State’s defensive gameplan last night was simple: Make Wisconsin shoot from the outside. They did this by double teaming Hayes or Happ and leaving who they thought the worst shooter on the floor was.

Badgers forward Vitto Brown is usually on the receiving end of being left open as opposing teams double team Happ and/or Hayes. Yes, Brown can get hot and knock down shots- but in his last three games he has gone 3-16 from the field and has also had five games this year where he has failed to make a shot, in which four of those he attempted at least five shots.

Wisconsin is going to be facing double teams in the post for the rest of the season, without question- which means if the Badgers are not getting it done with what they are putting on the floor, it might be time for a change. Right now, the Badgers are posting a three-forward look with Happ, Hayes, and Brown. Granted, Brown and Hayes can hit the occasional outside shot, but with only two guards on the perimeter, teams are welcoming the Badgers to shoot threes. So why not counter that with three-point shooters?

Only three regulars in the rotation right now are shooting above 35 percent from three: Trice, Koenig, and Zak Showalter- so it might be hard to find a lineup that poses as a major deep threat. We put together some possible starting fives that hone in on different skills.

Shooting Bonus

  • D’Mitrik Trice
  • Bronson Koenig
  • Brevin Pritzl
  • Nigel Hayes
  • Ethan Happ

With this lineup, Trice is the primary handler of the ball and Koenig is able to get open without having to focus on also facilitating the offense. Hayes and Happ are great passers in the post and if you have Hayes playing the “four” instead of the “three,” it opens up more room on the perimeter for shooters to get open. With the currently lineup, we are virtually seeing four guys out, with Happ in the post. When they pass it down, Happ often kicks it out to an open shooter- which is usually Hayes or Brown, who are 30 percent three-point shooters.

For this next lineup, it could create a better flow to the offense and bring an extra threat in the interior.

  • Bronson Koenig
  • Zak Showalter
  • Khalil Iverson
  • Nigel Hayes
  • Ethan Happ

The only change here is bringing in Iverson for Brown. Iverson has shown glimpses of getting to the basket and cutting without the ball. A much faster, athletic swing player, Iverson can get the defense off balance and create better flow to the game.

Lastly, what is the harm is getting players such as Jordan Hill or even Andy Van Vliet some action. Hill is an experienced guy who plays smart and has seen games in crunch time. Van Vliet is raw at this time, but a 7-foot guy that can shoot? The guy should be given a chance, even if it is for a couple minutes here and there to provide a spark.

The Badgers will likely keep their same lineup as they head to East Lansing to play Michigan State on Sunday. Even if Gard keeps the same starting five moving forward, it cannot hurt to play around with some lineups and adjust minutes to see who and what group can provide some much needed energy.