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Wisconsin coach Greg Gard has issues to fix.

Wisconsin springs a leak on defense, free throw woes costly and a deserved raise for Paul Chryst

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Today is Monday, Feb. 27, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.


Pressure building

Losing at Michigan State is not a stunner when it comes to Wisconsin basketball. The Badgers haven’t won there since 2004, so the 84-74 loss on Sunday wasn’t unexpected, even with the Spartans hampered by the loss of so many players, the latest being senior guard Eron Harris. But the way in which the Badgers lost continues to be mystifying for a group that is as experienced as any Wisconsin has ever put on the floor.

For a second straight game, the Badgers defense, which had been so good when their offense had been so bad in late January and most of February, was almost a no-show. Wisconsin couldn’t stop dribble penetration in the first half, struggled with slowing forward Nick Ward (22 points) down low, with only foul trouble keeping him from a monster game, and allowed open shots as the result of miscommunication all afternoon.

All of this led to Wisconsin giving up 80 points in back-to-back Big Ten games for the first time since 1993. And it leaves the Badgers reeling at the worst possible time, losers of four of five with just two games left in the conference season.

Greg Gard inherited a tough situation when he took over from Bo Ryan in December 2015. The team was 7-5, a mess offensively and lacked cohesion. But that situation came with no expectations. If Ryan couldn’t coach that bunch, what could anyone expect of Gard? But, with a few changes, that group rebounded and eventually accomplished more than most thought it could.

That is not the situation in which Gard now finds himself. Sure, he’s got more security than he did when he replaced Ryan, but because of their run to the Sweet 16 last season, the fact they were picked to win the Big Ten this season and started 22-3, how Gard gets his team to respond to this very poor stretch may tell us more about him as the leader of the program than anything he did as the interim coach last winter.

Finally got burned

Wisconsin had been playing with fire all year when it came to its free-throw shooting. A team shooting 66.5 percent from the line is eventually going to lose a game that it otherwise could have won. That finally happened on Sunday, as the Badgers made just 13 of 25 from the stripe.

The two biggest culprits are the two guys who go to the line more than anyone — Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ. They combined for 11 of the 12 misses, including eight by Hayes. He missed the opportunity for three 3-point plays and failed to convert on his only 1-and-1 opportunity.

Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes was just 4 of 12 from the free throw line on Sunday. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Hayes has hardly changed his free throw mechanics from the time he stepped on campus, but his results have varied wildly. He made just 58.5 percent as a freshman, shot 73.9 over his sophomore and junior years and is at 59.6 this year. His struggles overshadowed his 22-point, 11-rebound performance Sunday.

Happ is a different story, simply because of his funky shooting style that gives him little to no consistency. He’s shooting 50.3 percent this season after shooting 64.3 as a freshman.

So what do you do about it if you’re Gard? What can you do at this point? You can’t yell at guys to make their free throws or sit them for extended times, especially with those two being so important to the offense. All you can do is stay positive. Hayes and Happ work overtime on their free throws, and it’s almost certainly more mental than physical at this point.

Performances from the line like Sunday’s — even discounting the other issues the team is dealing with right now — will get you booted early in tournament games.

Deserved raise

Wisconsin renewed football coach Paul Chryst’s contract in January and on Friday we learned that it came with a pretty hefty raise.

According to Jason Galloway of the Wisconsin State Journal, Chryst received a $500,000 bump for 2017, leaving him at $3.2 million annually. Based on last year’s numbers put together by USA Today, and knowing what we do about new Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck’s salary, the raise means Chryst will still be the eighth-highest paid coach in the Big Ten.

While that still is very much in the middle of the pack in a 14-team league, it brings him closer to his contemporaries. Sure, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer are always going to be making more, and deservedly so with the money they bring in for their schools.

Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst got a nice bump in his yearly salary. (Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

Penn State’s James Franklin showed he was worth every bit of his $4.5 million salary with a Big Ten title in 2016, while Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio is also deserving of his $4.3 million for what he’s accomplished since taking over in East Lansing– last season not withstanding.

Kirk Ferentz is overpaid at Iowa, with just two Big Ten titles in 18 years, but he’s been there for almost two decades and you can’t fault him for taking everything the school is willing to give.

It leaves Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern and Fleck at Minnesota as the two other coaches making more than Chryst in the Big Ten. Fitzgerald’s longevity plays a role in his salary, while Fleck was a hot commodity and Minnesota needed to make a splash.

So with Chryst now at $3.2 million, he’s seen an increase of $900,000 in just two seasons of work, which, as far as raises go isn’t too bad. And it shows, along with his associate head coach and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph getting an $80,000 raise to $650,000, the willingness by Wisconsin to commit financially to successful people that understand the way things work best in Madison.

Catching up

  • Here’s what Greg Gard had to say to the media after Wisconsin’s fourth loss in their last five games.
  • Over at UWBadgers.com, Mike Lucas looks at new inside linebackers coach Bob Bostad and the big move he’s making from offense to defense.
  • The Wisconsin women’s basketball team fell in its finale and will be the No. 11 seed at the Big Ten Tournament.
  • From Madison.com: Wisconsin men’s hockey team has to settle for a split with Minnesota.
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