We haven't been able to do a mailbag in quite some time and with conference play starting, it seemed like a good time to dust off the mail and answer a few questions. This mailbag will be a bit shorter this time than some in the past, but there was one question I wanted to tackle in detail.
As always, you can ask questions by using the hashtag #AskBTP or tweeting at @BTPowerhouse or @tbeindit. The best questions will be selected and answered.
The 1/6 Big Ten Powerhouse Mailbag
@tbeindit One more. ... % chance Barry Alvarez can get Tony Bennett to return home despite having a great gig at Virginia?— HodgerB1GTakes (@Fieldof68Freak) January 6, 2016
Undoubtedly, this has to be the biggest question and issue for Wisconsin basketball right now. That isn't said to minimize the current Badgers by any means, but simply to highlight just how big of a decision this is going to be over the coming months. After all, hiring the right or wrong coach can completely change the direction of a program for years to come. Just look at Fred Hoiberg with Iowa State or Mike Rice with Rutgers.
It's obvious, but again, it has to be said: Any head coaching decision is massive.
With that said, it brings us to this question and Wisconsin's particular situation. I've been asked similar questions a few times recently and my answer hasn't changed much. No matter how much you like Greg Gard as a coach, recruiter, and person, you absolutely have to at least investigate the Tony Bennett situation. It's simply unfair to your fans and the program to do otherwise.
The reasoning behind this is pretty simple. Bennett has been absolutely fantastic as a head coach. Following his time as an assistant under Bo Ryan, Bennett headed out west and took over as head coach at Washington State. While there, he took the Cougars to three postseasons, including the Sweet Sixteen in 2008. Of course, following his time at WSU, Bennett created a powerhouse at Virginia. Since his arrival, the Cavaliers are 148-66 overall.
Obviously, those results speak for themselves.
Now, with Ryan's surprising retirement, the question is whether Bennett would come back to Madison. Obviously, Bennett has quite a history in Wisconsin. Along with coaching at the University of Wisconsin, he was born in Clintonville, Wisconsin and played at Green Bay during his college years.
In short, Wisconsin is home for Bennett.
Nonetheless, the question here isn't why Bennett would come back, but how likely he is to come back. It's an important distinction, but it's also a key reason I went through why Wisconsin would want Bennett.
On paper, Bennett doesn't have a huge reason to come back to Wisconsin. To start, he's built a powerhouse in Virginia that competes at the top of the ACC. If he did opt to leave, he's leaving all that hard work behind for the questions of a new program, new players, and new recruits.
Additionally, Bennett probably wouldn't receive that huge of a raise and he would have to work with an athletic director that doesn't exactly have a great history with head coaches. Again, on paper, that's a lot to risk for what looks like a lateral move overall.
Still, even with the concerns, you can't truly gauge how likely a return is and that's simply because Wisconsin is home for Bennett. Maybe that means a lot to him and maybe it doesn't. It's just hard to speculate. Look at Jim Harbaugh with Michigan last year. On paper, the NFL was a much better option and probably would have paid more, but it was home for Harbaugh and that's why he ended up in Ann Arbor.
Is Bennett in the mold of Harbaugh? I don't know and really, that's the point.
This is why Wisconsin has to kick the tires. Bennett is an elite coach with real and substantial ties to the state and the program. Maybe those ties are still huge in his life, or maybe he's just so comfortable in Virginia that a move doesn't make sense. Either way, you have to at least check.
At this point, a return seems unlikely to me, but the truth is that because of the nature of Bennett's connection to Wisconsin, it's very difficult to speculate.
@tbeindit Did Wisco throw the game last night to honor the 76 IU team, and did IU schedule it for Wisco bc they knocked off Kentucky?— Adam Bissen (@bissen608) January 6, 2016
Well, I did ask for conspiracy theories in my tweet asking for questions. But my answer is yes and yes. Frankly, I wouldn't even stop there. Heck, Delaney probably somehow had a part in this.
Seriously though, huge win for Indiana on Tuesday night to keep the Hoosiers in the Big Ten picture during the coming weeks. Another huge game this weekend with Ohio State. That should tell a lot about both teams and their eventual NCAA Tournament chances.