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Revisiting the Wisconsin Badger’s Bench

Greg Gard’s rotations have been varied as the match ups dictate.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin’s bench might be the most intriguing aspect of this season (outside of Ethan Happ’s season). This isn’t meant as a criticism, but Greg Gard hasn’t totally settled on a consistent bench rotation.

It’s not about playing the same guys necessarily, but to a certain extent it’s about having reliable options should circumstances (poor play, foul trouble, injuries) dictate. Gard seems to be mixing and matching the rotations a bit and might be honing in on who he can and can’t trust in March.

With exceptions, obviously, Wisconsin’s traditionally leaned on a shorter bench (seven or eight man rotations, not nine or ten). This year, theoretically, the Badgers could go 11 deep. However, Wisconsin actually leads the nation in minutes continuity and the bench only consumes just about 30 percent of the minutes, which is 162nd in the country according to KenPom.

With so much of the roster back Gard has had more options off the bench. Even with more options, it seems like he hasn’t quite settled on whom he trusts (although he might be getting closer). Let’s take a look at the bench by position group and consider some of the decisions Gard needs to make game-to-game.

The Frontcourt

We could boil down the decision to Alex Illikainen or Charlie Thomas, but that’d be an oversimplification. Starting Happ, Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown means Gard could stagger the bench rotations and even bring a guard off the bench to relieve one of the three.

Clearly, that depends on the opponent and the match ups, but even though the three bigs start Gard could take one out early if he wants to play a smaller, three guard lineup.

But, let’s get to the boiled down situation. Really, the frontcourt bench choice is between Illikainen and Thomas. Right now, it seems like Thomas is nabbing the (very limited) frontcourt bench minutes.

Illikainen hasn’t played in six of the last seven games and got four minutes in the loss to Michigan. Thomas hasn’t played all that much more, but if Gard needs a frontcourt guy off the bench, he’s been turning to Thomas. Also, he gave Wisconsin eight solid minutes in the win at Nebraska.

Really though, as long as injuries and foul trouble don’t derail things Gard will go with more three guard lineups where there’s more depth and he’ll try to stagger the minutes among Happ, Hayes and Brown.

The Backcourt

This group has more intrigue because there’s a mix of experience (Jordan Hill) and youth (Khalil Iverson, Brevin Pritzl and D’Mitrik Trice). Trice, more recently, has been forced into the starting lineup as Bronson Koenig works his way back from a lower leg injury.

Hill has wavered in playing time, but he brings pretty reliable shooting and playmaking off the bench, which is sorely needed at times. Trice’s future is bright and he’s been a steadying influence off the bench. At just under 18 a game, he’s the team minutes leader off the bench.

Iverson has also been key off the bench and seems to have taken positive development steps. Particularly, he can rebound and guard above his size, so if Gard goes small Iverson can fill gaps.

But let’s spend some time talking about Pritzl. His shooting ability is what we’re all salivating for, but he’s been contributing in other surprising ways. Against Nebraska (23 minutes plated) he hustled on the boards and brought energy against Maryland (also 23 minutes played) as well. He had a huge backdoor cut/dunk in the first half against the Terrapins and it lifted the energy in the building. Even more evidence of that hustle is the fact that 12 of his 21 rebounds have been on the offensive side of the ball.

Overall

Gard’s likely to favor three guard lineups when he needs to get rest for Happ, Hayes or Brown, and then he can use a three man frontcourt rotation after the game starts (again if the opponent allows).

While his rotations haven’t been consistent, it’s game-to-game, match up-to-match up, and Gard still seems to be settling on a few he trusts. This will be important to settle over the next few weeks, especially with the stakes set to get even higher as the postseason quickly approaches.