Observations: Interim Wisconsin coach Greg Gard earning his keep

Greg Gard is starting to make things tough on Barry Alvarez.

Wisconsin isn’t the same team it was the past two years when it had Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky on the floor with Bo Ryan on the bench, but the Badgers are starting to look more and more like they’re a team that could wind up in the NCAA Tournament.

With Gard at the helm Wisconsin has now won six straight games following Wednesday night’s win over Nebraska and the victory put the Badgers at 15-9 overall and 7-4 in Big Ten play.

This team has a tough close to the season with back-to-back road games looming at Maryland and Michigan State, but a split over its final six games would give Wisconsin 10 wins in the Big Ten and that should be strong enough to get this team into the field of 68. Wisconsin also has a road win at Syracuse and a neutral victory over VCU on its resume.

Multiple sources have told CBS Sports that Barry Alvarez — the Badgers’ athletic director — intends to do a national search for a head coach following the season and attempt to lure someone like Virginia’s Tony Bennett to Madison, but Gard is making that harder to do with each passing day.

Wisconsin is responding to this guy and starting to again play the type of tough, hard nosed basketball that it was synonymous with under Ryan.

Gard is 8-4 since he took over as the Badgers’ interim head coach.

Iowa will control its own destiny with a win Thursday at Indiana

The Hawkeyes are currently in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten and Fran McCaffery’s team will be in the driver’s seat to win the regular season title with a win Thursday night at Indiana.

Iowa has already swept both Michigan State and Purdue while its only conference loss was on the road at Maryland.

The Hawkeyes’ schedule down the stretch after Thursday’s game in Bloomington features home games against Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Indiana with road tilts at Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan.

None of those games are easy, but none of those teams are currently ranked in AP’s Top 25.

Iowa will truly be pushing the boulder down the other side of the hill it if can emerge victorious Thursday at Assembly Hall.

Cal needs to have a big weekend

Cuonzo Martin’s team has been a different unit at home versus on the road in Pac-12 play and is 5-5 in league play heading into Thursday night’s game against Oregon at Haas Pavilion.

The Bears are undefeated at home in conference play and have yet to win a game away from Berkeley. For Cal’s sake that trend needs to continue this weekend.

This team entered the year with hopes of winning the Pac-12 regular season title, but has yet to truly hit its stride and a hand injury to starting guard Tyrone Wallace has severely stunted that process.

In order to make the NCAA Tournament Cal needs quality wins that will move the needle and a win Thursday night against Pac-12 leader Oregon coupled with another victory this weekend against Oregon State would go a long way towards putting this team on the right side of the bubble.

The Bears’ best wins thus far are against Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Saint Mary’s, but all of those triumphs have come on their home floor.

Beating Oregon on Thursday would usurp that quartet of victories.

This and That

  • Kentucky’s Jamal Murray is 17-of-32 from 3-point range in his last three games and is averaging 26.7 points during that span. The Wildcats are going to be a feast or famine team on offense and right now Murray is absolutely feasting.
  • You know what makes Villanova special? The Wildcats never have bad losses or letdowns. This program is focused on one thing: the task at hand. Jay Wright’s squad is 21-3 overall and 11-1 in Big East play.
  • Arizona will not play another road game until Feb. 24 at Colorado. The next couple of weeks present a huge opportunity for the Wildcats to gain ground in the Pac-12 race. Sean Miller’s squad is 19-5 overall and next hosts UCLA on Friday night in Tucson.
  • Landen Lucas has quietly been a key component for Kansas. The redshirt junior had nine points, 16 rebounds, and four blocks in the Jayhawks’ win over West Virginia on Tuesday and continues to be this team’s most consistent option at center. It’s getting easier and easier to see why Bill Self trusts this guy so much.
  • Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon is averaging 20.2 points over his last five games and is shooting 55.0 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from three-point range during that span. This guy is turning himself into a legitimate contender for ACC Player of the Year.
  • The ACC has become the old Big East. Even without Louisville eligible for the postseason this conference looks like it has a legitimate shot to send nine teams to the NCAA Tournament this season. That’s 60.0 percent of the league.
  • Creighton is 10-3 this season in games where Isaiah Zierden scores in double-figures. When this guy makes shots the Bluejays are a different basketball team. Greg McDermott’s squad is currently 16-9 overall.
  • Dan Hurley has Rhode Island at 6-5 in Atlantic 10 play and the Rams have had three starters –E.C. Matthews, Hassan Martin, and Kuran Iverson — out of the lineup at different points this season due to injuries. Rhode Island next hosts Dayton on Friday night in Kingston.
  • Mississippi State may have gotten a steal in freshman Aric Holman. The 6-foot-10 big man is an exceptional passer and had five points, four assists, and six rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Arkansas. This guy has some Luc Richard Mbah A Moute in his game.
  • Former Washington big man Martin Breunig is putting in work at Montana. The 6-8 big man is averaging 19.1 points and 8.8 rebounds this season and had 32 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Portland State. This will be a mid-major name to watch if the Grizzlies reach the NCAA Tournament.

Greg Gard has Wisconsin in the conversation for the NCAA tournament.(USATSI)
Greg Gard has Wisconsin in the conversation for the NCAA tournament. (USATSI)


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