Hoops Finally Gets a Big Weekend

Hampered by bad dates, times and weather, the Wisconsin basketball program hasn't been able to welcome a lot of its top targets to campus. That changes Sunday, as the noon tipoff against No.9 Michigan State gives the Badgers a great stage to show their product.

MADISON - Putting the finishing touches on the nonconference schedule and getting the Big Ten conference schedule in his hands, associate head coach Greg Gard didn't like what he saw, and it had nothing to do with the competition.

With 17 home games in a building where it had won 90.1 percent of its games since 2001, not to mention ranked seventh nationally in attendance a year ago, the Badgers have one of the best home court environments in college basketball.

That was the reason for Gard's main quip was the date of those home games, which weren't conducive for the basketball program to show off its world-class product to potential recruits.

"This has been the hardest (recruiting) year since we got here because of how things have worked and how the schedule played out," said Gard, who arrived with Ryan at Wisconsin in 2001. "You can't look at one particular thing."

Wisconsin has played 13 regular season home games with seven of those coming on weekends. Of those seven games, however, four have been on a Saturday prior to two o'clock. And on the one time Wisconsin did get a Sunday night game (against No.22 Iowa) it was a 7 p.m. tipoff, not to mention sub-zero temperatures with snow in the forecast that made travel complicated.

With Wisconsin having minimal recruiting targets within two hours of campus in the next two recruiting cycles, it's made it hard for the Badgers to get kids on campus.

"It's just been bad times," said Gard. "A couple of the kids we're recruiting are lined up to play every Saturday that we are playing. There is nobody just around the corner. We haven't had a lot of options. With an 11 a.m. start on a Saturday, you can't bring people in from a distance."

This basketball schedule follows on the heels of a football season that was virtually useless for the Wisconsin basketball staff. Typically bringing basketball recruits to football games to show off the atmosphere, Wisconsin football had only one home football game in October and the three November home games all conflicted with UW's nonconference schedule.

"It is what it is and you've got to make the most of it," said Gard. "We have never had a combination like this with the lack of dates with both sports."

That's what makes this Sunday's home game – the last one on a weekend this season – against No.9 Michigan State so important for the Badgers. Not only does Wisconsin need a win to break a three-game home losing streak and reinvigorate its RPI and resume, the Spartans are a big draw from the fan perspective, meaning the noon tipoff and national broadcast will likely create a raucous environment great for selling UW's product.

Wisconsin is expected to host Rice Lake (WI) center Henry Ellenson (four stars, No.12 center overall), Minneapolis De La Salle point guard Jarvis Johnson (four stars, No.13 point guard overall), Chicago Simeon forward Brandon Hutton (three stars) and Whitefish Bay (WI) Dominican center Diamond Stone (five stars, No.2 prospect overall).

UW coaches can't comment on prospects until after they sign a national letter of intent, but Gard didn't deny the importance of a recruiting weekend like this one.

"Anytime we have a chance to showcase our programs, show off our facilities and get a chance to meet our guys are important, regardless of time or opponent," said Gard. "The guys that grow up in Big Ten country understand it. They follow it. The Big Ten Network has been great has been great in terms of exposure. They are pretty in tuned to the dynamics of college basketball."

The Badgers' home season hasn't been a complete bust. Although it's hard hosting uncommitted prospects on official visits because of the earlier recruits and the timing of the schedule, Wisconsin hosted Northfield (MA) four-star center Josh Sharma for the Iowa game, offering him a scholarship, and welcomed Stone for the Ohio State game.

Those weekends were big, but not as big as the impression this weekend's atmosphere could give off to prospects who could be the future of the program.

"Hopefully they see us win," said Gard. "That's always a great thing. Hopefully they come up, have a positive experience and enjoy the day."

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