After such successful seasons during the Bo Ryan era at Wisconsin, pressure to perform is at an all-time high in Madison this season, and you can feel it in practice. Even though the team is clearly depleted of its talent from the past couple of seasons and has eight freshmen (most in the country), the expectations are still high within the locker room and from fans. Out of the 20-30 practices I’ve been to this season, none have compared in terms of intensity from the coaching staff with the one on Monday evening.

Ryan was scheduled to be available for the media after practice, but practice ran late and he had to make it to his radio show. Instead, I listened to and spoke with his preferred successor in associate head coach Greg Gard, who has been with Ryan all 15 years at Wisconsin and coached under him at UW-Plateville and UW-Milwaukee. Nobody understands the pressure to succeed during the Bo Ryan era more than Gard.

Gard had a lot to say after Monday’s practice, especially in terms of the team’s maturation process. The associate head coach began to name several things the Badgers haven’t nailed down yet:

“We haven’t quite evolved offensively to make an extra pass, to make an extra two passes yet this year. We’re still not to the point where we share the ball well enough, where we read defenses well enough, where we know where to turn down an average shot for a better shot or a good shot for a great shot. We miss guys around the rim at times when we take contested shots from the perimeter. We miss guys in the post. We haven’t been big enough and physical enough in the post in terms of demanding the ball.”

It was clear that Gard was focusing more on the team’s offense, but Gard assured that “it’s not one specific thing.”

The Badgers have had to put a lot of freshmen on the floor with no seniors on scholarship this season, not to mention the team only has two players in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig returning who have played significant minutes. Gard specifically mentioned that Wisconsin has never had this many freshmen on the floor. “We’ve never been in a position where four freshmen have been playing,” Gard explained. “The amount of minutes that we play four freshmen usually get one, maybe two, on the floor, and since our first year, we haven’t had to indoctrinate this many people.”

He does think that the team will mature after some time, especially on offense. As Gard put it, “I think as we continue to hopefully mature, that we’ll get better at some of these things and start to read and understand the offense as a whole a little bit better.”

As the coaching staff will admit, the Badgers don’t have a choice but to continue to play through these growing pains and turn them into teaching moments. As many have heard during Ryan and Gard’s 15 years at Wisconsin, “every possession counts” and so does every learning opportunity.

The Badgers have started off 4-3, with losses to a streaky Western Illinois team in an upset at the Kohl Center, a tough Georgetown team, and a top 10 team in Oklahoma. Their non-conference schedule does not get any easier with a matchup on Wednesday with #14 Syracuse.