When Bo Ryan retired on December 15, Wisconsin interim head coach Greg Gard got his chance to earn the full-time head coaching job. So far, despite a 2-3 record, with those three losses coming by a combined 10 points against likely tournament teams, Gard has shown focus, poise, and leadership as the Badgers head coach. Most importantly, the interim head coach has his team playing a higher level of basketball than they were under Ryan’s 12 games in 2015.

“We’re not even near where we can be yet,” Gard said after the team’s 63-60 loss to Maryland on Saturday. “I think that’s what has everybody excited.”

The Badgers are shooting 44.2% from the field with Gard’s revamped swing offense in five games, while the team shot 41.2% in Ryan’s 12 games. The offense has failed to put together two solid halves in four of the five games (Rutgers was an exception), but there’s obvious signs of improvement. It starts with expanding the rotation, as Jordan Hill, Alex Illikainen, and even Aaron Moesch have played more minutes under Gard. This change has given other guys some rest and given the coaching staff expanded looks at Wisconsin’s youthful, but talented roster. Gard has found a sixth man and quality back-up guard in Hill, who has been a spark for Wisconsin. The redshirt sophomore is averaging 5.4 points in 23 minutes under Gard as the head-honcho.

More impressive is the team’s improved defense in the five games, as opponents are only scoring 63.8 points per game against Wisconsin. Sure, the team also allowed 63.8 points per game during Ryan’s first 12, but Wisconsin has slowed down some great offenses lately. Indiana, who came into the matchup averaging 87.7 points per game, only scored 59 against the Badgers. Purdue and Maryland also scored season-low point totals in their narrow victories over the Badgers. Overall, the Badgers have held Oklahoma, Purdue, Temple, Marquette, Indiana, and Maryland to season-low point totals.

Gard also took some pressure off the team, closing practices to the media for the first two weeks of the transition. We in the media are not too intimidating, but it helps for the players and coaches to focus with only their nucleus looking over instead of outsiders that will critique and report what is going on inside practice. All in all, the team seems to be much more loose, which may be a result of not having Ryan’s critical nature looking over their shoulders.

Coach Gard expects the best out of his players every day, and he has pushed them more and more since he took over as head coach. Whether it be uploading practice film to the players’ iPads or requiring them to shoot 100 free throws after the team’s abysmal charity stripe performance against Indiana (they missed 22 free throws), Gard has his players working. Simply put, Gard believes in practice making perfect: “I always expect every single day, it will be your best.”

Wisconsin has lost five games by three or less points, but Gard has made sure the Badgers keep their heads up. “I told them there is no pity party here,” Gard explained after the Maryland game. “Nobody feels sorry for us. We need to turn around and prepare for Northwestern.”

That kind of leadership is exactly what the Badgers needed in this transition period. Wisconsin fans, as well as athletic director Barry Alvarez, should be impressed with what Gard has brought so far, despite the team’s record.

On the surface, a 2-3 record may not appear to be a success, but Gard has this team playing at a higher level. Gard has proven to be a teacher just like his mentor Bo Ryan.