For Wisconsin basketball fans, the annual Marquette game is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated games, for any sport, of the year. There are so many story lines between these two in state rivals that every game is huge, regardless of each team's success so far in the season: Madison vs. Milwaukee, public vs. private, Big Ten vs. Big East, Bo Ryan's methodical tempo vs. Buzz Williams' fast-paced and athletic offense.
The rivalry that Wisconsin shares with Marquette is unique because they are the only major non Big Ten team that the Badgers face annually, and the competition between the two school is largely limited to basketball. So on the first Saturday afternoon of each December, these teams square off for bragging rights between the two universities for the next 365 days. And when the game is won, the winning team and fan base makes sure to take advantage of the occasion.
This year, the Badgers are riding their best start since 1993-1994 when they started 11-0. Marquette is 5-3, with losses to Ohio State (52-35), Arizona State (79-77), and San Diego State (67-59).
Wisconsin has found success spreading the ball around, and playing complete team basketball, with all five starters averaging over 10 points per game, and four of the five averaging over 5 rebounds per game (Josh Gasser averages 4.8). The athleticism throughout the roster, and Bo Ryan's implementation of many three guard sets has the Badgers playing at a high tempo, with offensive proficiency unlike Bo's previous teams. They're coming off of a 48-38 win at Virginia on Wednesday, in which they returned to the classic Wisconsin game, controlling the tempo and playing lockdown defense.
Marquette has struggled thus far to fill the shoes of Vander Blue, Trent Lockett and Junior Cadougan, who combined for over 30 points per game for the Golden Eagles last season. They have struggled mightily to find consistent scoring, as their field goal percentage lies at .421, good for 266th in the country. They have been mostly successful rebounding, however, averaging 41.4 rebounds per game, the 29th best in the country. Marquette certainly has more to lose than Wisconsin, as they have yet to obtain a quality win, and the Big East has underperformed so far this season. Wisconsin will look to beat Marquette for the first time in three years. For either team, a win would be a huge momentum boost as neither team faces another significantly strong team before conference play.
Keys to Victory
In order for the Golden Eagles to take down Wisconsin, they will certainly have to shoot the ball better than they have so far this season. Wisconsin's defense and pace of play will not give up many easy looks, but Marquette must score when they are given the opportunity.
Marquette must win the rebounding battle to win this game. This has been a strength of theirs, as they will have to take advantage of their size to out-rebound the Badgers. Limiting Wisconsin's possessions will allow Marquette to dictate the pace of play. Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson and the rest of the forwards must establish a significant inside presence, both offensively and defensively. If Gardner and Wilson can dominate the game and stay out of foul trouble, Marquette will have a good chance to pull off the upset.
For the Badgers, everything starts with consistent outside shooting. They are shooting nearly 41 percent from behind the arc so far this season, and continuing that trend is the key to their game. Ben Brust's 3-point percentage is .415 and Josh Gasser has made exactly half of his 3-point attempts this season. Their success from outside, along with the rest of the team's shooting, is the main reason why they haven't lost yet.
The other reason is that Frank Kaminsky has come out of nowhere to become the key player on this offense. He is averaging 15.0 rebounds and 6.1 rebounds per game, and is drawing significant attention from opposing defenses. He probably won't score 43 points again, but the offense is flowing through him and he is opening up 3-point opportunities, or chances for Sam Dekker to get to the basket. If Kaminsky can continue to be a factor around the hoop with rebounds and blocks, the rest of the team will have opportunities to thrive.
I predict that this will be a very close game. Regardless of the success that either team is having in a given season, the contrasting styles of play always make this game exciting and competitive. Marquette's athleticism will keep them in the game, but in the end I don't believe that they have the scorers to beat Wisconsin's defense. However, if Wisconsin's shooters go cold and the Golden Eagles can take advantage of their opportunities, they absolutely will have a shot to pull off the upset in Madison.