Buzz Williams: Current Badgers are best Wisconsin team in years
DEC 05, 2013 9:38p ET
MILWAUKEE -- The last time Marquette ventured into the Kohl Center, the Golden Eagles left with a win over the No. 9 Badgers to end Wisconsin's 23-game home winning streak and remain undefeated at 7-0.
As Marquette goes for its third consecutive victory over its in-state rival Saturday in Madison, the Badgers -- just like in the 2011-12 season -- enter the game ranked in the top 10.
While that was a big win at the time, this year's battle may be more important for Marquette. The Golden Eagles need an upset over No. 8 Wisconsin to avoid falling to 5-4 for the first time since the 2000-01 season.
"It's going to be a hostile environment," Marquette guard Jake Thomas said. "Wisconsin hates Marquette, that's just the way it always has been and always will be. I know it's cliché, but if we do what we have to do the Marquette way with hustle plays, effort plays and take us shots, we'll be OK."
"I think they are the best team that they've been since I've been here," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said of Wisconsin. "I'm not sure that they aren't better than (they were in 2011-12) this year. Their offensive firepower is better. Philosophically, they do a lot of the same things, not all of the same things; it's kind of a hybrid of bits and pieces of what they've always done in different years.
"They put five guys on the floor who are all averaging double figures, the last game they all played more than 30 minutes and they can all shoot. When the floor is spaced, they share the ball incredibly well. They understand their roles and their skill set and are never going to beat themselves. Extremely impressed with coach (Bo Ryan's) team this year."
A major difference with this year's Wisconsin team is its versatility on offense. The Badgers have five players who all can score, with four of them shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Wisconsin came to Milwaukee last season with numerous questions regarding its backcourt, particularly at point guard. But Traevon Jackson eventually settled down the position and now leads one of the nation's deepest guard units.
But leading the Badgers offense thus far is junior forward Frank Kaminsky. Not only has the 7-footer already set the Wisconsin single-game scoring record with 43 points against North Dakota this season, but Kaminsky has raised his scoring average from 4.2 points per game last year to 15.0.
"He shoots the ball as well as their guards," Williams said. "As I've told our team, he's not a five, he's a tall four. He's going to shoot from the perimeter just as often as he can, but he's also really skilled on the block and does a good job protecting the rim in what they do defensively."
Much like Wisconsin, Marquette has faced a tough schedule in the early going. The Golden Eagles haven't been able to close out a couple of close games against Arizona State and San Diego State and were routed at home by No. 5 Ohio State.
Will a tough non-conference slate eventually help the Golden Eagles?
"I don't know about that," Williams said. "I think fans believe in all of that stuff, the media believes all that stuff. You get into all that 'well, it prepares you' and you've had repeat experiences of it, but there are a lot of teams that buy all of their games in November and December, too. You can't replicate the confidence that comes with saying, 'We win.'
"It's hard to say. I think it's the most difficult schedule we've played and it's also the worst record we've had through eight games here. At the end of the day is it about strength of schedule, is it about winning, is it about winning the games you are supposed to win and losing the games you are supposed to win, multiple neutral site games, multiple road games? I think it has to be a balance."
Williams anticipated a different-looking roster when he put together this year's non-conference schedule, which still includes a trip to Las Vegas to take on a talented New Mexico team after the Wisconsin game.
"Who we were projecting out our two-man deep roster and who is on our team now, that's not the same team," Williams said. "That's not me crying, that's just what it is. Is this healthy for our guys? Yes. Is it hard? Yes. Will that translate to positive repercussions at Valentine's Day? I don't know."
Before Marquette will figure out if its tough non-conference slate will pay dividends down the road, the Golden Eagles must face the challenging task of trying to beat Wisconsin in the Kohl Center. Bo Ryan is 94-7 in non-conference games at the Kohl Center, with two of those losses coming to the Golden Eagles.
Marquette has played one true road game against Arizona State and a neutral court game that felt like a road game against San Diego, but Saturday's meeting with Wisconsin will be a totally different environment.
"I think it's fun," Williams said of the rivalry. "I think there are some people that root for Wisconsin and Marquette that only come to that game and they determine success or failure based on that game. Having said that, I think it's important that as the head coach that I have wisdom and understand if we win or if we lose, we still have to continue to get better. I think Coach Ryan would say the same thing."
On the mend: Marquette freshman point guard Duane Wilson practiced for the first time since suffering a stress fracture in his left leg in October.
Under supervision from the training staff, Wilson practiced 12 minutes Wednesday, 14 1/2 minutes Thursday and will go 17 minutes on Friday. He'll then see the doctor again to make sure things are progressing the way they should be.
"With each litmus test along the way, he's passed it," Williams said. "He's been very diligent and consistent with his rehab. It was a stress fracture, so you are talking about a bone. I don't know if there's any way to say, 'Well, in six weeks it's healed.' "
Even if Wilson is cleared to return to game action sometime in the next week, the Dominican High School product would have a lot of catching up to do since he's never played a minute of college basketball.
Williams said Thursday there's a possibility the freshman could redshirt this season and there is a point in time where he would have that conversation with Wilson's family.
"If you are his dad, or you are his mom, what's the right thing for his life?" Williams said. "It's not my life, it's his life. It's not only what's best for his life, but his career. You just keep minimizing and then get to what's best right now.
"I think you need to have some wisdom to make those decisions. I don't think you can make those decisions in a day. I don't think he can practice 17 minutes and say, 'Oh, he'd really help us.' It's not about the team at that time. It has to be about his life and his career. At some point we'll have to make a decision about that. It won't be exclusively my decision."
Williams and Marquette went through a similar decision when Junior Cadougan blew out his Achilles during the summer prior to his freshman year.
His mother met with Williams and decided to have her son burn a year of eligibility to play very little minutes in 12 games. Cadougan would still have been on Marquette's roster this season had he redshirted that year.
"He and his mom were hell bent on that's what they were doing," Williams said. "I told them, 'I don't know if he's going to play.' And he didn't play, and he burned his year. But Junior and his mom were OK with that."
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