MILWAUKEE — Same old Wisconsin? Not to Marquette coach Buzz Williams.
It’s widely believed the Badgers play slow under Bo Ryan, deliberately running their swing offense. And that’s been true for many years, but as Marquette prepares to face its in-state rival Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, Williams is getting ready for a different type of Ryan-led team.
“Who do you think plays faster, us or them?” Williams asked.
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Marquette is the reply of conventional wisdom.
“They do,” Williams said.
Averaging more possessions and points and leading in other categories that help dictate pace, Wisconsin is actually the “faster” team early on this season. In fact, Williams sees Ryan running significantly less of the swing offense than ever before.
“They are not exclusively running the swing,” Williams said. “They are different than at any point since I’ve been here. That’s not to say that Coach Ryan hasn’t done this in the past, but they are running a lot of the Princeton offense.”
Burned by the three-pointer against Florida, Marquette now has to prepare for one of the few teams that averages more shots from beyond the arc than the Gators. Florida takes 21 three-pointers per game, and Wisconsin shoots 24.
So why is Wisconsin getting away from its bread-and-butter?
“I think they’ve adapted their style of play, obviously I’ve never seen them practice,” Williams said. “I don’t know if that was (Ryan’s) plan or when (point guard Josh) Gasser got hurt, if that maybe accelerated his plan.
“They still run the swing, they were almost exclusive swing during my tenure here, but I would say maybe 20 percent of their possessions thus far have been the swing.”
Rivalry games naturally bring added emotion. Wisconsin and Marquette have played plenty that certainly could have been qualified as important nonconference battles. Despite neither team being ranked this time around, Saturday might be even more important than in years past.
With Marquette already having two nonconference losses and Wisconsin having three, neither team can afford to enter conference play with another loss, especially given that neither has a big win on its resume.
One thing that both schools have in common is getting blown out at Florida. Williams called the Gators the best team he’s ever coached against but won’t use that as an excuse for the way his team played.
“We need to be better, obviously, than we were last Thursday,” Williams said. “I did not see last Thursday coming. We had a really good shootaround, our guys were excited … how we played is not good enough, regardless of opponent or locale.”
The rivalry game will bring a great environment and a loud crowd, just like every year. This time around, however, Marquette has a little something extra to play for.
This will be the first time the Golden Eagles take the floor since the passing of former coach Rick Majerus, and the university will honor him prior to the game. Because Majerus’ funeral will be held just hours before tip-off, many will be making their way from the funeral to the game. And though the players haven’t had any kind of relationship with Majerus, they know how important he is to the Marquette community.
“I think that is going to give us some extra juice as well,” Marquette guard Vander Blue said. “Even though it’s not stamped, this game is pretty much going to be for him because this is the first game that we can play after his passing. We all want to make sure we fight a little bit harder because we know he is going to be watching down. One thing we can give him back is a win.”
Better prepared with age: Blue has heard it all when it comes to playing the Wisconsin Badgers.
The Madison native always thought he was going to be staying at home to play his college basketball, even committing to Ryan.
It’s well known in this rivalry that Blue decommitted and eventually wound up on the other side, playing for Marquette. Early on in his career, that was weighing on his mind a bit.
“It was more of a shocker that I was actually playing against the Badgers because I was used to going there and watching them,” Blue said. “I figured I was going to be playing with the Badgers at a point, but to be actually playing against them and seeing Coach Ryan on the sideline actually coaching against me, that’s probably the one thing that really hit me through all this.”
Now in his junior season, Blue doesn’t see his leaving Madison as a big deal anymore, but he understands fans are always going to try to build it up to more than it is.
“I feel like every year when I play Madison, it really isn’t that big of a game,” Blue said. “This game I prepare for like every other game. I don’t want to get over-excited; I don’t want to overlook anybody, just trying to do my same preparation, my same thing that I do every single week that we prepare for every other team.”
Preparation this time around includes continued rehab on his banged-up knee. Injured late in Marquette’s Maui Invitational finale against USC, Blue missed the UMBC game before returning to score a game-high 20 points against Florida.
“I wouldn’t say I’m quite 100 (percent); pretty close though,” Blue said. “It feels pretty good once I get warmed up and going, but I wouldn’t say I’m quite 100 (percent).”
Marquette will go eight days between the Florida loss and the Wisconsin game Saturday, not only allowing for more practice time but time for Blue’s knee to recover.
“It helped me a lot,” Blue said. “I got some good rehab, I’m just trying to strengthen it and get it better than it was when I actually got hurt.”