Buzz Williams: Current Badgers are best Wisconsin team in years

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.”

Sitting at 9-0, Wisconsin has impressive neutral-court wins

over St. John’s, Saint Louis and West Virginia, a home win over No. 15 Florida

and solid road wins at Green Bay and Virginia.

“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.”

Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter