Point-counterpoint: Marquette needs win more than Wisconsin
One of the fiercest in-state college basketball rivalries
renews again when No. 8 Wisconsin (9-0) plays host to Marquette (5-3) at the
Kohl Center on Saturday. Records suggest the Badgers should win, but nothing is
ever certain when these teams collide on the hardwood.
Marquette has won the past two matchups in tight affairs,
and the Golden Eagles could desperately use a victory to enhance their early
NCAA tournament resume. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is chasing history and is two
victories from tying the best start for any Badgers basketball team.
FOXSportsWisconsin.com’s Badgers writer Jesse Temple and
Golden Eagles writer Andrew Gruman cover these teams and offer their take on
the game in a five-question point-counterpoint.
1. Is the team you cover better or worse than the team that
played in this Wisconsin-Marquette game a year ago?
TEMPLE: Better. And it’s not even close. Wisconsin was 6-3
with losses to Florida, Virginia and Creighton when it matched up with
Marquette a year ago. This season, Wisconsin is 9-0 with victories against both
Florida and Virginia, as well as wins against St. John’s, St. Louis and West
Wisconsin is off to the second-best start in the history of
Badgers basketball, behind only an 11-0 start in 1993-94 under Stu Jackson.
This year’s team is one of the most fun to watch and showed it isn’t all about
offense, either. During a 48-38 victory at Virginia on Wednesday night, the
Badgers gave up their fewest points on the road since a 43-33 victory at
Washington University (St. Louis) on Dec. 9, 1957.
GRUMAN: Marquette may be slightly worse than it was a year
ago at this time, but the Golden Eagles were also searching for answers when
they faced Wisconsin last season. Marquette was 5-2 when it hosted the Badgers
last December and fresh off an embarrassing 82-49 loss at Florida.
The Golden Eagles were unproven at this point last year, as
a loss to Butler on a desperation heave in the Maui Invitational opener sent
them into a much weaker losers bracket.
This year, Marquette is 5-3 and off to its worst start under
Buzz Williams. The Golden Eagles have played a couple of tough opponents early,
losing 52-35 to Ohio State, dropping a close road contest to a good Arizona
State team and falling in the championship game of the Wooden Legacy to a now
ranked San Diego State squad.
While it seems as if Marquette is off to a much worse start
this year, the Golden Eagles really are in a similar boat as they were when
Wisconsin came to town this time a year ago.
2. What have been the strengths and weaknesses of your team
TEMPLE: Wisconsin’s ability to share the basketball among
its starters has been remarkable. All five starters are averaging in double
figures in scoring, and the team has shown a knack to give up a good shot for a
better shot for a teammate. Even after a horrid 3-point shooting game against
Virginia (5-for-23), the Badgers are still hitting 40.9 percent on 3s, which
ranks 34th nationally.
It’s difficult to find tons of weaknesses for a team that
has yet to lose, but one that could come back to bite Wisconsin is a lack of
depth. The Badgers have plenty of players on the bench, but coach Bo Ryan has
generally used only three bench players in games — forward Duje Dukan, forward
Nigel Hayes and guard Bronson Koenig. Koenig stepped in when George Marshall
suffered a concussion earlier this season, and Marshall will have to work his
way back into the lineup. But if Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker get in foul
trouble, the frontcourt is pretty thin.
GRUMAN: Marquette has been a solid defensive basketball team
thus far, something that has been lost in the shuffle of an inconsistent
offense. The Golden Eagles are 29th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing
63.0 points per game, one spot ahead of the Badgers. Opponents have shot just
38.6 percent against Marquette this year, good for 25th in the country.
Another strength of Marquette’s comes on the glass, as the
Golden Eagles are 21st nationally in rebounds per game and 18th in offensive
rebounds per game.
The most glaring weakness for the Golden Eagles has been
their inability to put together consistent offense. Most of that has to do with
Marquette’s inconsistent shooting. While they shot the ball better during their
four games out west, the Golden Eagles are 239th in the nation in shooting
percentage at 42.1 percent.
Marquette hasn’t generated any offense from beyond the arc,
as its 27.2 3-point percentage puts them 318th nationally and its 4.6
3-pointers per game is 290th.
3. Who’s your team’s MVP so far, and who will it be by the
end of the season?
TEMPLE: Right now, the MVP has to go to center Frank
Kaminsky, who has made one of the biggest leaps of any player in the Big Ten. A
year ago, he averaged 4.2 points per game in backup duty. He’s averaging 15.0
points per game this season, which represents the largest increase for any
player in the conference. A big part of that jump is the result of a
school-record 43-point game earlier this season against North Dakota, but he’s
maintained his high level of play through the first nine games.
You could make a case for several players being the MVP, but
I believe Sam Dekker will be the team’s most valuable and important piece by
the end of the season. Dekker has the ability to score inside and outside. And
though he is shooting the worst 3-point percentage among starters (33.3
percent), that number should increase as the season progresses. He is too
talented to not wind up being the leading scorer. As it stands, his 13.8 points
per game ranks second on the team.
GRUMAN: This is a tough one to answer at this point, but
Davante Gardner gets my vote because he’s been Marquette’s most consistent
offensive player at 14.5 points per game.
Though the senior forward didn’t play well against New
Hampshire, battled the flu against San Diego State and has surprisingly
struggled from the foul line, Gardner has scored 18 or more points in four of
Marquette’s eight games.
While the Golden Eagles are going to need Gardner to score
all year long, senior forward Jamil Wilson could determine how Marquette fares
in Big East play. He’s the most skilled player on the roster and has the
ability to put the team on his back.
Junior point guard Derrick Wilson won’t finish as one of the
team’s leading scorers, but he’s probably the most important player on the
roster this year. Marquette has no depth at point guard with Duane Wilson on
the shelf and John Dawson still adapting to the college game. Derrick Wilson
seems to be getting more comfortable as the floor general, but he has to be
good for Marquette to be good.
4. Given the play of both programs to this point, would a
victory this season mean more for Wisconsin or Marquette?
TEMPLE: A victory for Wisconsin against Marquette would
almost certainly lead to an undefeated nonconference season and put the Badgers
at 13-0 when it enters Big Ten play. And although the Badgers are on the cusp
of making history with the best Wisconsin start ever, a win for Marquette is
probably a bigger deal.
The Golden Eagles have really struggled to start the season
and are just 5-3. They have lost to some good teams, including Ohio State and
San Diego State. Their best victory right now is a 76-60 win against George
Washington, which looks even better since it’s GW’s only loss. Still, beating
Wisconsin would be Marquette’s signature win on the early season. Wisconsin,
meanwhile, already has several important nonconference victories.
GRUMAN: In the grand scheme of things, this game means much
more to Marquette. The Golden Eagles have two chances left to secure a marquee
non-conference win: Saturday against Wisconsin and Dec. 21 in Las Vegas against
Marquette’s win over Southern will look better when the
Jaguars are leading the SWAC by the end of the year and George Washington isn’t
a bad team, but those aren’t wins that would impress a selection committee.
The Badgers have big wins over Florida, Saint Louis, West
Virginia and Virginia already and still would be in great shape if they lose to
the Golden Eagles. While Wisconsin is chasing a perfect 13-0 non-conference
slate, Marquette needs this win to avoid falling to 5-4 for the first time
since 2000-01, Tom Crean’s second season on campus.
5. Which team is going to win this game, and by how many
TEMPLE: These games are almost always close, but I think
Wisconsin wins in the Kohl Center on Saturday. Marquette has won the last two
games, and that certainly doesn’t sit well with Wisconsin players. The more the
Badgers play, the more they show they’re one of the best Wisconsin teams to
come through during the Bo Ryan era. And since this doesn’t seem to be one of
the better Marquette teams under Buzz Williams, Wisconsin should find a way to
win. Wisconsin 66, Marquette 54.
GRUMAN: It’s going to take a big-time effort for Marquette
to beat one of the nation’s best teams in a tough environment. The Golden
Eagles beat a very good Wisconsin team at the Kohl Center two years ago, but
Marquette had much more firepower at that time.
The Golden Eagles will need their guards to play much better
and to knock down shots to have a chance to win. If they don’t, Wisconsin will
follow Ohio State’s script and pack the paint. Marquette needs to make
perimeter shots in order to free up its advantage inside with Gardner, Chris
Otule and Jamil Wilson. The Badgers don’t have much size at all, as Kaminsky is
more of a stretch four than a center. Marquette has an advantage down low and a
big advantage on the glass, but the guards need to step up in order for it to
I’d be foolish to pick against a Bo Ryan team at the Kohl
Center, especially since his team is playing so well right now and Marquette is
still figuring itself out. These games are always close, so I’ll go with
Wisconsin 69, Marquette 63.
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