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

Virginia.

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

thus far?

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

New Mexico.

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

points?

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

be utilized.

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.

Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter

Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter