I’m obviously biased, but I think Marquette-Wisconsin is one of the best non-conference college basketball rivalries in the country. The two fan bases pretty much despise one another and the past few years, it always seems to be a battle of Top 25 teams and a hard fought, down-to-the wire game. Saturday afternoon, the 118th all-time meeting between the two schools takes place at the Kohl Center with both teams looking to add a signature win to their resume. Here is a super nerdy, in-depth breakdown of Saturday’s game.
I dreaded Marquette’s match-up with Wisconsin the past couple of years since the Badgers held a size advantage inside with Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil while MU has always been under-sized inside. This year is a different story since UW does not have the tall frontcourt of the past couple years.
Jared Berggren is coming off his best game as a Badger with his 14 point, 5 rebound, 3 steal performance against North Carolina and actually leads the team in scoring. He was productive, scoring eight points in only nine minutes against Marquette last year. Like most of Bo Ryan’s big men, Berggren is an inside/outside threat who has a nice back-to-the-basket game but can also knock down triples. Freshman Frank Kaminsky will spell Berggren at times and is more dangerous as an outside shooter than post threat but also looks like a newcomer who would rather defer to his teammates.
Marquette counters in the middle with Chris Otule and Davante Gardner. North Carolina was able to alter a lot of shots inside due to their length and Otule will have to provide a similar defensive presence. His perimeter defense in pick and roll or pick and pop situations will be vital since Wisconsin runs a lot of those sets late in the shot clock. Gardner might struggle defensively Saturday but I think he can be a huge asset offensively and he should be able to own Kaminsky when the reserves match-up.
Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans are interchangeable at the forward spots for Wisconsin. Bruesewitz is the more physical of the two and the better outside shooter while Evans relies on his athleticism. I don’t think either of them can check Jae Crowder who is off to a terrific start to his senior season averaging 19.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and shooting 43.8% from distance. Crowder will need to have a big game for the Golden Eagles to pull the road upset. Jamil Wilson’s length and athleticism will also be an asset to harass Bruiser and Evans when he comes off the bench.
Advantage: Marquette (slightly)
Once again, all eyes will be on Vander Blue as he makes his return to Madison. When he attended the MU/Wisco game his senior year of high school, the Badger student section began an “A$$hole” chant (stay classy) so he can certainly expect to feel the brunt of relentless heckling from the Kohl Center crowd. This season, Vander has looked so much more comfortable on the floor; not forcing the issue, taking what’s given to him, and contributing in all areas of the game. He did a great job of playing within himself in this game last year and hopefully the same thing happens Saturday.
His wingmate, Darius Johnson-Odom will almost certainly be shadowed by Josh Gasser all game long. Gasser has a size advantage over DJO and is known for his physicality as a guard which may pester Marquette’s leading scorer. Gasser is also 15 of 23 from three this season so DJO (or Blue when he guards him) will have to keep a hand in his face at all times. Todd Mayo has been a pleasant surprise as a bench scorer and defender and will have to knock down some shots Saturday.
As for the Badgers, they have gone with a lot of three guard line-ups this season using Taylor, Gasser, and Ben Brust on the floor at the same time. Brust has been a huge sparkplug off the bench and can score in a variety of ways. He moves really well off the ball so whoever is guarding Brust will have to stick to him like Sam sticks to Ronnie at the club.
This match-up scares me from a Marquette perspective. Junior Cadougan and Derrick Wilson will have their hands full trying to check Jordan Taylor. JT has had some early season shooting struggles but still has an incredible 5.6/1 assist to turnover ratio. He is due for a breakout game and there would be no worse time for that to happen than Saturday. Taylor also does a wonderful job of drawing contact from defenders due to his combination of quickness and strength. Cadougan is an improved defender but I’m not sure he can stay in front of Taylor without fouling him.
Why Wisconsin Wins:
Because they pretty much never lose and usually shoot lights at home. They also don’t turn the ball over very often which is discouraging for Marquette who thrives off pressuring on the perimeter, creating takeaways, and turning them into fast break points. As they proved Wednesday at North Carolina, the Badgers understand how to control the tempo of the game and will certainly try to keep things at a snail’s pace. Do that, and they should win.
Why Marquette Wins:
They impose their will with their aggressiveness and athleticism on defense, forcing Wisconsin into late shot clock situations just like UNC did. MU will also have to be much better on the defensive glass than they have been early in the year and execute their half-court offense while getting a hot hand from three (paging DJO.) The good thing is that Bo Ryan NEVER plays a 2-3 zone which is like poison for Marquette’s offense.
Prediction: (As much as it pains me to do) Wisconsin 67, Marquette 62
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft on the web.
You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.