The Wisconsin Badgers will take on in-state rival Marquette in the Kohl Center on Saturday at 12 PM. The Badgers are coming off a heartbreaking loss at Temple, while the Golden Eagles are riding high after a win over a quality Vermont team. Wisconsin is 4-6, with all six of their losses coming to teams ranked inside the Pomeroy Top 60. Marquette is 6-3, with wins against VCU, LSU, and Vermont, and losses to Purdue, Wichita State, and Georgia. The game will air on Fox Sports 1.
1. Badgers need to win this one for their NCAA Tournament chances
The Wisconsin Badgers have made the NCAA Tournament 19 years in a row, but that impressive streak is in jeopardy this season. The Badgers are 4-6, and the best team they’ve beaten in the non-conference is a Yale team that was missing its star point guard. However, don’t count Wisconsin out just yet. They have hung around with some really good teams, like Xavier, Baylor, UCLA and Temple. All four of those games could have gone either way. That proves they aren’t as bad as their record indicates. However, in order to make the tournament, they are going to have to start building a resume. This game against Marquette is going to be their last opportunity to win a non-conference game against a Power 6 opponent. If the Badgers lose here, it is going to be extremely difficult to make the big dance no matter how many Big Ten games they win.
2. Marquette has a trio of deadly three-point shooters
According to the Pomeroy Rankings, Marquette has the 19th most efficient offense in college basketball. A lot of that has to do with their three-headed monster of Markus Howard, Andrew Rowsey, and Sam Hauser. Howard, a 5’11 guard, is averaging 22 points a game while putting up a 40-50-90 shooting line. Rowsey, another 5’11 guard, is averaging 21.6 points per game and hitting 40% of his three-point attempts. Hauser is not a 5’11 guard. He is a stretch-four that hits 44% of his three-pointers. It’s safe to say that you don’t want to give these guys open looks from deep.
3. Badgers dealing with some nagging health issues
Ever since the Baylor game, Wisconsin freshman Brad Davison has been dealing with a left shoulder injury that won’t go away. It gave him some problems against Virginia last week, and he reportedly reinjured it in practice on Thursday. While it might be smart to give it some time to rest in order to not jeopardize his bright future, Davison has proven to be extremely tough. If he is allowed to play, he will be in the game. But it is something to keep an eye on.
Davison isn’t the only Badger guard with health issues. According to Jim Polzin of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, starting point guard D’Mitrik Trice was held out of practice on Thursday with an undisclosed injury, while key backup Kobe King is dealing with an illness. Trice is expected to play, while King’s status is up in the air.
4. Marquette’s defense is a work-in-progress
That may actually be kind. According to the Pomeroy Rankings, Marquette has the 169th best defense in college basketball, which is one of the worst rankings out of all Power-6 teams. They have given up 80 points or more in six of their first nine games of the season. In fact, this porous defense might be exactly what this struggling Wisconsin offense needs. Marquette has nobody that can stop Ethan Happ, and all of Wisconsin’s guards except Trice will have a size advantage that they can take advantage of in the post.
5. Contrast in styles and tempos will be evident
These two teams will play very different styles and tempos. Marquette is going to look to play fast, using their quick, shifty guards to get into the lane and kick-it out for open three-pointers. They aren’t gun shy either. Rowsey and Howard will shoot it from anywhere on the floor at any time in the possession.
Meanwhile, the Badgers are going to try to slow down the game and get as many post touches as possible. Happ will likely dominate this game, and Iverson, King, and Davison can also have success in the post against an undersized Marquette squad.
Prediction: Wisconsin 71, Marquette 66
Wisconsin is currently favored by 6-points according to Bet Online, and I think Marquette’s dynamic guards will hit just enough three-pointers to cover that spread. But Marquette will have no answers for Happ. In the Bradley Center, I would have taken Marquette. But I can’t see the Badgers losing to Marquette at home with the size advantage they possess.