It’s show time.
After beating up on lesser foes for the first six home games on the slate, Marquette (7-2) will finally get its first true home test when it welcomes Wisconsin-Madison (6-2) to the Bradley Center on Saturday.
The Golden Eagles have outscored opponents 522-372 at home this season, scoring an average of 87 points per game. Saturday will be a different story against the Badgers.
Wisconsin is only giving up 54.1 points per game, having held opponents under 59 points in six of its eight games. Marquette will not be able to run over the Badgers on offense as it has in its previous home games this season.
One of the keys for the Golden Eagles will be establishing a presence down low in order to spread the floor and get easy buckets. Getting redshirt sophomore center Chris Otule and freshman forward Davante Gardner involved early on will be crucial, as it will force the Wisconsin defense to bring help and collapse in the paint, opening up shooters on the perimeter.
Hitting the open shots will be another matter entirely. Marquette is only shooting 30.7 percent from behind the arc, continuing its early season shooting slump.
In its previous marquee matchups, Marquette shot 4-of-20 from long distance against Duke and followed that up with a 6-of-21 performance from three-point land against Gonzaga.
If Marquette struggles to build momentum offensively early on, look for the Badgers to go to a zone, much like Gonzaga used, and force Marquette to hit shots from the perimeter.
A recent rash of injuries will not make life any easier for the Golden Eagles. Senior guard Dwight Buycks is second on the team in three-point shooting percentage (36 percent) but is questionable to play on Saturday, having suffered an ankle injury in practice earlier in the week.
“I don’t think it was quite as bad this time as it was last time,” coach Buzz Williams said. “We make our guys tape, or they have to wear braces, and he’s got a quarter-of-an-inch of tape on his ankle, and he still turns it. He’s been in a boot since it happened. I don’t know that he’ll be able to play Saturday.”
Senior forward Joe Fulce will definitely miss the game against Wisconsin after coming down awkwardly on a previously injured left knee in Tuesday’s matchup against Texas A&M Corpus Christi. The Texas native lied motionless on the ground for a couple minutes before being helped off the court and taken to the hospital. The severity of the injury is not known yet, but he was on crutches yesterday.
With two senior leaders possibly missing, the onus will be on senior forward Jimmy Butler and junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom to take their games to another level.
Freshman guard Vander Blue will also be relied upon heavily, playing in his first game against the school he had once committed to attend. Blue will be coming off a career performance, scoring 21 points and stuffing the entire stat sheet.
“That’s big for (Blue) going into these tough games,” junior forward Jae Crowder said. “That’s great to see from a freshman. I’m very proud of him.”
Momentum is definitely on Marquette’s side, having blasted past the Islanders 86-50.
“As a team, it was our best game so far,” freshman guard Reggie Smith said. “Offensive-wise, defensive-wise; we pushed the ball, we rotated and didn’t get stuck.”
Can Marquette perform as well against the Badgers? We shall see come 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.