When the Marquette basketball team takes on Wisconsin, the entire state takes notice. Last season’s matchup was the highest attended basketball game in the state’s history, though it’s since been topped by Marquette’s home loss to Ohio State Nov. 16.
A win in Madison this Saturday would mean much more for the Golden Eagles than in-state bragging rights, however. A third-straight Marquette victory, and second in three years at the Kohl Center, would likely be a catalyst for success in a still young season.
Buzz Williams said his team matured and grew over last week’s run in the Wooden Legacy tournament, and it’s grown accustomed to working under tough road conditions.
But while seniors Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson and Chris Otule are no strangers to the challenges of the Kohl Center, its unfriendly confines present a new stepping stone in the growth of players like JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton.
The Golden Eagles were the Badgers’ kryptonite the last two seasons. Bruising play under the basket and an efficient transition game trumped Bo Ryan’s slower, more half-court-oriented approach.
Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue combined for 35 points in last season’s 60-50 win, while the Golden Eagles scored 17 fast break points and 14 points off turnovers.
But Marquette has yet to find a perimeter scorer as consistent as Blue or Cadougan this season. Moreover, while the rebounding is there for this Marquette team, it’s had a rough time keeping games up-tempo for the most part.
While a balanced attack in the frontcourt will be essential, Derrick Wilson and Jake Thomas will need to play as well as they did against Arizona State to spread the Badgers’ defense. Todd Mayo could also dramatically help the Golden Eagles’ chances, should he rediscover the form displayed the last time he visited the Kohl Center. His 14 points and five rebounds helped Marquette to the 61-54 victory.
Checking in at No. 8, the Badgers will be the highest-ranked team the Golden Eagles faced thus far. A potential upset would pay RPI dividends considering a weaker Big East conference schedule and Marquette’s previous nonconference losses. It would be tough to label any of their defeats as “bad” given the competition, but a victory Saturday would be as quality a win as the Golden Eagles could achieve this season.
Last year’s win was a welcome rebound after a drubbing against Florida, but this season it would carry more weight than any Wisconsin-Marquette contest in recent history. Regardless of the outcome, the game will definitely serve as yet another non-conference measuring stick for a rapidly maturing Golden Eagle squad.