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Wisconsin matchup will likely be decided by Badgers’ big three

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Marquette defeated Wisconsin 57-55 in last year's matchup.

Marquette defeated Wisconsin 57-55 in last year's matchup.

Photo by Wire Stock Photo

Photo by Wire Stock Photo

Marquette defeated Wisconsin 57-55 in last year's matchup.

The No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers have a big three: forward Nigel Hayes, guard Bronson Koenig and forward Ethan Happ. The Badgers have other role players who make varying impacts on a sporadic basis, but the team tends to go as its big three goes.

Wisconsin’s first loss of the season came in a tricky road game at Creighton. Happ had just five field goal attempts in the contest. His measly seven points and four turnovers played a major role in Bucky’s demise. At first glance you might think Koenig had a solid night as he put up 21 points, but a closer look reveals a different story. The senior guard had four turnovers, a brutal 3 of 13 line from 3-point range, just one assist and only two rebounds. His 21 points were helpful but he used up 32 percent of the team’s possessions in the process. Additionally, Happ, Koenig and Hayes combined for 10 turnovers, three more than the entire Creighton roster.

Wisconsin rebounded with three straight wins, which set up a contest with No. 4 North Carolina in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational championship game. Once again the Badgers’ big three couldn’t get it done. It’s worth noting that the Tar Heels are one of the best teams in the nation, but poor performances from Koenig and Hayes flushed away any chance of a signature victory. Koenig scored two points on 1 of 13 shooting and Hayes scored eight points on 3 of 11 from the field. The big three combined for a paltry 23 points in the game, just one point more than UNC’s top scorer Joel Berry.

When Wisconsin’s stars play poorly the Badgers are in big trouble. On the other hand, when those three are clicking, the Badgers are hard to stop.

In Wisconsin’s wins over Tennessee, No. 22 Syracuse and Oklahoma, Hayes, Koenig and Happ combined for at least 52 points. Even when Hayes put up just six points against Georgetown, Happ and Koenig combined for 39 points to save the day.

If Marquette wants score another victory over Wisconsin it’s going to have to find a way to slow down the big three. Traci Carter and Haanif Cheatham will likely be the primary defenders on Koenig and, provided he stays out of foul trouble, Luke Fischer will play every minute against Happ. The trickiest matchup is with Hayes on the wing. The senior forward plays mostly power forward, but gets a few minutes at the three as well. Last season Sandy Cohen demonstrated his defensive capabilities by locking down Hayes, but that certainly won’t be the case this year with him leaving the program.

Jajuan Johnson, Sam Hauser and Katin Reinhardt will be tasked with slowing down Hayes, but Marquette has struggled guarding at the four. Pitt’s Michael Young put up 30 on the Golden Eagles at the 2k Classic, while Georgia’s Yante Maten scored 24 Sunday.

None of these are favorable matchups for the Golden Eagles — a big part of the reason Wisconsin is No. 17 in the AP Poll. If Steve Wojciechowski’s team can catch Koenig on an off day, deny Happ the ball or keep Hayes pinned on the perimeter, they can turn the odds in their favor.

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