The Wisconsin-Madison game is consistently one of the most hard-fought and exciting matchups Marquette plays every season. This time, the intense rivalry takes on a bigger meaning for the Golden Eagles and Badgers.
Both schools are coming off a Sweet 16 run last season, and both have started off the season in disappointing fashion.
Marquette is in the middle of a full week of rest following one of the worst losses in program history last Thursday at Florida. The Golden Eagles are still searching for a statement win and hope to take the sting and embarrassment of that rout in Gainesville behind them.
On the other side, Wisconsin is hoping to avenge last season’s loss to Marquette at the Kohl Center and keep its recent two-game winning streak alive. The Badgers started the season ranked 22nd in the nation, but losses to Florida, Creighton and Virginia have kept Bo Ryan’s team from breaking back into the national scene.
Despite the rough start, coach Buzz Williams believes Wisconsin’s record is misleading.
“Their record doesn’t say it, but I think as the year progresses they could end up being the best team they’ve had since I’ve been here,” Williams said. “Jordan Taylor is gone, and that changes their team. Obviously losing Josh Gasser hurts their team.”
Williams added that the Badgers have introduced a different offensive scheme that Marquette hasn’t previously seen from them, and adjusting to it will be key.
“They play completely different than they’ve ever played,” Williams said. “Coach Ryan probably invented the swing offense. If he didn’t, he was one of the first coaches that partook of it. They play a little swing this year but not a lot. They’re running a lot of the Princeton offense now like Georgetown.
“I think offensively, as they’ve figured out how to play without Josh (Gasser) and as they’ve become more accustomed to their new offensive system, I think they’re getting better.”
Redshirt senior forward Jared Berggren leads the Badgers with 14.9 points per game. His 6-foot-10 frame creates an imposing presence on the boards where he’s averaged 6.7 rebounds per game.
Freshman forward Sam Dekker has contributed in the frontcourt with 10.4 points per game. Junior guard Ben Brust scores the most out of the backcourt and surprisingly leads the team in rebounds with 7.8 per game.
“Sam Dekker is obviously a really good player for them as a freshman,” Williams said. “Berggren has improved dramatically since last year. I think they’re categorized as playing slow and they do, but they’re very efficient in what they do because their offense helps their defense so much.”
Marquette will have to watch the three-point line as Wisconsin has made 76-of-220 shots (34.5 percent) from beyond the arc so far this season, while allowing opponents to sink just 38 three-point attempts. The Badgers allow just 57.1 points per game, while the Golden Eagles allow 63.1, meaning Saturday will likely be a defensive struggle.
Director of basketball operations Jerry Wainwright said improved physicality will also be a focal point after a “soft game” against the Gators.
“That game became kind of a pick-up game,” Wainwright said. “Physically, especially on the defensive end, we weren’t what we can be, and we need to correct that. It had better be there Saturday, and I think that it will be.”