The Jesuits vs. the Jovials, Private v. Public (Pubic?), "The Good Land" vs. the Emerald City, Catholics vs. Agnostics, the Holier than Thous vs. the Hellions, Devotees vs. Divorcees, The Rhthym Method vs. the Morning After Pill, The Affectedly Pious vs. the Effectively Profanatory, yes it's Marquette v. UW time once more.
This one has the potential to be the best game in the series since Devin Harris and Dwy-ane (that's how he spells his name, folks) Wade moved onto the professional ranks.
Both teams are in the top 20. Both have exciting, athletic, dominant players-- Dominic James and A-Tuck. Both have been upset by scrappy mid-majors (although losing to a good Missouri Valley Conference team like Missouri State on a neutral floor is far less emabarassing than losing to North Dakota State at home--yes, I know we lost to them last year) and thus have something to prove. Both have high expectations within their respective conferences, and for the post-season.
So what can we expect?
If you follow the link to the Journal-Sentinel's website to the right, you'll see they do the lamest "preview" that one could imagine, basically saying "here is one player's stats and the stats of a player for the other team who plays the same position." Great, I could have looked that up myself in two minutes. What inquiring minds like me want to know is which team looks like it has the edge. What will the interesting match-ups be, and what should people look for?
The Big Ten Wonk (also conveniently linked to your right), makes some interesting notes about each team thus far. He notes that Marquette has been playing consistent defense, and their struggles (going to OT against Idaho State and losing to NDSU) were due in large part to wildy inconsistent offensive performances. He finds that Marquette, despite being a "guard oriented" team, doesn't take all that many 3s. He also concludes that Jerel McNeal, who has an outrageous number of steals, has been hurting the team overall because he shoots a low percentage and turns the ball over too often.
The Wonk also notes that Wisconsin is shooting well as a team this year, but not taking all that many three pointers. Butch and Krabbenhoft are rebounding machines, while our defense has been solid with the exception of allowing the highest three point percentage in the Big Ten thus far. What's interesting is that MU is allowing an even worse three-point shooting percentage, 39% to our 38%.
Bo was asked about our long-range defense after Withrop shot 60%(!!!) against us from distance, hitting fifteen(15) 3s. He replied that he had looked at the Withrop game tape, and that except for a handful of attempts, we were contesting their shots, meaning people weren't wide open, and that they were just getting lucky, I guess. The same apparently for the guy on Florida Internationl who hit 7 threes last weekend.
What does all this mean? Perhaps our "weakness"--allowing lots of 3s--isn't systematic, but just a product of dumb luck and the permimeter obsessed teams we've played (Delaware State, Winthrop, Missouri State). I predict that this will even out as the season goes along, and we play different types of teams. And for the purposes of this game, since Marquette doesn't shoot that many 3s, they won't be able to take advantage of this alleged "weakness" anyway. Good news.
But Sconnie fans should still be wary.
First off, the game is at the Bradley Center, where the Bucks play but where Marquette rolls out the extra special Al McGuire Court. Note to Marquette, having your own special memorial floor does not transmorgify that hardly-ever-sold-out characterless NBA venue into a charming, on-campus stadium. Regardless of these television-based pretend shenanigans, Marquette has the home court advantage. By my likely inaccurate count, they are 24-3 at home since the arrival of James, McNeal and Wes Jr., including a victory over UConn last year. Further, the home team has won the last five games in the UW/MU (moo?) series. Plus, UW's only loss this season has been on the road, and UW had a bad road record last year-- going 4-11, including tournament games. Hopefully, last season's on the road pants-crapping was a learning experience, and we can now strap on weens, and play with good teams in hostile environs.
Second, the teams have different strengths, but their area of strength may be more key. They have three (or maybe 2, if you think the Wonk's stats are right) fine young guards. In the game against Duke, James looked unbelievable, hitting all sorts of shots, driving, passing, doing a reverse dunk on a fast break (he's 5'11"). He scored 16 straight points against Valpo (Fuzzy Thurston's alma mater; he played basketball there as well). Que ridique. If James declared at the end of this season, I think he'd be a lottery pick. No one in UW's backcourt matches up with him talent-wise at this point (Hughes may well be as good in the long run). McNeal, while he may be a poor shot/turnover machine, is an excellent on-ball defender, who has twice as many steals as Michael Flowers (and doesn't it seem like Flowers has a lot?). Young Wesley, the former Spartan, is a bigger and better athlete than any of our guards. In comparison, Kam is a fine shooter when he's on, but he can disappear, especially against tenacious defense. I like Flowers' intensity, but I don't think he's as good a defender as we'd like to think he is, and I don't trust him offensively. Bohannon's heady, but has been more off than on in his shooting streaks. Bo hasn't "trusted" Hughes, or especially Perry, enough to give them seasoning, and they may both get shut out minutes-wise in this game. It's too bad, because I think had Hughes gotten more experience earlier this season, he could really have helped out against Marquette's backcourt. In conclusion, I would say that UW's backcourt does not match up well with Marquette's.
But Marquette's frontcourt does not measure up with UW's. Who on Marquette will attempt to guard Alando? If it's Wes, he should get posted-up repeatedly. If it's Barro (Marquette's lone athletic frontcourt player), Alando can lure him outside, leaving the middle open for Butch and others to attack the basket. Or Tuck can face him up, drive at him and get to the line. Also, if Stiemsma stops getting screwed by the refs, he could seriously shut down direct access to the basket, and Butch and the Hoft can clean the boards. Marquette's biggest body is hurt, and the other starting frontcourt player, Fitzgerald, is one of those "not that athletic, but can hit open shots" guys. The other two other guys with decent minutes are a true freshman, and senior James Lott, who seems to be more of a designated fouler. Barro did play well against Duke though, defending McChinnuts, sorry McRoberts well. But we should be able to blind them with science and numbers. I give the edge here to Alando, the Hoft, Butch, Stiemsma, Chappell, Landry and Gullickson.
However, the CW is that in college baskeball the backcourt dominates. Thus, with the backcourt advantage to Marquette, and with the game in Milwaukee, Marquette should be favored. UW needs someone to keep James under control-- a job that will probably fall to Flowers. Alas, I don't think Flowers will be able to stop him from penetrating, so he'll need good help defense. The worry is that we overcommit to James, enabling other guys to beat us. That will be the struggle on defense, I predict. If the Wonk is right, then we should funnel the ball to McNeal on offense, have Flowers tightly shadow James and the Hoft blanket Wes, thus allowing McNeal to take bad shots and turn the ball over. Ha, statistically informed genius!
On offense, I expect our guards to struggle, with Kam getting D'ed up hard by McNeal. Despite the Wonk's belief that he's an overall drain, unless we enact my funneling idea and encourage him to go one-on-one against the world, this could be a game where his defense makes up for it. Sadly, I have my suspicions about Kam, especially against strong, aggressive guards. Alando will have to perform well, and he usually does in big games (knock on wood, please). Marquette is a relatively thin team, and getting free throws and putting Moo's players in foul trouble could be huge. If Barro or one of the three guards has to miss time because of fouls, Bucky could be ok. But if our guards take too many bad (read, partially blocked) shots, and turn the ball over before getting it to the bigs, allowing James and Co. to run the floor and ram it home, that's the game. As the former Spartan on North Dakota State related, if our guards can play decently, we can beat them.
So I say keys for Bucky: decent guard play, controlling turnovers, and getting in the paint and getting free throws. Funnel ball away from James to McNeal. Let the depth come through.
Keys for Moo-- harass the guards and prevent the ball from getting into the frontcourt. Look to create turnovers and press the ball whenever possible. Set up James to drive and dish. Keep Tucker out of the paint.
I was hoping to tell you what the line was, but try as I might, I can't find a comphrensible spread. The over/under is 135, though. Marquette's probably favored by about 5. Their victory over Duke was on national television, after all. Nice ranking system by the way. If the 11th ranked team isn't favored at the place of the 20th ranked team, what does that tell you about the rankings? Oh right, they're stupid and uninformed and designed to create news, not to do anything useful.
Anyhow, go Bucky! Down come the papists! Out come the knee pads! We shall dine at the Three Brothers in celebration! Schlitz shall be guzzled, and premarital genital intercourse, with contraception, shall be had!
Links to semi-legitimate previews of the game:
On SI, Seth Davis rings in with an ill-informed opinion that the poor 3-point shooting percentage UW is giving up so far spells trouble against MU because of their guards. As noted above, that theory is stupid because (a) people have been more lucky than open, and (b) Marquette doesn't shoot many threes.
On ESPN, Andy Katz comments about the intra-state rivalry.
The kids at the Badger Herald talk about the Madison based roots of some of the players on both teams.
Mike Lucas traces the history.
Another Madison columnist talks to the Madison born former Spartan who has conquered both teams in the past 12 months.