Last year I put out a post before the annual Marquette-Wisconsin men's basketball game making fun of MU. And then UW committed 18 turnovers and blew their exceedingly long home winning streak (although the moronic changes to student seat allocation probably had something to do with the two home losses last season), despite last season generally being excellent. This year, I'm trying not to build up any bad karma. This game will be tough stuff, a grudge match against a very talented team in perhaps the loudest, most raucous atmosphere the Badgers will face all season.
Marquette has some great upperclassmen talent in senior guards Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and native Madisonian Wes Matthews, and junior forward Lazar Hayward. These guys are all strong, fast, and athletic, with multifaceted games. Moreoever, they're all heavily experienced--even Krabbenhoft and Landry haven't played as many minutes as any one of Marquette's "Big Three" seniors. Plus, with these guys on the floor, Marquette's been known for its suffocating, turnover-creating perimeter defense, the same thing that undid the Badgers against UConn, turning a competitive contest into a blowout in the last ten minutes. Actually, Marquette looks a lot like UConn, if you just take away the 7 foot 3 guy, and subtract a couple of inches from their power forward Jeff Adrien (to turn him into Hayward).
Unfortunately for Marquette, those are some pretty significant differences. MU's weakness right now--due to injuries, sudden departues and recruiting turnoever due to Tom Crean leaving-- is their lack of depth in the paint. One of the two big questions in this game, for me, is whether UW is going to be able to exploit that weakness, particularly with Landry and Leuer (and maybe Nankivil, if he opts to become a bit more aggressive offensively). Can UW handle the pressure on the perimeter, avoid turning the ball over on the outside (which would undoubtedly lead to fast break points for MU), and get the ball into the post? If they can, this would likely exploit MU's issues in the interior and their occasional problems with fouling. If not, I expect a bit of a beatdown by the Golden Eagles, unless UW can nail 60% of their threes again, like they did at Virginia Tech.
The other question is whether UW can play good enough team defense to handle MU's quickness. Despite being guard heavy, they haven't been a great three-point shooting team this year. Instead, look for them to penetrate, run pick and rolls, anything to get the ball into the paint, but not in a traditional post-up situation. I don't think UW's main guys, except for Hughes perhaps, can individually keep Marquette's guards out of the paint. So they question is whether the Badgers can give quality help defense on penetration without getting burned elsewhere on the court. They need to force jumpers. If MU's taking a lot of contested jump-shots, and not driving to the rack and getting scores and fouls on most possessions, UW will have a good shot at winning.
So in sum, I guess this game will be a good measuring stick for UW's progress this season-- have they learned to take better care of the ball? Has their help defense improved? Like all the Badger fans out there, I sure hope they don't wind up on the short end tonight.