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1:15 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7
Kohl Center | Madison, WI
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 540 ESPN, 620 WTMJ
MiSIX Keys to the Game:
Marquette returned from Thanksgiving on the West Coast without the Wooden Legacy trophy. But it brought back a more important souvenir: an offensive identity.
And just in time, too. With arguably the most important nonconference game on the schedule lying ahead, the Golden Eagles shot better than 40% from the field in all four of last week’s outings—hardly brag-worthy until you consider the fact the only time they accomplished that in the first four games was against Grambling State, which probably shouldn’t count. Actually, it’s our blog, so we’ll go ahead and say it doesn’t count because it makes the home vs. West Coast comparison even more glaring.
West Coast swing
Against better competition, Marquette improved in nearly every area. And even the change in free-throw rate is a silver lining situation because that mark at home was beyond ridiculous and unsustainable. The Golden Eagles relying that heavily on free throws for offense is only slightly wiser than turning team meals over to Bradley Center concessions, where corned beef counts as health food.
Nobody embodied the offensive renaissance more than junior point guard Derrick Wilson. His primary contribution on that end prior to the West Coast trip was occupying a defender’s attention—and even that was starting to wane by the end of a 1-for-10 shooting performance during the home stand. But somewhere between General Mitchell and Sky Harbor airports, Wilson rededicated himself to getting to the rim, leading to a season-high 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting against Arizona State. The remainder of the trip was just as encouraging.
Home stretch (incl. Grambling)
West Coast swing
BREAKING DOWN BUCKY
Wisconsin, on the other hand, is in the midst of the best offensive identity crisis possible. Long known for trotting the ball up the court with all the urgency of a Grand Canyon mule rental, the Badgers have cracked the 80-point mark three times already this season after doing so a total of five times all of last year. But while it’s true their possessions per game are up, it’s not because they’ve deviated from an offense that’s Job-like both in its patient approach and in how it causes immense suffering to non-Badger fans forced to sit through one interminable possession after another.
|Avg off possession||20.9 sec||21.1||+0.2|
|Avg def possession||18.0 sec||16.6||-1.4|
Contrary to what you may have heard from ESPN announcers, the average time Wisconsin spends on offense is actually a bit longer this season. The big difference is the time it spends on defense: almost a second and a half less than last year.
In most cases, shorter possessions mean a less-efficient defense. And that seems to be the case here, too, as opponents’ effective field goal percentage jumped from 43% last season to 46.8% through the first nine games this year, while their turnover percentage has dropped from 18% to 15.9%. But whatever defensive decline exists has been countered by a far more effective offense.
One of the factors behind the scoring bonanza is junior point guard Traevon Jackson. The role of floor general is crucial in Bo Ryan’s offense, and after being somewhat tossed into it last season when Josh Gasser’s knee imploded, Jackson is clearly comfortable running the show now, as evidenced by his across-the-board improvement.
So we have two junior point guards leading their respective team’s offensive prosperity. Seems like as good a time as any for the super special in-state rivalry edition of …
THE POSITION-BY-POSITION FACE-OFF OF DOOM
Point guard: Derrick Wilson (MU) vs. Traevon Jackson (UW). Not much more to say, given what we covered earlier. Wilson needs to get to the rim, and Jackson needs to stop him.
Shooting guard: Jake Thomas (MU) vs. Ben Brust (UW). The designated long-distance guys for each team come with some fine print. When Marquette’s doing well, it doesn’t shoot much from three-point range. But if it needs to, Thomas—as the only player north of 33%—is the best option. Wisconsin, on the other hand, loves the three. Of its made field goals this season, 34.5% come from long distance compared with just 19.1% for Marquette. In fact, every Badger starter has at least nine triples, but Brust’s 22 are 10 more than the next closest teammate.
Non-position-specific matchup: Juan Anderson (MU) vs. Josh Gasser (UW). You need something dirty done? These are your guys. Loose ball on the floor, tough defensive matchup, Gatorade on your tie—they’ll handle it. And while Gasser averages more than twice as many points per game than Anderson (10.4 vs. 4.4), what actually separates them is minutes. Gasser’s on the floor 32.7 minutes per game to Anderson’s 15.3, so their points per minute almost balance out—0.320 vs. 0.287, respectively.
Tall people capable of scoring from anywhere: Jamil Wilson (MU) vs. Sam Dekker (UW). When Wilson plays well, Marquette wins. Pretty simple. His win-loss splits are startling: 50.8% vs. 29.2% for effective field goal percentage, 36.2 vs. 18.5 for free-throw rate, and +19.4 vs. -10.0 for plus/minus. Dekker, meanwhile, has struggled scoring against good defensive teams lately, with single-digit outings against St. Louis and Virginia. Marquette’s defense qualifies, ranked 29th nationally in points per game and in the top 15th percentile in effective field goal percentage. Wisconsin might be wise to not lean on Dekker too much in this one.
Center and 7-footer who’s technically a forward: Chris Otule (MU) vs. Frank Kaminsky (UW). Things get a little chess match-y here. Like everyone in the Wisconsin offense, Kaminsky scores from everywhere (second on the team with 12 threes), which means Otule will need to play more perimeter defense than usual. If he can’t keep up, out he goes, along with his 64.5% shooting percentage. Which is an opportune segue to …
Bench guys who could start for Grambling: Todd Mayo and Davante Gardner (MU) vs. Duje Dukan and Nigel Hayes (UW). Two of Marquette’s top three scorers won’t be on the floor when the game starts, but it won’t be long before they are. Gardner and Mayo both average more than 20 minutes per game and are 1-2 in points per minute—0.577 and 0.490, respectively. Dukan is nearly as efficient at 0.443, while Hayes provides serious muscle defensively while tossing in the occasional point or two.
The interesting thing about all of these matchups is seeing how many of them will actually match up. As Wisconsin’s best defender, Gasser could find himself chasing J-Wilson or Mayo. Otule defending Kaminsky could be problematic, so Gardner or J-Wilson may need to take over. Then there are the four other Marquette players averaging double-digit minutes who we haven’t even mentioned.
There are a LOT of moving pieces to this game, which is why it’s so incredibly competitive year after year—10 of the last 11 meetings have been decided by 10 points or less. But that’s what happens when you have two teams led by brilliant, multi-talented basketball minds:
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