With another in-state rival in Marquette up next for No. 20 Wisconsin, the buzzword of the weekend for the Badgers is “focus.”
As in, head coach Bo Ryan and the Badgers are aware they were not focused from the start of their loss at UW-Green Bay and they know they need much greater focus Saturday as they host the Golden Eagles.
According to senior guard Trevon Hughes, focus is something that starts with the leadership of himself and fellow senior guard Jason Bohannon as captains.
“We weren’t ready, we overlooked this team and we’ve got to focus,” Hughes said. “It starts with the leadership, and there wasn’t much there last night. We didn’t come out as hungry as they came out. They wanted the win more than we did.”
Familiarity likely played a significant factor as well in the Wisconsin’s surprising 88-84 loss at UW-Green Bay, but more importantly, the Phoenix seemed to take better advantage of their matchup advantages than the Badgers. The home team shot nearly 50 percent from the field, while hitting 9-of-18 3s as the UW defense struggled to contain UW-GB’s guards.
Like UW-Green Bay, the strengths of Marquette lie in its guard play.
As has been the story several times already this season, the story of the game will be the size of Wisconsin versus the speed of Marquette. Whichever prevails likely will have a major impact on the final result.
“We think size can be an advantage, but at the same time, they have guys that are quick and are able to penetrate, so they have an advantage, too,” junior forward Jon Leuer said. “It’s just going to come down to who’s able to execute better and who is able to stick to their principles. If we do that, I think we have a chance to be successful.”
Leuer, who at 6-foot-10 is taller than all but one member of the Golden Eagles’ roster, will look to provide the Badgers’ with a key post presence that could make use of the size advantage UW holds over Marquette.
Marquette’s starting lineup stands at an average of 6-foot-2, with the bookends being guard Maurice Acker at 5-foot-8 and forward Joe Fulce at 6-foot-7. Wisconsin’s average height, on the other hand, is 6-foot-4, with all five Badgers starters standing 6-foot or taller.
According to Hughes, though, the speed of Marquette will be a challenge to the Wisconsin big men as they guard opponents who are noticeably smaller and quicker than them.
Two such players that will be difficult for Wisconsin to match up with are forwards Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler, who play more like 6-foot-6 guards. Hayward and Butler average 18.6 and 16.4 points per game, respectively, while grabbing a combined 14.2 rebounds per game.
“They’ll pose some challenges for us and some mismatch problems because they’re not as tall as us,” he said. “But they’re quick in every spot, and they can also stroke it from the perimeter, so we’re going to have to have our big guys move their feet, because their big guys are more like our 3s.”
Through the first six weeks of the season, Wisconsin and Marquette have played one mutual opponent in Grambling State. Both teams dominated the Tigers, but on paper, the Golden Eagles’ 87-41 victory is more impressive.
GSU head coach Bobby Washington thinks the Badgers may have the advantage, though.
“Marquette has some quick guards, … and then the key on the inside for Marquette is Hayward. He’s good, he can play,” Washington said. “But what I think is going to happen is [Wisconsin's] bigs are going to neutralize a lot things that he can do.”
As if the in-state rivalry were not enough the get the Badgers focused against Marquette, the loss should only fuel Wisconsin’s efforts. As long as Ryan has been UW’s head coach, his teams have never finished worse than 2-1 against its in-state series.
Avoiding Ryan’s first losing record against in-state opponents will be no easy task.
Marquette is a tough opponent that upset then-No. 15 Michigan in the Old Spice Classic before dropping two of its last three.
Considering the 115 games played between the two programs are the most for Marquette against any opponent, there’s always the familiarity factor.
And after losing the last two seasons, Hughes’ focus this week is on finishing with a positive result against the Golden Eagles.
“Definitely. I lost the last two years and it sucks,” Hughes said. “You know how it is, in the summer you see those guys and you know, they’re going to have bragging rights for the year. I want to at least be able to say I beat Marquette.”