Just over a year removed from losing to Marquette on its home floor, Wisconsin heads to the Bradley Center in the annual in-state rivalry game.
The rivalry for these two teams has developed on and off the court in recent years. On the court, the Golden Eagles (5-2) broke the Badgers’ (6-3) 23-game home winning streak Dec. 3, 2011 with a 61-54 victory that has left at least one player still with a bad taste in his mouth.
“Last year they came in here and beat us,” fifth-year senior forward Jared Berggren said, who shot just 3-for-11 from the field in that loss. “That left a sour taste in our mouth and we’ve had to wait an entire year to get another shot at them.”
If the Badgers hope to avenge what Berggren called an “embarrassing loss,” the team’s young guards will need to handle themselves well against the pressure defense the Eagles under head coach Buzz Williams live and die by.
In year’s past this in-state rivalry game has been defined by a clash of tempos. While MU wants to run and gun on offense and force turnovers to create easy transition buckets, Wisconsin will need to slow the game down to a half-court slugfest, even though they have some players that can run the floor themselves.
“If you grew up in Wisconsin you know about the rivalry and you know about the hard-nose game, energy, hype and physicality it brings to the table,” freshman Sam Dekker said. “It’s just one of those games you look forward to.”
Dekker, a native of Sheboygan, Wis., has continued to serve as the offensive spark for the Badgers this season. Although he comes off the bench, the former blue-chip recruit is tied for third on the team in scoring per game, averaging 10.4 points per contest.
The long and lengthy Dekker, who stands at 6-foot-7, is versatile enough to match up with any of the lengthy Marquette players who play the wing, but will most likely find himself guarding the Eagles’ best offensive forward, Jamil Wilson, when he’s on the court.
Wilson, who grew up in Wisconsin playing his basketball for Racine Horlick High School, played a year at Oregon but transferred back home to play basketball for Marquette. This season, Wilson is averaging 9.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
“He’s a heck of an athlete,” Dekker said. “He can do things other people can’t do, and you have to respect that playing against him. We’ll have to try to neutralize that as much as possible and take him out of his comfort zone.”
Marquette is also led by junior guard and one-time Wisconsin commit Vander Blue. Blue, a player who grew up playing his high school ball down the road at Madison’s Memorial High School, has averaged 12.8 points per game in 2012.
But the biggest area of concern will be how the Badgers handle the Eagles’ Davante Gardner, the 6-foot-8, 290-pound bruising forward who comes off the bench as the sixth man. Through seven games this season, Gardner leads the team in both points and rebounds per game, with 12.9 and 5.7, respectively.
After Gardner, the height of the Eagles really drops off. Besides starting center Chris Otule and Gardner, Marquette has no players who are taller than 6-foot-8. Wisconsin’s Berggren will have a chance for a big-day down low, but will need to focus on staying tough with the ball, as Marquette will most likely double-team him like they did last year.
And the Wisconsin guards — like George Marshall, Traevon Jackson and Ben Brust — will be hard-pressed by the physical man-to-man pressure of Marquette to get an easy look into the post.
“We have a little bit of a height advantage,” Berggren said. “It’s not like I’m going to have a 6-foot-6 guy on me but I feel like we can hurt them inside. We know it’s going to be important to handle the pressure, we know it’s not going to be easy to get the ball inside because they play swarming defense.
“If we play our game, control the tempo and take care of the ball, I think we’ll be OK.”
Marquette will play the game without guard Todd Mayo, who was ruled academically ineligible in early November. Mayo averaged 7.9 points and 2.7 rebounds per game in his freshman year for the Eagles.