In the quest to remain undefeated, No. 8 Wisconsin will likely face its toughest test until 2014 Saturday afternoon when they host recently unranked Marquette.
It’s also Wisconsin’s biggest nonconference rivalry game, which has only grown over the years through MU head coach Buzz Williams’ revival of the Big East program. Right now though, in 2013, the programs are trending in opposite directions.
At the outset of the season, Williams’ gang had the upper hand on Wisconsin in national respect. The Golden Eagles began the season ranked 17th in the nation, just a skip higher than Wisconsin at 20.
Fast forward five weeks and the Badgers (9-0) have crept into the top 10 while Marquette (5-3) has dropped three games in the nonconference slate, dropping from the rankings just this week.
Furthermore, Wisconsin is returning home after beating Virginia 48-38 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Meanwhile, Marquette returns to the Dairy State following a 67-59 loss to San Diego State in the Wooden Legacy Tournament.
Marquette is led by big man Davante Gardner in a majority of the scorebook, his 14 points and seven rebounds per game both ranking as team-highs. His help, however, has been rather spotty. Only two other Golden Eagles’ average more than eight points per game.
Part of the statistical anomaly and what could play a role in Saturday’s game is the depth of each team. Marquette’s lacking of 10-point scorers is due, in part, to only one player, junior guard Derrick Wilson, averaging more than 30 minutes per game.
Just eight Badgers average more than 10 minutes per game, but 11 Golden Eagles find their way to the floor for 10. It’s a different style of play, given a lack of overall experience returning, compared to Wisconsin’s experienced group of returnees.
That group had been singled out, to an extent this season for their defense, abnormally porous under the tutelage of Bo Ryan. They’ve remained undefeated in large part to their offense, but that classic Wisconsin defense reared its face Wednesday night.
They held Virginia to just 38 points for the game, by far a season low and the fewest points of any team in the history of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The root of that came from guard Josh Gasser’s game-long shutdown of Virginia’s do-it-all scorer Joe Harris. Harris managed just two points on 1-for-10 shooting.
It was a welcomed sight for both Wisconsin’s players and fans. And between those two groups, Saturday’s game might just mean the most for those in the stands. Assistant coach Lamont Paris has seen much of it in his four years.
“From a fan’s perspective,” Paris said to UWBadgers.com insider Mike Lucas. “It’s very intense.”