After a thrilling win last Monday in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team heads east to play its biggest in-state rival, Marquette.
The Badgers (6-1) are looking forward to the rematch following a disappointing loss to the Golden Eagles (6-1) last year at the Kohl Center.
“I remember they were more hungry than us, and we can’t let that happen again,” Wisconsin guard Trevon Hughes said.
The game, which will be played at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, will feature an intriguing matchup between the experienced senior guards of Marquette in Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews and the younger guards of Wisconsin.
“With Wes in particular, he is probably their best player,” Wisconsin assistant head coach Greg Gard said. “That says a lot with the strides Dominic has made and Jerel has made in his career as well. Wes has improved his game. He has gotten bigger and stronger as his career has gone on. He has become involved in the perimeter game.”
While Matthews has the highest scoring average at 22 points per game, both McNeal and James are averaging over 10 points and five rebounds per game. James also contributes over four assists per game, helping spark the Marquette offense from the point guard position.
The visiting Badgers are led by Hughes, who made the game-winning shot against Virginia Tech Monday, and junior sharpshooter Jason Bohannon. Wisconsin also features two promising freshmen who have been major contributors this season.
Both Rob Wilson and Jordan Taylor have seen significant minutes in all seven of Wisconsin’s games. Wilson is averaging just over eight minutes per game while Taylor is averaging 14.6 minutes per game, giving both Hughes and Bohannon support off the bench.
“The thing about Jordan and Rob is they haven’t played like freshmen,” Gard said. “They have come in with a very mature attitude and haven’t been in awe of anything. That is what they have done through their AAU and their high school programs.”
Hughes, however, isn’t fazed.
“I’m not impressed because we knew they could do that,” he said. “I’m impressed the way they bought into the team concept.”
The biggest challenge for the two freshmen and sophomore Tim Jarmusz, who has also added significant defensive support, is to play in pressure-packed situations like Saturday’s game. Two years ago at Marquette, the Badgers and the Golden Eagles played in front of the largest crowd in history in the state of Wisconsin.
“They have been in pressure situations before,” Gard said. “Every experience is going to be a learning experience for all of them. None of them are grizzled veterans, but that is something we want to do possession by possession. It hasn’t changed in the seven games prior to this one, and it won’t change after this one either. We have to continue getting better making sure we are better on the next possession.”
While the guard play will surely be a large factor in the game, the Golden Eagles will also be looking to get a good win for first-year head coach Buzz Williams, who took over the program after Tom Crean left to head the rebuilding process at Indiana. So far, though, Gard doesn’t think the Eagles’ style of play has changed since Williams took over.
“I don’t think it is a whole lot different with what they are trying to accomplish in the end,” Gard said. “They are still trying to play fast. They try to get a lot in transition, and they get a lot of offense off their defense, which they are very good at when they can put that much pressure on the perimeter with McNeal, Matthews and James, in particular.”
While the game may mean more for fans’ in-state bragging rights than to conference standings, playing in the Bradley Center can certainly help swing momentum in both teams’ way as the conference seasons approach.
“I like playing in games like that,” Hughes said. “It gets your adrenaline going, and that’s what people play college basketball for, to go out there every night and compete.”