Marquette-Wisconsin: My Belated Rivalry Thoughts
The Marquette-Wisconsin game is always one of my favorites, as there’s nothing more fun than an in-state rivalry. This year was a bit more intriguing to me, due to the dynamics of the season so far. Back two weeks ago when Marquette was regularly dropping 100 points on opponents, most people I knew were of the belief that Wisconsin didn’t stand much of a chance. Then after Marquette lost to Dayton and Wisconsin pulled out a tough win at Virginia Tech, I had a tough time finding anyone who believed Marquette could win this one. Of course, it ended up being a reasonably close game, with both teams going on a big runs at different points. And as always, it was lots of fun, even if my Badgers ended up on the losing end. My severely belated thoughts below:
1) If I’d had the opportunity to share some pre-game thoughts about the Marquette-Wisconsin game, the first thing that I would have said is that Jon Leuer is going to be the one guy that Marquette has no answer for and will have a huge game. It didn’t happen (Leuer had a merely solid game), but it was a logical thought, considering that Leuer has been on an outstanding run to start the season, he’s 6'10" and athletic, Marquette currently has only two healthy players over 6'7", and Marquette needed to use someone big to account for Marcus Landry before even thinking about Leuer. On the bright side for Leuer, while he didn’t break the game open, he did notch eight points and four rebounds in limited minutes.
2) Another thing that I’d have said prior to the game if I’d had the chance is that concerns about Marquette’s defense heading into this game were a bit overblown. From what I’ve seen of Marquette, their biggest issue is an inability to stop dribble penetration. And Wisconsin’s offense simply isn’t one that’s built on dribble penetration. Thus, Marquette’s biggest weakness wasn’t as likely to be exploited against Bo Ryan’s vaunted swing offense. In fact, Marquette’s athletic guards were able to extend the defense and contest passes on the perimeter, a move that over the years has tended to be the one thing that causes some difficulty for the Badgers.
3) Piggybacking on that point about dribble penetration, I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that Rob Wilson logged his most minutes in a game for the Badgers this season against Marquette. Wilson is one of the few Badgers that can get into the lane, and seemed to do so nearly every time he touched the ball on Saturday night. Nice to know that if things break down, Trevon Hughes isn’t the only guy who can create something out of nothing for Wisconsin.
4) Marquette introduces its student section by billing it as “the best student section in the country.” I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, but it has got a distinct edge over the Wisconsin student section, which has been sort of disjointed over the past few years.
5) I heard a radio interview on Friday night with Dominic James where he discussed many aspects of the Wisconsin game. One of the points that I found most interesting was his mentioning that Buzz Williams had come to the team and asked the players how they would feel most comfortable guarding the swing. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I thought much of that collaborative approach, but after seeing the game, I can’t help but think that they players must have had some idea what they were talking about. And Williams must have known what he was doing, too, as some coaches wouldn’t have recognized the incredible resource that a bunch of players who’d played against Wisconsin three prior times could be.
6) I’ve heard lots of talk about how little red there was in the Bradley Center on Saturday night. I actually thought that there was a pretty impressive number of Wisconsin fans in attendance, though I suppose it’s all relative. Seeing a smattering of Wisconsin fans sprinkled liberally throughout the arena is a far cry from when I was a kid, and the crowd was much closer to 50/50. Though I’m one of those bastard Wisconsin fans that made it into the game, I still have plenty of respect for Marquette’s recent efforts to secure their home court advantage. That’s what a school should seek to do.
7) While I was clearly in the minority as a Wisconsin fan during the game, and beforehand downtown, I’m happy to report that I found it to be a remarkably cordial crowd. Some of this was probably helped by me watching the game with a Marquette fan. Sure, I was randomly sworn at by a couple of people while on my way to the bathroom, but those folks were the exception, and not the rule. Besides, that’s just something that you have to expect in another team’s arena. On the whole, I felt safe the entire time, and saw virtually no post-game gloating. That’s all you can ask for.
8) The Jumbotron messages from players pumping up the crowd just keep getting better and better as the years go on. What seemed like a non-sensical, cheesy interlude a few years ago has truly become an entertaining aside. My compliments to the video team.
9) Three years ago, Marquette inexplicably had Chris Grimm guard Alando Tucker, and even more inexplicably, Grimm (and his teammates) virtually shut Tucker down. Last year, Dwight Burke somehow turned into a clutch foul shooter for the Wisconsin game and the Wisconsin game only. This year Burke put forth a tremendous effort and effectively slowed down Marcus Landry, Wisconsin’s biggest offensive threat. So I’m calling it right now–next year’s key to the Wisconsin game for Marquette is having a mediocre big man put forth an excellent effort.
10) I’ll be honest–I didn’t expect Jerel McNeal to take over scoring like he did for Marquette on Saturday night (defensive kudos to him as well, as he drew some awkward assignments at times). And that’s what’s so dangerous about Marquette–they’ve literally got four different guys capable of scoring 25 points on any given night, and no one knows which one (or more) is going to go off.
And with another installment of my favorite rivalry game in the books, I made the cold walk back to my car and headed to catch the tail end of one of the three holiday parties that I had to miss in order to make the game. It was a solid end to what usually ends up being one of my favorite nights of the year.
I should make it to a high school game tonight, weather permitting, so thoughts tomorrow on that, or in alternate, the Wisconsin-Idaho State game on TV.