State Matchups Week!
It’s a big week in Wisconsin hoops, with Marquette taking on UWM, UW-Green Bay hosting Wisconsin, and in the finale, Wisconsin and Marquette getting together on Saturday for their annual rivalry game. While it doesn’t always happen this way, it’s extra fun when so many intra-state games fall during the same week. With a chance to focus solely on games played by teams from inside the state’s borders, you’d expect me to have some thoughts on the games. And you’d be right. Here’s a couple of random things running through my mind as we head towards tonight’s Marquette-UWM game kicking off a week of homegrown basketball in Wiscosnin:
1) I doubt there could be any better way to kick off a week of state teams playing each other than yesterday’s announcement that Marquette has put UW-Green Bay on the schedule for the next three years, and is likely to do the same with UWM. Marquette has gone overly generous on the deal, offering to play Green Bay twice at home and once at the Resch Center. And from the Todd Rosiak report linked above, it sounds likely that UWM will get a similar deal. It’s surprising that Marquette would demand only two games in return for heading to our state’s mid-major homes, but it’s a nice PR move for the Golden Eagles program. After taking lots of flack (some deserved and some not) in recent years for not having the “other” state schools on the schedule, now they’re killing UWGB and UWM with kindness. I know that basketball fans like myself are pleased. Sometimes a deal that’s not so great on its face can be worth all the trouble once you factor in the gain in goodwill.
2) It officially boggles my mind that the Wisconsin-UW-Green Bay game isn’t going to be televised throughout the state. I will admit that I don’t know enough about television rights to know exactly who’s dropping the ball here, but as it is a home game for UW-Green Bay, the blame would seem to fall in the lap of UW-Green Bay or its conference. My question–why wouldn’t UW-Green Bay desperately want this game on statewide television? A game against the state’s most popular program would allow them to show off their team to fans (not to mention, recruits) in every corner of the state. Currently, UW-Green Bay has very little media presence throughout the state. I know very little about the Phoenix, and that has generally been the case since I started this blog. Having seen many of their players in high school, I’d love to know more about the Phoenix, but as a Milwaukeean it takes more work than I’m willing to put in to see their games. If Green Bay made it easy to see a handful of games on TV in other parts of the state each year (this week’s contest against Wisconsin being a glaring example of such an opportunity), I suspect that they could increase their fan base. As things stand, most people in my part of the state seem to think that the Green Bay program shut down when Dick Bennett left.
3) UWM fans will probably be expecting a big night tonight from James Eayres, the Panther big man who looks like an adult version of Rudy’s friend Peter from the Cosby Show (thanks to my pal T.J. for noticing that last year). After all, Marquette lacks size, and should logically struggle against a good big man. Trouble is, Eayres is only listed a 6'7", making him big by mid-major standards, but not by general college basketball standards. Marquette can handle defending a 6'7" guy, particularly when he doesn’t have a lot of reinforcements behind him. Tony Meier and Anthony Hill are solid enough players, but they’re not going to take the pressure off of Eayres. So, I’m expecting Eayres brief slump to continue for one more game before he resumes being the most entertaining and surprisingly good player in the state.
4) Official Game Prediction #1: Marquette will beat UWM in a rout. Aside from my belief that Marquette will have a plan to defend James Eayres, UWM’s top scorer, the Golden Eagles just have more talent. I actually think that UWM will eventually go on to a solid season, but they need a bit more time to put the pieces together (particularly since it’s looking less and less likely that star guard Tone Boyle’s back will heal enough for him to be able to play this season). Put them up right now against a Marquette team that takes pride in not losing to the city’s other team, and which will undoubtedly be angry after blowing a second-half lead against N.C. State this weekend, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I hope I’m wrong and that the Panthers will keep this one close, but I don’t think that I am.
5) In an offshoot about my comment about Marquette’s talent, I’m going on record with something that I meant to say before the season even started: If Luke Harangody falters at all, Lazar Hayward will bring home Big East Player of the Year honors this year. I thought Hayward was the best player on the Golden Eagles last year, and this year he doesn’t have to share the ball with three seniors who’d been starting for four years. You do the math on that one.
6) In the cruel twist of the week, snow is likely to wreak havoc on this week’s games. Should the snow fall throughout the next day or two as forecasters are predicting, people will definitely think twice about heading downtown tonight for the Marquette-UWM game. And if things get really out of hand, it will be interesting to see if Wisconsin can even make it to Green Bay to play on Wednesday night. I generally expect that weather problems are oversold this time of year, but if the snowstorms of the last two years have taught me anything, it’s to not be surprised at the logistical problems that the weather can cause.
7) Official Game Prediction #2: Wisconsin will pummel UW-Green Bay. Like I said, I don’t know much about Green Bay. However, I do know this–they don’t have a lot of great big guys. Despite the inside game being one of the biggest question marks for Wisconsin heading into the season, the frontcourt has turned into one of the Badgers’ biggest strengths. If people could see this game, they’d end up talking about Jon Leuer’s stellar game. As things stand, we’ll probably just find ourselves talking about what a great stat line Leuer has on Wednesday night.
8) Official Game Prediction #3: Wisconsin will come out on top against Marquette, but the game will be in doubt until the final two minutes. My opinion that Marquette will give Wisconsin fits is not one that’s share by many of my friends. Most people that I’ve talked to are aware of two key facts heading into this game. One, Wisconsin just beat Duke, which was the #5 team in the country at the time, in impressive fashion. Two, Marquette played one of the most painful second halves of basketball in recent memory en route to a loss to a mediocre-looking N.C. State team. But those games mean nothing in this meeting.
I see two reasons why Marquette will be in this game until the end. The first is matchups. Marquette is used to being at a disadvantage inside (as they definitely will be on Saturday), and counters with a rotation made up almost exclusively of sppedy sub 6'5" players. Wisconsin’s rotation skews big, which helped them against a big Duke team, but will potentially leave them vulnerable to Marquette’s quick guards. The second issue is Marquette’s emotional style of play. One of the traits of old Tom Crean teams that hasn’t gone away at Marquette (and has perhaps become even more pronounced) is the ability to feed off of emotion. More than ever this year, Marquette is a team that puts forth a furious effort every time it takes the floor. When you add in the excitement of a rivalry game, that effort will get stepped up to an entirely new level. That’s a stark contrast to Wisconsin’s consistent, methodical and relentless demeanor. In general, I’d rather have my team play like an even-keeled Wisconsin team, cutting its opponent apart with the patient determination of a horror movie zombie looking to eat a human brain. However, that’s not to say that the team that goes through highs and lows isn’t going to get hot and occasionally bump off the consistent team during a hot streak. And while I don’t think that Marquette will get hot enough to take down Wisconsin, I do think they’ll come close.
Enjoy the statewide games over the next week, and try to stay out of the cold. Here’s hoping that I don’t wuss out and stay home to shovel tonight when there’s good basketball to be seen...