Marquette vs. Wisconsin: The Rivalry Continues
As always, Saturday was my favorite game of the year--the Marquette vs. Wisconsin game. It's the one time a year when I'm forced to root against Marquette, and it's a typically a good time for some back and forth between myself and my large contingent of friends that are Marquette fans. Thankfully, this year the Badgers generally controlled the tempo and the game prior to a brief late game scare, and Wisconsin walked away with the 69-64 win. My game thoughts below:
1) Perhaps my favorite moment of Saturday came prior to the game when I began the walk over to the game with some friends from a nearby tavern. Looking to play a quick joke on my friend The Franchise, my friend Dave told him that he had received a text message that the game had started at 1pm instead of 1:30, for reasons related to television. The Franchise was livid, and stayed that way for about a block and a half, somehow not tipped off to Dave's fib by the hundreds of other fans streaming towards the Bradley Center along with us. He was only tipped off by the giggling of the group as we watched The Franchise quickly devolve into anger about the early start.
2) As usual, big kudos to the people who produce the game experience at Marquette. The pre-game video that specifically focused on the history of the Marquette-Wisconsin rivalry was brilliant and definitely made me smile.
3) Saturday's game highlighted one of the things that has excited me most about both Wisconsin and Marquette as the season has unfolded--depth. Wisconsin saw 12 different players log minutes and Marquette had 11 different players take the floor. While there's an argument to be made that both teams would be better off settling on a tighter rotation (and that very well may happen as the season goes on), it's pretty amazing to me that both teams have nearly an entire roster of players that the coaches feel comfortable inserting into a tight game. Although I will admit that late in the game it scared me a bit to see a Wisconsin lineup of Wquinton Smith, Jordan Taylor, Tim Jarmusz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren. I know that you can't have the starters out there all game, but seeing nearly the entire B-team down the stretch still causes some tension.
4) I could probably say this after any game, but I love the energy that Mike Bruesewitz brings to the table. I've seldom seen a player have a more impactful performance while scoring only two points.
5) By and large, one of my favorite things about the Marquette vs. Wisconsin rivalry is that I've never really had a bad incident with an opposing fan. Saturday was no exception for me. It's generally pretty tough to hide from the opposing fan base when your school colors are bright like red or gold, so a fair amount of harassment is to be expected when you're in the minority at a game like this. But it was a remarkably respectful day all around where I was sitting. Post-game, a few friends told me tales of people acting like jackasses, and I did witness a handful of Wisconsin fans gloating like idiots on the walk out of the game, but overall, I like the respectful nature of the rivalry.
6) As the early part of the season has unfolded, I've found myself really liking Davonte Gardner of Marquette and Jared Berggren of Wisconsin. While both have their differences, the thing that I've come to realize that I love about both is that they are legitimate low-post players, a rarity in today's game. Big guys in the modern day seem to be concerned with being versatile, but both Gardner and Berggren are quite at home putting crafty moves on defenders down low. Berggren dabbles with a three-point shot, but it's clear that he's more comfortable down low, while Gardner seems to be able to drop the ball through the hoop on just about anyone. Why Marquette didn't take more advantage of Gardner's skills on Saturday is a mystery to me, particularly given that Wisconsin's defensive switching often left him defended by a much smaller guard.
7) My favorite thing about watching Wisconsin on Saturday was noticing how calm they were throughout the game. Marquette had a solid defensive gameplan. The Golden Eagles' zone press, while not overly aggressive, made the Badgers work to get the ball up the floor. Then, Marquette's ball pressure and extended defense forced the Badgers to exert great effort in order to make even simple passes. But Wisconsin never panicked, and that's largely why they came out on top. It was a classic performance from a Bo Ryan team--methodical and effective. It's not exactly exciting to watch a team pass out of a basic full-court press, but the team that can do so like it's second nature is always going to stand a good chance of coming out on top.
8) As I believe I said at the start of the year, Jordan Taylor may not be the best point guard that Bo Ryan has ever had, but he's probably the most solid. It has quickly become apparent to me that there's no better guard for Ryan's system than Taylor.
9) I was amused and disappointed by the number of fans that I saw leave early as Wisconsin found its way to a double-digit lead for portions of the second half. Most notably, the guy sitting directly behind me looked at his two kids just as the 8-minute media timeout in the second half ended and said "If Wisconsin scores here, we're heading out." Indeed, Wisconsin did score to increase its lead to 11, and this gentleman and his two kids grabbed their coats and left. Now, I grew up with a father who took great joy in leaving games early to beat traffic when things got out of hand. But I think even he would concede that it would be a bit presumptuous to walk out with only an 11-point lead with eight minutes to go. Particularly when it's a Marquette team that can score in bunches that's down, and particularly when the game was occurring on a Saturday afternoon. (Yes, I get walking out early on an 8pm game vs. Prairie View on a school night.) I was still rooting for Wisconsin when that guy left, but there was a small part of me hoping for Marquette to win on a thrilling last second shot after a furious comeback, just to spite that guy who left with eight minutes to go.
With a big Badger win in the books, I headed back out to meet with my gold-wearing friends for a pleasant post-game gathering. I'll make enjoy the rest of this year as a victor, as I know all too well that this is a rivalry that never swings too far in one direction.