The Badgers are off to the best start in Bo Ryan's tenure, and for the most part, they've looked pretty good in doing so.
Yes, we've seen some inconsistencies on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, but what's been encouraging is that Wisconsin has beaten some quality competition early on this season. This year's non-conference slate is a marked upgrade over the cupcakes we've seen in recent years, and I think the cardinal and white will be more appropriately seasoned and tested come Big Ten play.
I was admittedly worried about what this season could bring given the extreme lack of depth in the frontcourt, but Frank Kaminsky is proving to be the Badgers' most irreplaceable player and has alleviated much of my concerns in that regard to this point.
Perhaps most encouraging is that Wisconsin looks more impressive offensively than it has in some time, and that will be the difference in whether or not this program can finally make that ever-elusive deep tournament run. ESPN's Jeff Goodman is already on the Badgers' Final Four bandwagon and thinks this could be the year.
That however, is a long, long way off, and I have trepidations about projecting so far down the road. As for what we have in the here and now, the Badgers draw in-state rival Marquette this afternoon for a 1:15 p.m. CT tip-off at the Kohl Center.
Prior to the season, this looked like it could be a great matchup between two ranked teams, but the Golden Eagles have faltered a few times early this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if UW runs them out of the gym today.
Sure, such a statement might have a scintilla of bias behind it, but if you just look at how these teams are playing statistically, the Badgers should win convincingly today.
Nonetheless, the game still has to be played, and I'm happy to be back covering Wisconsin hoops. In my first rendition of the 2013-14 campaign, here are the three keys to a Badger win over Marquette this afternoon.
Limit Davante Gardner's touches
The Golden Eagles' best player still comes off the bench for Buzz Williams, and when he does, he's looking to get his shot right away.
In the three games where Gardner has put up double-digit shots, he's averaging 18.67 points per game and Marquette has averaged 79.67 points. In games where Gardner doesn't get at least 10 shots, he is averaging just 11.2 points per contest and Marquette's scoring dips down to 65.8 points.
I'll be interested to see how Kaminsky handles a guy with a significant weight advantage against him, but "The Tank" has held his own and them some through the Badgers' first nine games. I expect that to continue.
Limit Gardner, and Wisconsin waltzes to an easy win.
Play standard Wisconsin defense
I know this might sound like a cheap ‘key' for how the Badgers win, but fact is, Marquette is an offensively challenged ballclub and that's a generous demarcation.
If Wisconsin plays the same rugged, physical defense it did earlier this week against Virginia, then the Golden Eagles don't stand a chance. Marquette is shooting 34.3 percent from the field in its three losses so far, and the Badgers have limited their last three opponents to 34.5 percent field goal shooting.
Wisconsin's ever-stout defense struggled at the beginning of the season to consistently stop opposing offenses, but Bo Ryan's crew is picking it up on that end of the floor, and the statistical trend would indicate that the Badgers should be able to shut down Marquette this afternoon.
Stay competitive in the rebounding battle
I've scoured through the statistics for both of these clubs, and rebounding is really the only area where Marquette has the clear advantage. Wisconsin averages 34.6 boards per contest, which ranks a porous 225th in the country.
On the other side, the Golden Eagles haul in 41.4 rebounds per game, good for 27th in the country. Marquette has always been a team under Williams that crashes the offensive glass hard, and if Wisconsin can limit the MU's second-chance points, then it will be game, set, match.
I've honestly tried to find ways to convince myself that Marquette will make this a ballgame, but I have come up empty.
Prediction: Wisconsin 64, Marquette 50
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