Two talented, but currently flawed rivals with potential to be much more than they are face off at the Bradley Center on Saturday evening. The Marquette Golden Eagles and Wisconsin Badgers both have impressive wins and bad losses on their early resumes and are looking to use each other to jump-start their seasons heading into January's conference play.
Wisconsin have won their last two, against Nebraska-Omaha and a weak California team, but were far from impressive in a home loss to Tony Bennett's Virginia Cavaliers on November 28. Marquette's most recent loss was to Florida, a team that also downed UW, but they went down in embarrassing fashion. While UW managed to keep things somewhat respectable in their 18-point loss to the Gators, the Golden Eagles went down by 33.
Marquette entered the year expecting their backcourt players to improve with another year of experience, but Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue haven't quite lived up to expectations. Blue has been serviceable, at least, and he's not Marquette's biggest backcourt problem despite his slightly disappointing play. They expected much more out of Cadougan this year, and his outside shooting has been extremely poor. The senior is shooting just 35 percent from the floor and 21 percent from behind the arc.
Despite Blue's failure to develop into a star on the offensive end who can create and consistently drain his own shot, he's a very hard-working player on the defensive end. His defense (and Cadougan's) will be important against the resurgent Ben Brust, who is up to 44 percent from the floor and 45 percent from behind the arc on the season after a rough start to the year. Without Josh Gasser, he'd had to take over a key role in the Badgers' backcourt, and he's finally coming into it.
Inside, Marquette big man Devonte Gardner and Wisconsin's all-conference candidate Jared Berggren should engage in a physical battle on the boards all night. Berggren is having a very good season for the Badgers and is hauling in 6.7 rebounds per game, but he's been beaten up on the boards on a few of occasions this season.
Creighton center Gregory Echenique, Virginia forward Akil Mitchell and Florida center Patric Young all out-dueled Berggren in that aspect of the game in UW's three losses this season. Gardner isn't quite at the level of those three, but he's big enough and a good enough rebounder that he could potentially throw Berggren off his game. When the Badgers' big man isn't winning the battle on the boards, his team usually struggles.
Expect a lot of in-your-face defense, some potentially ugly offense, and a lot of elbows in a fairly scrappy game on Saturday. Games between Marquette and Wisconsin used to be a lot about flash and skill against defensive work rate and efficiency, but the two teams have become much more similar over the last year. With Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder both gone, but not really replaced, the Golden Eagles are more scrappy and less skilled than any team of theirs in the Crean-Williams era.
Tip-off is at 5 p.m. CT, 6 p.m. ET from the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. You can catch the game on ESPN2 or Watch ESPN.