The Wisconsin Badgers (6-4) will attempt to avoid losing back-to-back games to teams from Milwaukee when the Marquette Golden Eagles (7-2) travel to Madison on Saturday. The game comes three days after the Milwaukee Panthers stunned the Badgers with a 67-68 loss in the Kohl Center.
Marquette comes to town with a drastically different team than the one the Badgers fought past with a 49-38 victory at the Bradley Center a year ago. The Golden Eagles return just 25 percent of the minutes from that game in which Wisconsin overcame a terrible shooting performance by controlling the offensive glass.
While poor shooting was a rarity for last year's Badger team, it has become an all too common occurrence for this year's unit. Bo Ryan's team is shooting an uncharacteristically bad 41 percent from the field, including 32 percent behind the arc. The positive is that Wisconsin has done a good job of creating second chances off of those misses, pulling down just shy of 15 offensive rebounds per game.
Relying on those opportunities should prove to be much more difficult against this Marquette team. Wisconsin will face a pair of physically imposing big men in 6'11 junior Luke Fischer and 6'10 freshman Henry Ellenson, both of whom the Golden Eagles did not have for the rivalry game last year. Fischer, a Germantown native and transfer from Indiana, was not eligible until the second semester of last year. He is a strong rim protector, averaging over two blocks per game for the second consecutive year and has emerged as a more consistent rebounder in his junior campaign. He also has a tendency to accumulate fouls, much like Ethan Happ. Whichever one of them can get the other in foul trouble first could prove to be a big turning point, as neither team has a player with a similar skill set waiting behind them.
Ellenson, an elite recruit and eventual likely lottery pick, has lived up to expectations for the most part during his first month of college basketball. He leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 16.7 and 8.8 per game, respectively. Ellenson is impressively versatile for someone his size, with the ability to shoot and handle the ball as well as put in work around the paint. Like most young players, he is also prone to trying to do too much and making mistakes. Shot selection and turnovers have both been problems for him at times this year.
Surrounding those two is a cast of guards and wings. Sophomore guard Duane Wilson, who started and played 31 minutes in the last meeting, was moved to the bench following Marquette's embarrassing 61-89 home loss to Iowa. The lineup change was part of a larger attitude check by head coach Steve Wojciechowski that included an impromptu outdoor practice and the restriction of some amenities like gear. Marquette has rattled off six straight wins since, including victories over LSU and Arizona State in New York.
Junior forward Nigel Hayes will need to pick up where he left off on Wednesday night. Basically the only thing working for Wisconsin, Hayes scored a career high 32 points by punishing Milwaukee inside and getting to the line 19 times. He will likely be matched up with much smaller, slimmer players against Marquette. Junior guard Bronson Koenig will also need to utilize his size advantage against the pesky freshman Traci Carter, the floor general that replaced Wilson in the starting lineup for the Golden Eagles. Koenig is shooting barely over 30 percent in the last four games.
The game tips off at 12:30 PM on Saturday, December 12, and will air on ESPN2.