In what is one of the more entertaining, fun in-state rivalries, Wisconsin will be hosting Marquette this Saturday. This game is a classic example of two teams going in different directions, and there are a number of x-factors and impact players who could help shape how this game is played out.
Marquette (7-2), led by its imposing frontline of Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer, are riding a six-game winning streak. The Golden Eagles are maturing before our eyes and are not a team that should be overlooked in the suddenly surging Big East.
Wisconsin (6-4), on the other hand has struggled somewhat to adapt playing without stars Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. It has not yet pieced together a three-game winning streak, as it has alternated a loss followed by two wins all season.
However, it should be noted that the Badgers have played an incredibly tough schedule, playing Georgetown, VCU, Oklahoma, Syracuse and Temple thus far (and beating VCU, Syracuse and Temple). That said, the Badgers did drop winnable games to Western Illinois and Milwaukee, with both games being played at the Kohl Center, a place where they have routinely dominated the opposition.
Marquette vs Wisconsin Preview – One of College Basketball's Biggest Rivalries https://t.co/diK53hk1Uk
— MIDWESTBALLERS.COM (@Midwest_Ballers) December 11, 2015
So, what can we expect in Saturday’s affair? Will Marquette keep rolling, or will Wisconsin get back on track, as it usually does following a loss?
Well, on paper, it looks like Steve Wojciechowski’s Golden Eagles have the edge due to their size down low with Ellenson and Fischer. Ellenson is tops on Marquette with 16.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, while Fischer is right behind him with 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, while leading the team in field-goal percentage (.685 percent shooting from the floor) and blocks (2.2 bpg).
If Ellenson/Fischer/Cohen can exploit Wisconsin's lack of size on Saturday, Marquette will be in great shape.
— Big East Coast Bias (@becb_sbn) December 9, 2015
That size and length could give the Badgers fits, but the one player poised for perhaps the biggest impact is versatile Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes.
Hayes has had some difficulty becoming the “guy”, with Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker now gone from Bo Ryan’s program. He’s had opposing defenses key in on him and that is always a tough transition that previous role players take time getting used to. That hasn’t stopped him from having a solid season, though, as he leads the Badgers in scoring (16.9 points per game) and assists (3.9 assists per game), while chipping in 6.6 rebounds per game.
The concern with Hayes is his troubling efficiency, as he has connected on just .382 percent of his field-goal attempts and an even-worse .306 shooting from beyond the arc. He can’t shoot like that if Wisconsin has ideas of taking down Marquette, or anyone in the Big Ten for that matter.
Out of NOWHERE Nigel Hayes with the put-back dunk. https://t.co/eLGR61LmHP
— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) December 5, 2015
With all that being said, I’m calling for Hayes to make the biggest impact in this game. Despite his Badgers losing Wednesday to Milwaukee, he exploded for a career-high 32 points on a more efficient 9-18 shooting from the field.
However, Hayes is all about winning, saying after the game, “points are irrelevant when you lose. (h/t UWBadgers.com)”
Hayes usually shines brightest the bigger the stage, and with the Marquette being a huge rival, Hayes will want to make this a memorable game for the home crowd. This will be the game Ryan and the Badgers begin to establish their 2015-16 identity (with Hayes being the bell-cow scorer) and take some momentum into the Big Ten slate.
Wisconsin’s deliberate ball movement and swing offense will befuddle the young Golden Eagles. The Badgers will also likely force Marquette’s guard into some turnovers. Do realize that Marquette is playing in its true first road game of the season, as they have either been home or played on a neutral court all year. On a team with so many freshmen, that is not a good omen heading into Madison.
— MU Wire Sports (@MUWireSports) December 10, 2015
Badger point guard Bronson Koenig could also play a pivotal role in the game. The 6-foot-4 junior from La Crosse, Wisconsin will be extra amped to play in this rivalry, as he played more of a secondary role in backing up Traevon Jackson’s in last year’s contest. Also, expect Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown to do a good job of somewhat containing Ellenson and Fischer on the boards.
Big East vs. Big Ten. Private Wisconsin school vs. Public Wisconsin school. Let the “Cheese State” rivalry renew.