Name: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Enrollment: 45,540 students, with 31,650 undergraduates this fall.
School Colors: Cardinal and white, officially, but no one is going to yell at you if you say red and white.
Why “Badgers?” Wisconsin was dubbed the “Badger State” because of the lead miners who first settled there in the 1820s and 1830s. Without shelter in the winter, they had to “live like badgers” in tunnels burrowed into hillsides. It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from there to naming the sports teams of the flagship university after the state’s nickname.
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Notable Alumni: Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig; hockey players Chris Chelios, Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, and Hilary Knight; professional poker player Phil Hellmuth; US women’s soccer star Rose Lavelle; Olympic speed skater Eric Heiden; Academy Award winner Don Ameche; Jerome Chazen, co-founder of Liz Claiborne; film composer Alf Clausen; actress Carrie Coon; astronaut Jim Lovell, best known as the commander on Apollo 13; actor Tom Wopat, best known as Luke Duke on The Dukes Of Hazzard, children’s author Kevin Henkes, perhaps best known for Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse; actress Joan Cusack; actress Jane Kaczmarek; William S. Harley, founder of Harley-Davidson; Ben Karlin, Emmy winning producer of The Daily Show; Donald Goerke, the inventor of SpaghettiOs; Steven Levitan, co-creator of Modern Family, amongst other television shows; director/producer Michael Mann; author Stephen Ambrose, probably most famous for Band Of Brothers, the book that inspired the HBO mini-series; directors/producers David & Jerry Zucker, best known for their work on Airplane!; and finally, Mary Brunner, member of the Manson Family and ex-girlfriend of Charles Manson.
Last Season: 21-10, with a 14-6 record in Big Ten action after closing the regular season on an eight game winning streak.
Final 2019-20 KenPom.com Ranking: #22, a far cry from the #50 they were before last year’s game against Marquette, and still a decent jump up from the #38 they held onto after gutpunching the Golden Eagles.
Final 2019-20 T-Rank Ranking: #19
This Season: 3-0 after a 10 point win over Eastern Illinois and a 34 point win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff as MU and UW traded opponents in their first two games. The Badgers knocked off Green Bay by 40, 82-42, on Tuesday night in their most recent contest.
Current 2020-21 KenPom.com Ranking: #7
Current 2020-21 T-Rank Ranking: #6
Points: Nate Reuvers, 15.0 points/game
Rebounds: Micah Potter, 7.0 rebounds/game
Assists: D’Mitrik Trice, 4.3 assists/game
Shooters? Wisconsin has a bunch of guys who can hit threes, but no one who is dominating the stat sheet in terms of attempts. D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison lead the team in attempts so far this season through three games with just 11, while Aleem Ford is sitting on 10. No one is attempting even four per game, but no one is averaging over 24 minutes per game either, thanks to the Badgers housing two of their opponents with total ease and beating the third very easily until the final two minutes. All three of those guys are shooting over 36% from distance with Davison hitting five of his 11 attempts for a very good 45.5%. Oh, and Nate Reuvers is 5-for-7. That’s 71%. No, it’s not going to last, but he is a career 35% shooter, even after a freshman year that had him connecting on just 26% of his 47 attempts. Oh, and Micah Potter is 2-for-5 this year so far after hitting 45% last season on 51 attempts in 21 games. Everybody who is averaging at least 15 minutes per game so far this season — that’s nine different guys — are all shooting at least 33% behind the arc.
Bigs? Oh, yeah, and they’re the terrifying variety. Nate Reuvers (15.0 points, 5.0 rebounds) measures in at 6’11” and 235 pounds, while Micah Potter (14.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists) is listed at 6’10” and 248 pounds. I appreciate the refusal to round Potter off to 250 just for easy transmission of numbers on a roster. I would have guessed that he was proud of cutting down to under 250, but he only weighed 240 in his two years at Ohio State. Anyway, even though Reuvers is leading the team in scoring ever so slightly over Potter, I think Potter’s actually the more dangerous player thanks to his rebounding and assists. Sure, you have to chase both of them all over the court, but Reuvers isn’t even pretending to pass when he gets the ball so far this season. Freshman Ben Carlson is 6’9”, but only 218 pounds. He has played almost exactly 16 minutes in all three games but hasn’t quite activated much more than scoring right now at 6.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. Fellow freshman Steven Crowl stands 7 feet tall, but weighs in at just 217 pounds. That might have something to do with the fact that he’s only playing spot minutes even though Wisconsin is destroying their competition.
Head Coach: Greg Gard, in his sixth season and fifth full season after taking over mid-year in 2015-16 when Bo Ryan just up and quit his job (almost) immediately after losing to UW-Milwaukee and Marquette in back-to-back games. Gard is 101-57 as a head coach and has been gainfully employed by the state of Wisconsin in one fashion or another since 1993.
What To Watch For: While I normally fill this section up with discussion regarding statistical comparisons relative to strengths and weaknesses between the two teams, I don’t think that this 100% works in this case. I’m going to go a little bit more esoteric with my preview here.
Here’s the long and short of it: In three games against essentially overwhelmed opposition, Wisconsin has looked exactly like the team that they were last season in the final eight games of the year and thus the team everyone expected them to be this season: Veteran, experienced, used to playing together, on the same page, cohesive, multi-dimensional.
In two games against essentially overwhelmed opposition, Marquette looked like a team brimming with the potential that fans and analysts alike thought they might have. They looked different than last year, which they almost had to because of the departure of Markus Howard, but they looked energetic and the plentiful new faces on the team looked like they were fitting together well.
And then Tuesday night happened, and the Golden Eagles looked like a bunch of goofs against what was essentially an evenly matched opponent. Las Vegas had the game as Marquette -4, and KenPom.com predicted a three-point margin favoring Marquette. That can largely be explained by “well, they’re the home team, so advantage to them.” Like I said, evenly matched, but it didn’t look like it as Oklahoma State outscored Marquette 63-43 in the final 32 minutes of the game and 31-23 in the last 15 minutes. From the 12 minute mark of the first half, pretty much nothing went right for Marquette as the Cowboys made them look like what they were: A team with five returning players, none of whom had ever done anything to make you think that they could be trusted as The Guy. Or, if you prefer, a team relying on three brand new players, two of whom are freshmen, to play at least 20 minutes a night and make notable contributions all over the floor in order to win.
Marquette wasn’t going to be favored against a top five ranked Wisconsin team even if they beat Oklahoma State on Tuesday night, just to be clear. However, you and I and even the most hardcore Badger fan would have thought MU would have had a much better chance of winning if they had looked good even while losing to the Cowboys. That didn’t happen. They lost what looks like a close game, but it really wasn’t, and they looked bad doing it.
So, now Marquette’s only real chance of pulling off the second biggest upset victory in Steve Wojciechowski’s tenure comes down to this: How much did the loss to Oklahoma State shake the foundation of the team? Have the scales been lifted from their eyes, and now they understand what it means to play at this level and play together as a team? Can the coaching staff figure out how to get their guys to attack a zone defense with enthusiasm and vigor between Tuesday night and Friday night? You can bet your rent for the month that Greg Gard and his staff are at least going to throw that wrinkle in here and there when they need to disrupt what the Golden Eagles are doing on the floor. Have the appropriate lessons been learned from the atrocious final half hour against the Cowboys? Can Marquette go the rest of the season without needing to go through any more “well, we learned an awful lot about ourselves” games?
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads, 67-58. While the Badgers won last year, Marquette has still won three of the last five encounters.