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Get To Know A Marquette Basketball Opponent: Green Bay Phoenix

The Golden Eagles tangle with the Phoenix for the first time in eight years.

Wright State vs Green Bay Getty Images

Name: University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Location: Green Bay, Wisconsin, duh

Founded: Back in the day, the University of Wisconsin system had an Extension brand. The Green Bay freshman/sophomore campus started growing so large that demand for a full four-year campus in the northeast part of the state started growing. Instead of starting and building a brand new university, the state government moved forward with promoting the Green Bay extension to full four-year status. The law granting that status was signed in September of 1965, and UW-Green Bay became a real thing in the fall of 1968. In 2018, the Marinette, Sheboygan, and Manitowoc Extension campuses were absorbed into UWGB as satellite campuses.

Enrollment: 9,157 this fall, which appears to be a steady growth over the past seven years.

This Ain’t Your Father’s College Library: Cofrin Library is a point of pride on campus, it seems. However, the university seems dedicated to make sure that the building does not suffer from the staid reputation that a university library can earn. Part of the return to school festivities in September every year includes “Bash In The Stacks,” which is described by UWGB as “the annual fun and games night and library open house.” Look, sure it sounds like your standard issue “we’re counterprogramming against weekend binge drinking by college students” stuff, but all I’m saying is that the picture on UWGB’s website for Bash is the big padded costume sumo wrestling, and that’s going right past “please do not drink tonight” and right on over into “no, seriously, this is actually a well thought out student activity.”

I’ve Heard Worse Ideas: 11 of UWGB’s campus buildings are interconnected by a series of underground tunnels. Sure, the idea of it is to promote the interconnection between departments in the school, even though the university officially eliminated the requirement for an interdisciplinary major or minor in 2017, but it also means you can easily move from building to building without going outside in Green Bay in February.

Nickname: Phoenix

Why “Phoenix?” Well, for starters, it’s a lot better than Bay Badgers, which is what the nickname was until 1970. See, it started as an extension campus to UW-Madison, and that’s the Badgers, and UWGB is by the body of water named Green Bay, so boom: Bay Badgers. There was even a water skiing version of Bucky Badger to go with it. Anyway, as UWGB’s first senior class was preparing to graduate, someone got the idea to terminate the connection to Madison. They went through the usual student vote process, and there were a whole bunch of possibilities: Loggers, Eco-Men (UWGB prides themselves on their ecological awareness), Beavers, Voyageurs...... and Fighting Tomatoes. That made it onto the list ...... and, apparently it won the vote by 10. The editor of the newspaper decided that the hastily thrown together sketch of the Fighting Tomato did not actually meet the rules of the contest, and so Phoenix won instead.

Notable Alumni: Comic book artist Mike Grell and current Virginia head coach Tony Bennett. That’s it, that’s the list. Okay, okay, okay, we’ll count former Marquette player Sandy Cohen, too. There, that’s it.

We Should Probably Talk About The Women: I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone who follows basketball in the state of Wisconsin that the UW-Green Bay men’s team has not been what you might call “fantastic” over the past let’s say decades. They have five NCAA tournament appearances in program history, with four of them coming in the 1990s and three of those were with future Badgers head coach Dick Bennett steering the ship. Not coincidentally, they have won only four conference regular season titles and four conference tournament titles, and all four of those match up to at least one of their five NCAA tournament appearances.

On the other side of the aisle, GB’s women’s program is going absolutely gangbusters. Between 1998 and 2018, the Phoenix qualified for the NCAA tournament in 17 of 21 seasons. In 2018, they won their 20th straight regular season conference title, a streak that would be snapped the very next season. However, Green Bay has been the favorite to win their conference every season since 2008-09 up until this season when they were picked to finish second.

So, uh, what’s going on there? Why are the Phoenix women absurdly dominant while the men’s squad is just puttering along? We can’t even say it’s just the coach, because Kevin Borseth took a five year sabbatical to go coach at Michigan before returning to replace his own replacement.

Last Season: 17-16 overall, including a 49 point shelling of non-D1 UW-Stout and a 62 point demolition of non-D1 Concordia IL. They went 11-7 in Horizon League play and won their first game in the HL tournament before getting bounced by Northern Kentucky..... and that got Linc Darner fired after five seasons where he had a winning record in the Horizon League in four of them. Darner’s contract had been extended by clause in August 2019 when the school’s chancellor left, leaving Green Bay on the hook for a contract that ran through 2024-25 when they decided to let him go. It will cost UWGB at least $720,000 between now and April 2023 to make Darner go away, and they elected to do this in early May, well after the season had ended and well after the financial realities of the coronavirus pandemic had been clear to university officials. Weird, huh?

Final 2019-20 Ranking: #223

Final 2019-20 T-Rank Ranking: #221

This Season: 0-3, with two horribly awful losses to Minnesota and UW-Madison and a double-overtime home loss to the Eastern Illinois squad that Marquette beat by 25 earlier this season.

Current 2020-21 Ranking: #272

Current 2020-21 T-Rank Ranking: #280

Stats Leaders

Points: Amari Davis, 15.3 points/game
Rebounds: Paris Taylor, 5.3 rebounds/game
Assists: P.J. Pipes, 4.0 assists/game

Returning Stats Leaders

Points: Amari Davis, 15.9 points/game
Rebounds: Amari Davis, 4.0 rebounds/game
Assists: P.J. Pipes, 2.4 assists/game

Bigs? No, not really. There’s a trio of guys on the squad that stand 6’8”, but that’s as tall as anyone gets. Redshirt freshman Japannah Kellog III has been the tallest player on the floor at tip off in each of Green Bay’s three games, but the 6’8” Iowa native only weighs in at 190 pounds. Freshmen Terrance Thompson and Cem Kirciman are the other two 6’8” chaps, but they both weigh 220 pounds. MU’s 4/5 triumvirate of Theo John, Dawson Garcia, and Justin Lewis should have no problem pushing these guys around given their size/weight advantages.

Paris Taylor (6’6”, 200 lb.) is currently ranked #316 in the country in offensive rebounding rate per KenPom, and while that’s a bit small sample size-y, that’s notable relative to what everyone else is doing. Taylor also has the best defensive rebounding rate on the team, although 6’3”, 185 pound freshman Lucas Stieber is just barely behind him.

Shooters? As a team, no. They’re connecting on just 31% of their long range shots so far this season, and perhaps more importantly to the idea of “does Marquette need to worry about this,” Green Bay is drifting to the back of the line in terms of rate. Only 30% of their field goal attempts are from behind the arc, which is now ranking them #235 in the country per KenPom.

Seniors Josh Jefferson and P.J. Pipes have uncorked 19 and 18 three-balls respectively this season, and, uh, they’ve made 11 of them between the two. That’s just under 30%, and that’s bad. Like, senior year Myles Powell level bad. Jefferson did shoot 39% at Illinois State in 2018-19 on nearly five attempts per game, so odds are that he’s going to steer out of this skid. He went 4-for-9 against Eastern Illinois in GB’s most recent game, so he may have already squared away the steering. Pipes came into the year with all good intentions to shoot the ball as he had the 23rd best success rate in the country last year and led the Horizon League in conference action at 47%. He was firing it up about four times a game, and he’s been surpassing that so far this year. Like Jefferson, Pipes had much better luck against EIU. Pipes started out the year 1-for-11, but hit four of his seven attempts last time out.

Quite obviously, if Jefferson and Pipes have gotten on track, then it stands to reason that the Phoenix will shoot more threes than they have in their previous three games. This is going to have to be an in-game decision for the Golden Eagles, but they should lean towards denying attempts from Jefferson and Pipes until they see a bunch of misses flying around. Once that happens, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to let them keep missing.

Head Coach: Will Ryan, in his first season as a Division 1 head coach after 1 year at Division 2 Wheeling University. He has 15 years of experience as a Division 1 assistant coach, and won two national championships as a player at UW-Platteville back in the day. Oh, who was the coach at Platteville back then? It was Will Ryan’s father and Wisconsin basketball coaching legend Bo Ryan.

What To Watch For: Points. Minnesota scored 99 against the Phoenix in their opener in 89 possessions. Wisconsin threw in 82 in 66 possessions. Eastern Illinois tallied 76 in regulation before finishing with 93 points in 83 possessions through the end of double overtime. Green Bay can’t defend the interior to save their lives, giving up 59% shooting inside the arc through three games and sitting in the bottom 50 — that’s a number, not a percentage — in block rate. They don’t create turnovers and they don’t rebound well on either side of the court.

Look, ostensibly, this is the part of the program where I tell you all of the things that a team does reasonably well, or at the very least point at something the opponent does well enough in an area that Marquette isn’t very good. I can’t do that here. Even Marquette’s most prominent weakness to this point — turning the ball over on offense — is mitigated by Green Bay’s near refusal to accept turnovers so far this season. Even against Eastern Illinois, their lone competitive game, they only caused the Panthers to cough it up on 15% of possessions. 15% for Marquette would be a day in the park.

Green Bay can’t shoot. Green Bay gets too many of their shots blocked. These are things that the Marquette defense does well.

The one thing that we can point at as a legitimate problem isn’t actually something that Green Bay is really controlling. They’re doing a pretty good job defending against threes, as opponents are shooting just a shade under 30% behind the arc. But there’s reason to believe that three-point shooting percentage defense is more a function of luck than actual defensive arrangement or scheme. It’s probably bigger news that Green Bay does a pretty good job forcing teams to do something other than shoot threes, as Marquette has shooters all over the lineup, including Mr. Two-For-Two, Theo John. This is nullified by the fact that Green Bay’s two-point defense stinks, so teams almost don’t want to shoot threes against them anyway.

We talked yesterday about how big of a week this is for Steve Wojciechowski’s tenure as Marquette head coach. At a glance, this should be a romp for the Golden Eagles. This is not a good Green Bay team, and MU is coming in with something to prove after their big top five win on Friday.

All-Time Series: Marquette holds the series advantage by a 9-3 margin. However, it is Green Bay that holds the advantage from the most recent meeting. The Phoenix picked up the 49-47 win back in December 2012 in the only time that this series has shifted up north. No, that was not a fun evening of shootyhoops, but hey, that MU team won a Big East title and made it to the Elite Eight, so chalk it up to necessary experience for future success? Yeah, we’ll go with that, but also point out that I do not want to experience that again tonight. MU had won the previous four encounters in the series, dating all the way back to 1995.