Name: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Enrollment: 49,886 this fall, with 35,184 undergraduates
School Colors: Cardinal and white, officially, but no one is going to yell at you if you say red and white.
Appropriate use of names: It’s hard to argue with their decision to call the red “cardinal” since, as AE Editor Emeritus Rubie Q once pointed out, Wisconsin fans have become the St. Louis Cardinals fans of college sports.
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.
Notable Alumni: John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club; former Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig; hockey players Chris Chelios, Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, and Hilary Knight; John L. Savage, chief engineer of Hoover Dam; professional poker player Phil Hellmuth; US women’s soccer star Rose Lavelle; Arthur C. Nielsen, Sr., founder of the Nielsen television ratings company; Olympic speed skater Eric Heiden; Academy Award winner Don Ameche; Harry Crane, head of television at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce; 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; 14 Nobel Laureates; Donald Goerke, the inventor of SpaghettiOs; Tom Skilling, meteorologist for WGN in Chicago; 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.
Campus Traditions: Pretending that they own the complete and full rights to House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around,’ interrupting graduation ceremonies to play ‘Jump Around’ because they think they own it, yelling at teenagers on Twitter because said teenagers don’t want to go to their school, illegally acquiring shoes, yelling at teenagers on Twitter because said teenagers changed their minds about going to their school, getting paid millions of dollars to trip and fall, failing to help a star player play a home game as a senior, microwaving parrots, quitting your job in the middle of the busy part of the year, failing to out-slow Virginia, spending hundreds of dollars on custom clothing and then being sad that no one noticed, missing the NCAA tournament for 46 consecutive years and then pretending that never happened after making the tourney for 10+ straight years, burglary, being a millionaire and calling teenagers soft, harassing stenographers who are just trying to do their damn jobs, being a pantsless freak who Facebook stalks women and as a result has no friends on campus, punching basketballs into teammates’ faces, and finally, using Photoshop to try to pretend that they have a racially diverse campus.
Last Season: 25-8, with a 15-5 record in the Big Ten. They lost to Michigan State in their first Big Ten tournament game, earned a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament, and then lost in the second round to Iowa State.
Final KenPom.com Ranking: #37
Final T-Rank Ranking: #37
This Year So Far: 5-2 with both losses in their last three games, including a 78-75 home loss to Wake Forest on Tuesday night.
Current KenPom Ranking and Projection: #46 and projected to go 18-13 overall with a 9-11 record in the Big Ten. That would put them in a tie for 10th place, which would seem to be theoretically impossible in a conference that’s named after the number 10.
Current T-Rank Ranking and Projection: #50, and projected to go 18-13 overall with a 10-10 record in the Big Ten. That would put them in a tie for 7th place.
Returning Stats Leaders
Points: Tyler Wahl, 11.4 ppg
Rebounds: Tyler Wahl, 5.9 rpg
Assists: Chucky Hepburn, 2.3 apg
Actual Stats Leaders
Points: Tyler Wahl, 14.4 ppg
Rebounds: Tyler Wahl & Steven Crowl, 7.1 rpg
Assists: Chucky Hepburn, 2.7 rpg
Shooters? There’s two big names to know and a third that we should probably mention. Chucky Hepburn and Connor Essegian are lighting the world on fire from beyond the arc right now. Both guys are north of four attempts per game from long distance, and Hepburn is just barely short of five tries a game. Before you say “wait, that’s not a lot of shooting,” please remember that Wisconsin loves to play slowly and currently sits in the bottom 60 of the country in tempo per KenPom. We’re talking about 16% of their entire offense is just these guys shooting threes. The point of the story is that Hepburn is burying 41% of his attempts and Essegian, a freshman from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who was ranked #226 in the 247 Composite, is connecting on 52% of his shots. Essegian has come off the bench in all seven games for Wisconsin this season, and in every game that he has attempted a three, he has made at least two of them. Keeping track of when he is inserted into the lineup is going to be important for the Golden Eagles.
The third guy that’s worth mentioning is starter Max Klesmit. The transfer from Wofford has only attempted 17 threes all season, so that’s not even 2.5 attempts a night.... but he is hitting 41% of them. I don’t want to tell anyone how to do their jobs over there in Madison, but there’s definitely some guys (coughjordandavisandtylerwahlcough) who should not worry about shooting threes and instead let Klesmit take a few more per game.
Bigs? The Badgers have two starters that can either match or surpass MU starting center Oso Ighodaro in size and shape. Steven Crowl comes in at 7’0” and 217 pounds, while Tyler Wahl measures in at 6’9” and 220 pounds. Crowl, a junior from Minnesota, is chipping in 9.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, and a very healthy 2.4 assists per game while blocking 1.3 shots per night. Wahl, a senior from Minnesota, is the team’s leading scorer at 14.4 per game and matches Crowl in rebounds for the team lead there. He’s also an active passer at 1.6 a night, and adds 1.3 steals per game as well, which is really great production on defense from your 4.
That’s it, though. Wahl and Crowl both start and play 30 minutes a night, and there’s not really anyone of notable size coming off the bench to give Wisconsin regular rotation minutes so far this season. The only other two guys on the roster north of 6’7” have combined to play 47 total minutes and they’ve only broken the five minute barrier against a high major opponent once.... and you have to squint at Dayton to see that one.
Head Coach: Greg Gard, in his 7th full season as Wisconsin’s top man and 8th overall. He has a record of 149-80.
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads, 69-59.
What To Watch For: Sometimes basketball is not a complicated sport. This is one of those times.
So far this season, Marquette has played eight games, and in six of them, they have played at 69 or more possessions according to KenPom.com. In two of them, they played at exactly 66 possessions. The two 66 possession games are Marquette’s only two losses of the season, so yes, so far this year, any time MU goes faster than 66 possessions a game, they win.
Wisconsin has played seven games to this point of the season. In five games, they have landed at 68 possessions or fewer, and in three of those, they never went past 63. All five of those games? All wins, and because I know you were following a long, yes, when they went faster — 69 possessions against Wake Forest and 71 against Kansas — they lost. The Kansas game is of particular note. The Jayhawks had to hit a three-pointer with 12 seconds to go to tie that thing up and UW had a chance to win it after that... before it went to overtime. Wisconsin had the ball for seven possessions in the extra session, so that game was played at a chillingly cold pace before overtime extended it into the 70s and it took two great, maybe even lucky plays by then-#3 Kansas to pull off the win.
In other words: Wisconsin’s glacial pace helps them win games and at the very least makes them highly competitive against the top teams in the country, and Marquette’s lightning quick pace helps them win games. If either side gets pulled in the other direction, then they lose. Like I said, it’s not a complicated sport. Assert your will to play at your preferred tempo and win.
From a slightly more tactical angle, Marquette’s pathway to victory most likely lays in driving the Badgers off the three-point line. They’re a pretty good shooting team, connecting on 36% from long range as a team, which is currently #80 in the country. However, because Wisconsin is literally one of the 10 worst two-point shooting teams in the country, making less than 40% of their attempts, they’re just a shade below #300 nationally in effective field goal percentage right now. If that didn’t make it make sense enough for you, may I point out that Wisconsin ranks even worse at offensive rebounding, #313 in the country in rate per KenPom.com. That’s probably a style choice by Greg Gard, electing to get his top 20 per KenPom defense back and set to get a stop on the other end.
But all that means is that if you can make Wisconsin take a bad shot — Tyler Wahl, Chucky Hepburn, Connor Essegian, and Max Klesmit are all sub-43% two-point shooters — they are going to abandon trying for a second chance. If you can speed them up, either literally within the context of an individual possession to make them rush or make them start thinking they need to do more because the game’s possession total is stacking up on them, they are going to take bad shots. They are going to miss them, and you are going to get the ball back because they don’t want to try to go get it.
None of this should be new information to you, by the way. KenPom shades all the stats from deep dark red for bad at a national ranking level up to big bright green for good. Wisconsin has not put up a noticeably green number in offensive rebounding since 2016-17, and even then, that was part of a three year long aberration dating back to 2011-12. Wisconsin has not been a good two-point shooting team since Bo Ryan quit his job, ranking in the top 100 just once under Greg Gard, and even Ryan’s last two teams — his two Final Four teams — were aberrations dating as far back as 2010-11.
Speed them up, make them hurry, make them miss, make them pay. It’s not rocket science.