It will be a case of speed versus size Saturday when 11th-ranked Marquette brings its up-tempo, guard-oriented attack to the Kohl Center to face Wisconsin and its formidable group of frontcourt players.
The two high-profile schools in the state of Wisconsin have built their programs in starkly different styles. Golden Eagles coach Tom Crean recruited junior guards Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews three years ago, and the trio has led Marquette (5-1) to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
The Golden Eagles are coming off their best performance of the season, a 100-65 rout of crosstown rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Nov. 30. James scored 22 points, McNeal added 16 and sophomore Lazar Hayward had 19 and 11 rebounds for his first career double-double as Marquette showed no rust after a week off following its loss to Duke in the Maui Invitational final.
The lopsided victory allowed Crean to continue tinkering with his backcourt as sophomore guards David Cubillan, Maurice Acker and freshman Scott Christopherson all saw extended minutes.
“We played some different lineups in the first half and played a lot of different combinations throughout the game,” Crean noted. “The most important thing for us tonight was to play the way we needed to play to feel like we’re getting better.”
The Golden Eagles also shot 9-of-26 from 3-point range, continuing their recent upswing from beyond the arc. After going a combined 15-for-59 (23.7 percent) in their first three games, they have made 27-of-58 (46.6 percent) over the last three.
“There were so many great penetration and kick-outs in the first and second half, so those are the ones you want to take and make,” said McNeal, who is averaging a team-high 16.0 points and shooting 52.8 percent. “We shot the ball pretty well from deep.”
James (14.7 ppg), Hayward (12.8) and Cubillan (10.0) have helped the Golden Eagles average 80.0 points and shoot 49.7 percent from the field.
The Golden Eagles’ most accurate perimeter shooter - Dan Fitzgerald - is questionable for this game with a wrist injury. The senior is 8-for-15 from beyond the arc and sat out the most recent game.
Bo Ryan has turned Wisconsin (6-1) into a perennial Big Ten contender and NCAA tournament participant on the strength of his swing offense, which creates mismatches by emphasizing movement from the forwards and center to the high post. The Badgers, who start four players 6-foot-7 or taller, enter this game leading the Big Ten with a plus-13.1 rebounding margin and averaging 15.0 offensive rebounds.
Like the Golden Eagles, the Badgers bounced back from a loss to Duke with a strong showing in their last game, a 70-43 victory over Wofford on Monday. Jason Bohannon scored 14 points off the bench and Marcus Landry added 11 and nine rebounds as Wisconsin limited the Terriers to 27 percent shooting and outrebounded them 41-34 after a slow start.
“We were 0-for-5 on our first five,” Ryan said. “I didn’t like the way some of the screens were being set and I wanted certain things done defensively. So that’s how we went and then the other guys subbed in and out and it worked out OK.”
Sophomore guard Trevon Hughes, who likely will be given the defensive task of slowing down McNeal, is averaging 16.7 points and making 39.5 percent of his 3-point attempts. Seven-foot center Brian Butch is the only other player averaging in double figures for Wisconsin at 13.1 points, and he grabs a team-high 9.0 rebounds per game.
Wisconsin has won 28 in a row at the Kohl Center, the third-longest active home winning streak in the country and third-longest in school history. The Badgers are 97-5 at home under Ryan, including 13-2 against ranked opponents and 51-3 versus non-conference teams.
The Badgers lead the 90-year rivalry 62-51 and have won seven of the last nine between the teams, including a 70-66 victory at Marquette last season. The Golden Eagles have lost four straight at the Kohl Center since a 65-60 victory Nov. 14, 1997.