We renew one of the better rivalries in college basketball today as the Marquette Golden Eagles host the Badgers of Wisconsin. This is the 125th meeting between the two Wisconsin squads with the Badgers holding a slight edge in the series. The Badgers come into this game ranked number twelve in the country with an 8-1 record. Wisconsin has solid wins over North Carolina State, Xavier, Oklahoma, Xavier, and Iowa. The one loss on the season for the Badgers came at the hands of a top-five ranked and undefeated Virginia Cavaliers team.
For Marquette, the Golden Eagles are enjoying a strong start to their season as well as they are 7-2 with wins over Kansas State and Louisville. Both of their losses came to very talented teams, with losses to Indiana and Kansas. The Badgers are -1-point home favorites. The game total over-under is set at 136 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 2:00 PM PST from Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
When the Wisconsin Badgers missed the NCAA tournament last season, it broke one of the longest active streaks in the nation. The Badgers had made the tournament nineteen straight years, tied with Gonzaga for the third longest streak in the country. To see the Badgers sitting out in March felt strange, as they had become such a staple of March Madness.
This year the Badgers return a much-improved team over last year and not only are they expected to make the tournament again this season, they could end up with a top-four seed. The Badgers have played a brutal schedule so far this season. They handed North Carolina State their first loss on the season, they handed Iowa their first loss on the season, and they handed Oklahoma their first loss on the season. The combined record of the Badgers last five opponents is 35-6.
They have played very good teams, and with the exception of a Virginia team that might be the best team in the country, they have beaten them all. The big reason why? National player of the year candidate Ethan Happ. Happ is doing it all this year for Wisconsin. The 6-10 senior big man is dominating the competition this year. He is scoring eighteen points a game to go with eleven rebounds, five assists, a steal, and nearly two blocks a game. While a lot of college basketball’s best teams are packed with super freshman, this team is built around Happ and several other upperclassmen. They all remember how much it hurt to get left out of the madness last season, and they won’t let that happen again this year.
Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski struggled in his first couple of seasons as head coach at Marquette. The Golden Eagles weren’t used to struggling under previous head coach’s Tom Crean or Buzz Williams, so to see the Eagles miss the NCAA tournament in his first two seasons, and then make the tournament last season just to get knocked out in the first round, has been a bit underwhelming for Wojo.
Wojciechowski looks like he might have his best team yet at Marquette as the Golden Eagles are hanging right around the top twenty-five nationally, and as non-conference play starts to wrap up, seem to be very much in the field of sixty-eight at this point. The Big East is down significantly over year’s past, and it could be an opportunity for the Golden Eagles to win a rare Big East title. Villanova and Xavier, both one seeds last season in the tournament, are shells of their former selves. And teams like Providence and Creighton are down as well. As we hit league play, the Big East is led by St. John’s and Georgetown, not your household Big East names to say the least, at least not in this century!
So, this season holds a lot of promise for the Golden Eagles. If they play well, they could potentially compete for a Big East title. If they struggle, they could end up on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday, for the third time in four years. The Eagles are led by junior guard Markus Howard, who has emerged as one of the better overall players in the Big East this season. Howard is scoring twenty-two points a game and fills up the stat sheet with five rebounds and five assists a game.
This is a great rivalry game between two strong programs. And interestingly enough, the road team has won the last four meetings between the schools. I think that trend continues tonight. I just don’t see who is going to stop Ethan Happ in this one. Marquette is weak in the frontcourt and is very prone to foul trouble, and I see Happ eating them up and getting to the line a lot. Happ isn’t the greatest free throw shooter out there but if he can get the Marquette bigs in foul trouble, he will own the paint and do whatever he wants.
This game should be a very entertaining contest, and it wouldn’t shock me if it came down to the final couple of possessions. But when the smoke clears, I see the Badgers as finding a way to get the job done and win this game. I just think Happ will be too much for the Golden Eagles to handle. Give me the Wisconsin Badgers laying -1-point tonight in Milwaukee!