Scouting reports and projected results are always discussed a little bit more than usual this week in the Marquette University and University of Wisconsin dorms. Banter on the hoops blogs becomes heated.
It's rivalry week for the folks at MU and UW. Studying for first semester exams will be postponed for another day.
Before debating the X's and O's in the 116th matchup between Golden Eagles and Badgers, know that Saturday's game will probably be decided by two areas of the college basketball game that not even a Hall of Fame coach can teach...Marquette's quickness vs. Wisconsin's size.
Few teams can match Wisconsin's length inside. Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil, Ryan Evans, Tim Jarmusz and Mike Bruesewitz pose issues for smaller opponents in Bo Ryan's Swing offense. Because Wisconsin also slides its guards inside, it often gets easy shot opportunities in close. Six Badgers average at least 4 rebounds per game.
"They're bigger than us at every position and they are going to post every single guy on our team," said Marquette coach Buzz Williams. But they also do a lot of other things at a very high rate of efficiency, not counting the Swing."
Size mattered in Wisconsin's upset over Duke last week. However, the Blue Devils lacked the speed and the off-the dribble game that often causes problems for Wisconsin's program. Because Duke was unwilling to run and create opportunities in transition, UW was able to control the tempo and make it a half-court game in the final 15 minutes.
The only way to make Wisconsin's senior backcourt uncomfortable is to make them play too fast. The Swing is based on cutting and positioning. Time of possession is a key element to Wisconsin's offensive success.
Quick, athletic guards that make plays off of the bounce have often given the Badgers trouble. Marquette has plenty of undersized wing players that like to create offensive opportunities off of the other team's mistakes. In other words, MU will have to use its foot speed to disrupt the rhythm of Ryan's base offense.
"They have a very distinct style and they do a great job of getting guys in great scoring positions and getting the ball of where they want it to be," said Marquette forward Lazar Hayward. We have to a good job of pressuring the ball."
When Marquette has caused turnovers, the Golden Eagles have been successful. Marquette is averaging 10.8 steals per game and has double figures in thefts in six games. In order to pull a mild upset, MU will look to bother seniors Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon into forced errors.
That task won't be easy. The Badgers average less than 12 turnovers per game and rarely beat themselves.
"You can do what they want to do, but it is not going to change what they do," Williams said. They are going to play their pace no matter what you do."
Because they are also outsized at almost every position, MU forwards Hayward and Jimmy Butler will have to use their feet to steal rebounds as well. While Hayward admits he'll have to do even more board work than usual, he's already been there and done that.
"I'm pretty much always the smallest guy down there, so I wouldn't say it is any harder than playing in a Big East game," said Hayward. "But I have to be a little bit quicker to the ball."
Wisconsin will counter by trying to limit Hayward's opportunities. Hayward played for both Ryan and UW-Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter this summer in the World University games. He noticed that in the victory over UWM on Wednesday, Jeter was watching his every move. He's a marked man on any scouting report these days.
"When we played UWM I didn't go anywhere untouched," Hayward said. I'm sure Coach Ryan will have something up his sleeve. I'll have to be ready."
Hayward and his mates will probably have to shoot well from the perimeter if Marquette is to travel back to Milwaukee with a second consecutive road victory over the Badgers. UW often dares teams to take (and make) three-pointers in an effort to limit the dribble- drive. Often opponents get frustrated and start taking quick shots.
However, Marquette has four players that shoot at least 35% from beyond the arc and the Golden Eagles are shooting 39.5 % as a team from long distance. Superior quickness should allow them to get more than a few outside looks in transition. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler are both shooting above 50% from long range.
Despite those impressive numbers, keep in mind that the Badgers have lost to just eight teams in the last nine years in the Kohl Center and senior Trevon Hughes is playing his best basketball at Wisconsin.
It's always hard to win at that gym," said Hayward. It's one of the toughest places to play for sure."
"We're expecting the team that beat Duke," Williams added.
Considering Marquette's youth, a superior size advantage and Bo Ryan's 63-5 record in non-conference games at home, Williams has reason to feel that way.
But in rivalries such as this one, records rarely mean much.
Emmett Prosser is a former sports producer at Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online and has covered the Brewers, Bucks and Marquette basketball in many capacities for 13 years.
Prosser also signed a year's worth of 10-day contracts with the Cleveland Cavaliers' media relations department after graduating from Xavier University so he could get three-point shooting tips from NBA great Mark Price. The son of an English teacher and former basketball coach, Prosser attended Marquette high school.
In his spare time, Prosser enjoys live music and fooling people into making them believe he can play the drums. He also serves on the board of directiors for United Cerebral Palsy.