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Wisconsin looks to make it three straight against Marquette Saturday in Madison

Before Wisconsin takes on Marquette at the Kohl Center Saturday afternoon, Badger Nation looks at the three burning questions we're looking to have answered.

It is hard to know which Wisconsin team is going to show up when they play in state rival Marquette Saturday afternoon. Will it be the team that went on the road and beat Syracuse in overtime, or the Wisconsin team that takes questionable shots with inconsistent effort? The inconsistencies by Wisconsin have been hard to figure out, as the Badgers have struggled stringing together wins.

Marquette can exploit what has given Wisconsin fits in its four losses this season. The Golden Eagles (7-2) have shown they can score in a variety of ways, averaging 80.2 points a game, by getting the ball into the paint or creating the space to knock down an open jump shot. Wisconsin will need to be ready to communicate throughout the game on defense to make sure a mental lapse doesn’t cost them a key bucket.

In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as it strives to beat Marquette on Saturday.

Lay up: Can Wisconsin win the turnover battle?

Wisconsin has been all over the place when it comes to taking care of the ball. A good example of this came against Milwaukee. Wisconsin went the first 15 minutes of the game without committing a turnover before they committed two miscues in ensuing offensive possessions. If Wisconsin is careless, Marquette will take advantage. The Golden Eagles force teams into an average of 14.9 turnovers a game and are coming off a game where they forced San Jose State to cough the ball up 18 times.

On the flip side, Marquette commits 15.1 turnovers a game and have committed at least 20 turnovers twice this season. Wisconsin on the season are forcing opponents into 11.1 turnovers a game and has shown that they are at its best when they remain aggressive throughout an entire game. Zak Showalter has led the way by either drawing fouls/charges or helping cut off passing lanes to generate steals.

Guard Haanif Cheatham and forward Henry Ellenson each average 2.4 turnovers a game and guard Duane Wilson has committed 21 turnovers this season. Wisconsin averages 4.3 steals a game, but the Badgers haven’t always been able to capitalize on the extra offensive possessions, whether that’s trying to get points off of a fast break opportunity or creating the best shot on offense. Wisconsin is averaging 10 points off of team’s turnovers and the high turnover rate of Marquette will give the Badgers extra opportunities they need to capitalize on to develop an offensive rhythm.    

Mid-range jumper: The play of Ethan Happ

Happ played one of his more impressive halves of basketball against Milwaukee in nearly registering a double-double in the first half. But Happ didn’t have the same aggressive style in the second half, admitting he deferred to Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig to score.

With the offensive funk Vitto Brown is in (3-for-15 over the last two games), Happ needs to remain aggressive for the full 40 minutes, as his play at the rim and aggressiveness in the low block was one of the reasons why Wisconsin was able to beat Syracuse. When Happ plays aggressive, he takes considerable pressure off of Hayes and Koenig.

Happ should have opportunities around the basket against a Marquette team that gives up about 30 points a game in the paint. Happ, who does most of his damage down low, will need to be aggressive from the start and continue to move without the ball. When he has done this effectively, it has resulted in either a layup or a dunk.

Happ’s four double-doubles is tied with Henry Ellenson for second most amongst freshman and will need to out muscle him on the glass. The Golden Eagles give up 37.3 rebounds a game, and Happ averages 8.7 rebounds a game. It seems if Happ can’t get his hands off of a missed shot, he can use his length to tip the ball back out to one of his teammates.

Marquette is holding teams to 29.8 percent shooting on an average of 25.3 attempts a game. If Wisconsin can’t convert on open looks, Happ will need to challenge Marquette in the low block, trying to draw fouls against a squad that averages 5.4 blocks a game.

3-pointer: Slowing Marquette’s frontcourt down  

Marquette’s top two scorers are Ellenson (16.7 ppg) and Luke Fischer (14.6 ppg) and have provided problems for defenses on the block. Wisconsin’s frontcourt has struggled at times to keep opposing team’s forwards and centers from finding ways of settling for high percentage shots, as the Badgers allow 25.6 points in the paint through 10 games.

Although it was an issue earlier in the year, Wisconsin’s frontcourt has done better over the last three games allowing an average of 18 points in the paint. As a result, the Badgers are giving up just 62 points per game.

That trend will be a challenge to continue considering Marquette averages about 38 points in the paint, a number that is slightly skewed after it scored 62 points against Maine. The only way for UW to protect the low post is for Brown and Happ to avoid foul trouble, an issue throughout the season. Not to mention, Ellenson and Fischer rank first and second on the team in free throw attempts with 5.3 and 5.1 a game, respectively.

Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan could rely on Charlie Thomas off the bench, as the true freshman has the size down low to match up with the pair. Thomas has done well at times of altering shots (five blocks on the season) but hasn’t registered one over the last four games. Ryan could also go to fellow freshman Alex Illikainen to help on defense but Illikainen didn’t play on Wednesday and his defense is still a work in progress.

Even if Wisconsin can’t find a way to slow either Fischer or Ellenson down, as the two shoot 68.5 percent and 47.3 percent, respectively, from the field, the Badgers still have to handle forward Sandy Cohen III, who averages 9.3 points a game.

How Wisconsin matches up with Marquette’s frontcourt will be interesting, Hayes could defend Ellenson at times, as he has been able to improve as a defender since last season and been able to prevent Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Temple’s Quenton DeCosey from getting into an offensive rhythm. Ellenson would have the height advantage over Hayes, but Hayes has shown that he can play tough defense without getting into foul trouble.

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