1, Marquette has been winning its games with offense (seven games over 80 points including the last five). How have the Golden Eagles been attacking teams to get their points?
John Dodds: This year Marquette lost 6-10 Henry Ellenson to the N.B.A. but was able to address an outside shooting weakness by adding four perimeter shooters: 6-4 Katin Reinhardt (graduate transfer from USC), 5-10 Andrew Rowsey (transfer from UNC-Asheville), freshman SF Sam Hauser and freshman PG Markus Howard. Marquette employs a smaller lineup - the Golden State ‘4 out one’ in offense - that tries to open up the 3-point line with four guard perimeters who can hit 3-point shots. Buzz Williams used a version of this in '09-10 with the 'Bill Self 4 out one in ' offense.
MU has been scoring points by pushing the pace. Once they get a defensive rebound, assuming they get the defensive rebound, everyone other than center Luke Fischer can and will push the ball up court. They are developing an inside/outside 3-point shooting game as well as a high pick-and-pop game. If Marquette is hot from three and making the extra pass, they can be difficult to deal with. One opposing coach told me, “Marquette is deep except at the post and they keep coming at you, and if one of their starters or first line subs off the bench is not hot, they can go 10 deep to find outside shooting.”
2, Who have been the main pieces helping to fill the void of Henry Ellenson in the low post?
Dodds: I asked this of Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski last October and he said it would have to be from multiple players and multiple positions.
“We will have to gang rebound, we will have to share the ball and have more 'group' scoring,” he said. “The one thing we will not be able to replace is Henry’s defensive rebounding and ability to guard the rim on defense.”
So far that has been exactly what has happened. Marquette has replaced Henry’s offense with a combination of 6-5 SF Jajuan Johnson (14.4 points per game), 6-11 Fischer (13.9 ppg), 6-5 two-guard Haanif Cheatham (11.7 ppg) and 6-7 Hauser (10.3 ppg). It is imperative that Fischer stays out of foul trouble. However, 6-9 Matt Heldt from Neenah has played some solid minutes in the post. Hauser is the only player over 6-6 outside of Fischer and Heldt, and he has played center at times.
3, Where is Marquette at defensively this season through nine games?
Dodds: That is a question Marquette fans and coaches have been trying to figure out since November 1. At times the defensive intensity is not there and it becomes very easy to score on Marquette. The team played well and jumped out to big leads against Pittsburgh (78-75 loss), Georgia (89-79 win); and most recently Tuesday night at the Bradley Center against Fresno State (84-81 win). In each game, Marquette lost double-digit second-half leads In order to be competitive against Wisconsin, Marquette is going to have to step up and play much better than they have all year. They do not always bring energy or intensity on defense.
4, How have freshmen Sam Hauser and Markus Howard given a lift to Marquette this year?
Dodds: Much was expected of the two freshmen and they have exceeded expectations. Sam Hauser is one of the best freshmen Marquette has recruited over the past decade. He does not play like a freshman. He is cerebral, lets the game come to him, never seems to force any action and is a great passer. He is averaging 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game and has hit 23 3-point shots in 44 attempts (52.3 percent). I read one message board post where Sam was compared to Wally Ellenson and was similarly recruited by MU since both had highly rated younger brothers. That comparison between players and situations is laughable. Hauser has scored 19 points in the both games this week against Georgia and against Fresno State, has 26-foot range and has shown hints of being able to post up and hit intermediate shots in the 8-16 foot area. Hauser has already reminded many long time MU fans of Brian Wardle ('97-'01) with his heady and unselfish play combined with ability to take and make big time shots. When I mentioned that to Wardle, now the head coach at Bradley, Wardle responded, “Sam Hauser is a heck of a lot better than I ever was.” And that might be the case.
Howard won’t turn 18 years old until after the season ends but is averaging 8.9 points a game and is shooting 50 percent from three (18 for 36). He is small for a point guard at 5-10 but very strong. He is able to finish when driving down the boulevard or at the basket, even against bigs. Howard has a repertoire that includes a running one handler with either hand. Howard is still a work in progress but might be counted on even more vs UW since starting point guard Traci Carter missed the Fresno State game with a knee injury.
On defense, both Hauser and Howard can have issues with lateral quickness, but they rebound and are willing to mix it up down low. In MU’s rebuild, these two freshmen are building blocks.
5, Who is the X Factor on Saturday for Marquette?
Dodds: When looking for the x-factor, I would look for a local player who understands the Marquette/Wisconsin rivalry. Last year local state players Henry Ellenson, Luke Fischer and Duane Wilson had solid games. This year on the Marquette side, I am going to watch two players: Cheatham and Wilson. Haanif has struggled with this shot against Georgia and Fresno State, but I look for him to have a breakout game against Wisconsin. Wilson is moving much better, as I think his legs are healthy once again. I think Marquette will need his mental toughness against a very good Badger team.
6, What areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give Marquette trouble? Where do you think the Golden Eagles have the edge over the Badgers?
Dodds: Wisconsin advantages: I have always loved watching Bronson Koenig play. I thought he was the key for Wisconsin's success last year. For new coach Greg Gard, it was a tremendous advantage to be able to strategize in a huddle and have a point guard who can actually run his 'stuff' on the floor. Koenig has been to two Final Fours and hit the last second shot against Xavier in the tournament last year. Marquette has young guards at the point.
Nigel Hayes had the breakout passing game against Syracuse and is a very tough match up for Marquette's 6-7 Hauser or 6-4 Reinhardt. If Hayes can hit from the outside, Marquette will have a very difficult time sagging in on Ethan Happ.
I think Marquette might have played Wisconsin just at the right time in Bo Ryan’s final week last December. UW will be ready this year. Last spring at former Marquette assistant coach Trey Schwab’s funeral in Madison, Vitto Brown did an incredible job of singing Amazing Grace at the funeral celebration of Trey's life. When I talked with Brown after the funeral and congratulated him on his singing talent, when he found out that I was from Marquette, he said, “You guys came in and took one in our house last year. We’ll be ready this time.” I think UW will be ready.
Overall I think Wisconsin is a better balanced team than Marquette. It is taller, can hit from the outside and plays with much more consistency on defense. Gard uses his bench and that makes UW deeper.
Marquette can hit 3-point shots and if a lot of fouls are called, as long as the calls do not involve Fischer, Marquette is deep at the perimeter positions. Marquette is also a good free throw shooting team, averaging almost 81 percent from the free throw line. In November, Marquette had a difficult time matching up with Michigan, who seemed to be a foot taller at every position and had the ability to shoot threes from all positions. I am interested to watch the Michigan/Wisconsin game this year. Is Michigan that good or did Marquette make them look that good?
7, What is the one thing Marquette needs to do well in order to win Saturday?
Dodds: Two years ago in the last game at the Bradley Center, a Wisconsin team headed to the Final Four played Wojo’s first team and MU used a 2-3 matchup zone to keep the game ugly (49-38 UW win). Last year Ellenson and Fischer were able to match up against Wisconsin and pull out a 59-57 win.
This year I think it all comes down to 3-point shooting by Marquette. They have to hit the three and get out in transition to get open three looks. That assumes Marquette can generate defensive stops, rebounds and steals that lead to transition opportunities. Three-point shooting is the key. When Marquette could not match Michigan’s height and its 3-point shooting, it was in huge trouble. I think Wisconsin has more height and is better balanced. Marquette has two 6-9 bigs on the way in the 2017 class (Theo John and Ike Eke). I wish they could play on Saturday.
Marquette is in a rebuild mode but was able to steal one at the Kohl Center last year. My guess is that the Badgers return the favor on Saturday.