What: Wisconsin Badgers (6-1)
When: Saturday, Dec. 20, 1:00 p.m.
Site: Kohl Center (17,142), Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: ESPN, Wisconsin Radio Network
Series Notes: UW leads all-time series 59-50
A four-game homestand comes to an end Saturday for No. 18 Wisconsin as it plays host to a fellow 2002 conference champion in a battle for state supremacy. No. 23 Marquette is in town, the third consecutive in-state competitor to visit Madison to battle the two-time defending Big Ten champs.
Coach Tom Crean's Golden Eagles enter the game off a hard fought victory over Canisius Monday in which the team shot 36.2 percent from the field. Led by junior guard Travis Diener and his 14 points and nine assists, the defending Conference USA champions managed to hold on in the final minute and eek out a 68-65 win.
Diener paces Marquette this season with 16.6 points and 6.8 assists per game. In addition, senior forward Scott Merritt pitches in 12.6 points and 7.4 rebounds and sophomore forward Steve Novak adds 12.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest. The trio provides the bulk of the Golden Eagles' statistical output, but they are not alone.
"The team has got to be intact," Crean said. "The star of Marquette is Marquette right now. I think if you were to ask Travis and Scott, they would defer credit to their teammates and each other. That is one of the beautiful things in this program."
Marquette faces the tough task of playing a UW team nearly back to full strength with the recent return of sophomore forward Alando Tucker. Tucker gets the nod for his first start of the season versus the state rival that knocked them off a season ago.
"I'm always excited about the next game that is coming up," Tucker said. "This one is going to be really good—get a chance to compete in-state with another great team. It is going to feel good. The fans are going to be into it from the start so that's always great."
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan's group enters the game with a full week of practice after its win last Saturday versus UW-Milwaukee. Junior forward Mike Wilkinson led the Badgers with 18 points, one of five players in double figures as Wisconsin prevailed 89-71 win. Junior guard Devin Harris and junior forward Zach Morley each pitched in 13 while Tucker added 12 and sophomore guard Boo Wade tallied 11.
For the Badgers and Marquette, the nationally televised matchup will be more than just a tough game between two strong competitors, but one to declare the regular season champion of the state of Wisconsin.
"It is just always fun to play against people you know and we know a lot of people from the Green Bay team and Milwaukee team and now the Marquette team coming up," Wilkinson said. "It is always fun to play against people you know and they are great teams. You always want to play quality competition and if you can find it in your own state it's even better. The games are always hard. They come in and they give you everything they've got and you've just got to handle it."
Three keys for Wisconsin:
1. Leading at the half – Wisconsin is a team that needs to get off to a strong start early. The team is 6-0 this season when leading at halftime - the Badgers cannot play catch-up versus Marquette.
2. Three-ball – Wisconsin has shot 38.4 percent from behind the arc in its last four games (30 of 78), helping to extend opponents' defenses and improve the Badgers' offensive flow. UW will need more of the same versus Marquette.
3. Turnover Margin – The Badgers are plus-51 this season in turnover margin, something they'll need to continue in order to beat the stingy Marquette defense.
Three keys for Marquette:
1. Three-ball – Marquette, too, must consistently connect from beyond the arc. The Golden Eagles have connected on at least one three-pointer in the last 94 games and the streaky shooting of Novak and Diener can wreak havoc on the Badger defense.
2. Hittin' the glass – One of the major keys for Marquette this season has been rebounding: they are grabbing 7.3 more boards per game than opponents this year, while Wisconsin is plus-4.5. For the Golden Eagles to pull out the win, they'll need to limit Wisconsin's second chance opportunities.
3. Press coverage – The Golden Eagles have the tendency to use full-court pressure right out of the gate to initiate the tempo. If Marquette chooses to press, it will need to do a more effective job than the Panthers, who pressed from start-to-finish last Saturday with minimal success.