Wisconsin Scouting Report: Efficient Badgers make for unique game

Marquette has had more than a week to recover from its 82-49 loss to Florida in Gainesville, and Saturday night we’ll find out if that was a good or bad thing when the Golden Eagles host rival Wisconsin at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Buzz Williams’ group won last year’s matchup in Madison, moving his record against the Badgers to 2-2 after losses in 2009 and 2010 and a win in 2008.

Like Marquette, Wisconsin has Bo Ryan’s squad has dealt with replacing their star senior from a year ago, point guard Jordan Taylor. Last year’s preseason All-American averaged 14.8 points and 4.1 assists while running Ryan’s unique offense to a T, helping the Badgers to 26 wins and a Sweet 16 appearance.

Sophomore Josh Gasser was expected to lessen the blow of losing Taylor, but he suffered a torn ACL before the season began, leaving Ryan in a bind. Freshman George Marshall started the first six games of the season, but has since been replaced by sophomore Traveon Jackson. Jackson has averaged 3 points and 3 assists in his starting role, and it’s apparent Marshall wasn’t ready for heavy doses of minutes out of the gate, and his minutes have since dropped.

So while the Badgers continue to figure out the point, an experienced and talented frontcourt has supplied the heavy lifting. Redshirt senior Jared Berggren leads the way with 14.9 points on 58 percent shooting, with 6.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. The inside-out threat has been superb in 2012, and like last year will prove the most difficult matchup come Saturday night.

Davante Gardner was plus-28 in just 14 minutes last year against Wisconsin. (Marquette Tribune photo)

Davante Gardner was plus-28 in just 14 minutes last year against Wisconsin. (Marquette Tribune photo)

Not to be lost in the fold is Ryan Evans, a two-year starter who is using a team-high 25 percent of offensive possessions on offense and has locked down defensively in the early season. The 6-foot-6 wing’s percentages are down, including a lackluster 13-of-35 from the free throw line and 1-of-13 from beyond the arc, but he is making his mark defensively and will do so again Saturday in what should be a low-scoring affair.

Shooting guard Ben Brust has started all nine games and is averaging a team-high 30.1 minutes per game. The junior is hitting on 45 percent of his 3-point attempts, and has hit two or more 3’s in six games. He’s only been to the free throw line 14 times in 271 minutes, yet he’s played the shooter’s rule in Ryan’s Swing offense perfectly, and he surprisingly has grabbed double-digit rebounds four different times, good for a team-best 7.8 per game.

Senior forward Mike Bruesewitz has started the last seven games, and while his numbers don’t jump out (6.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 43.2 percent FG), he’s an effective starter in Ryan’s system who fits his role. The 6-foot-6 Bruesewitz made life difficult on Jae Crowder last year, and will look to do the same against the struggling Jamil Wilson on Saturday. Bruesewitz’s spell, Frank Kaminsky, provides a big body at 6-foot-11 but isn’t much of a threat on either end.

Wisconsin’s x-factor, however, may be freshman sharpshooter Sam Dekker. The top-20 recruit has lived up to his hype early, hitting at least one 3-pointer in each of the Badgers’ nine games. He’s making almost 45 percent of his 3-point attempts, better than 52 percent of all his shots and his assist-to-turnover numbers are impressive. His 125.5 offensive rating is top-115 in the country.

Notables off the bench include 6-foot-6 junior Zack Bohannon and 6-foot-2 freshman Zak Showalter. Like any Bo Ryan-coached team, the Badgers’ depth isn’t great but their tempo allows them to go just seven- or eight-deep.

Where the Badgers are good

Buzz Williams prides himself on not playing to his opponent’s style, but he has admitted in the past of not having a choice against the Badgers. Wisconsin’s adjusted tempo this year is 62.2, 334th fastest in the country. They don’t turn the ball over and have 3-point threats everywhere on the court, though their numbers are a shade down from last year’s 36.8 percent mark (34.5 percent in 2012). Still, more than 40 percent of their attempts are from beyond the arc, and they get their way when it comes to pace night-in and night-out.

Within the slow-paced offense, Wisconsin rarely turns the ball over. Its 14.8 turnover percentage is fourth best in the country, and Bruesewitz “leads” the team with just 1.5 turnovers per game. Marquette has been one of the best teams in the country at turning teams over this year, but they’ll be hard-pressed to do so again on Saturday.

As teams fall into Wisconsin’s pace, the Badgers defend their own game as well as any team in the country. Teams are shooting just 44 percent effectively, and the Badgers’ 7.4 steal percentage is 18th best in the nation. Furthermore, teams assist on less than 40 percent of made baskets when playing the Badgers, the fifth lowest mark in the country. When the defense is solid and the offense is efficient, it’s near impossible to beat the Badgers.

Where the Badgers can be beat

Marquette has dealt with foul trouble this year, especially in the frontcourt, but that likely won’t be the case Saturday. Wisconsin has been to the line 17.8 times per game, well below-average. Marquette’s “fire” call, used on defense to lock down in the last 10 seconds of a possession, will be called early and often, but it shouldn’t result in too many fouls against the perimeter-oriented Badgers.

Last year’s matchup saw point guard Jordan Taylor commit a career-worst five turnovers, which helped Marquette rile the Badgers’ efficient offense. With Jackson and Marshall at the helm in a road environment, Derrick Wilson may be called upon to recreate his performance from last season when Junior Cadougan was suspended for undisclosed reasons.

Three keys to the game

1. Push pace whenever possible

Wisconsin makes shots and grabs 36 percent of its misses, and Buzz Williams has noted that this year’s Marquette team is “not very good” when it has to take the ball out of the basket (made shots, free throws). Half the game — every Wisconsin possession — will be played in the half court with the shot clock winding down, but the Golden Eagles should look to push pace when they can. It’s easier said than done against the frustrating Badgers, but Marquette will be looking for easy points whenever they can, and that will be done on the break.

2. A heavy dose of Davante, and less Otule

If there’s one game where Chris Otule’s services will be rendered useless, it’s Saturday night. Wisconsin plays too much around the perimeter for the 6-foot-11 center’s energy to be wasted trying to contain Berggren. Last year against the Badgers, Otule had a plus-minus  of negative-23 in 25 minutes, while Davante Gardner was plus-28 in just 14 minutes. That, combined with Marquette needing to savor every basket, means a heavy dose of the Norfolk native.

3. Unexpected star?

In what should be a quirky game unlike one Marquette has played, or will play, this year, the Golden Eagles may get performances from unlikely players. Last year it was Derrick Wilson’s defense and Todd Mayo’s 14 points. Even Juan Anderson chipped in with five rebounds. It has to start somewhere (last year Darius Johnson-Odom’s 17 points did the trick), but after Vander Blue gets his points, someone else may be waiting in the wings to make an impact.

My guess? Steve Taylor, Jr.

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