Marquette’s non-Bradley Center tour continues tomorrow afternoon when Buzz Williams’ group squares off against the eighth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center. The Golden Eagles have had recent successes against their rival to the West, picking up wins in the last two annual matchups. The Badgers opened as nine-point favorites, and rightfully so; Bo Ryan’s group is a perfect 9-0, with wins over No. 11 Florida, St. Louis, West Virginia and Virginia.
Leading the way, surprisingly, has been Frank Kominsky. I remember watching him at an All-Star event in Chicago three years ago — I was there to watch Juan Anderson, and Ben McLemore stole the show — and he simply looked out of place. He was slow, didn’t have a quick release and though he was built, he didn’t seem to wow me with his size. But in Year 3, Kaminsky has been a man among boys. He’s averaging 15.0 points and 6.1 rebounds and has a 43-point outing to his name in the early going.
Sharpshooter Sam Dekker showed flashes of talent last season, and he’s putting it together more consistently as a sophomore. Though his 3-point percentage numbers are down, he has still managed 13.8 points on 47 percent shooting, as well as 5.4 rebounds on the defensive end.
Guard Josh Gasser missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and it’s apparent he was working on his outside jumper in his off time. Through nine games, Gasser has hit 11 of 22 3-pointers and nearly 57 percent of his shots as a whole. He’s a stout defender who works through traffic, too, meaning the Marquette frontcourt will have its work cut out.
Leading the unique Wisconsin offense has been point guard Traveon Jackson. The junior is averaging a team-high 4.6 assists and 11.1 points in nearly 32 minutes per game. Ben Brust has also been a deep threat in the backcourt. He has made 22 of 53 3-pointers and 19 of 20 free throws to begin the season.
Keep an eye on freshman point guard Bronson Koenig, junior sharpshooter Duje Dukan and freshman wing Nigel Hayes.
WHAT THE BADGERS DO WELL
— Pace, pace, pace: It shouldn’t surprise you that the Badgers are again among the slowest teams in the country, or that they are also one of the most efficient. They have managed to play two games with 70+ possessions, with both of those coming on the road. More likely, Saturday’s affair will be a slow paced, grind-it-out matchup where the Badgers play their game an try to catch Marquette napping at the end of shot clocks.
— 3-point field goals: Again, no shock. The Badgers are 29th in the country in 3-point field goal percentage (40.9 percent), led by Gasser, Brust, Kaminsky and Dekker. And that’s just the point; like it is every year, anyone in the Badgers’ rotation can and will hit from beyond the arc.
— Free throw defense: No, not opponents’ free throw percentage. Badgers opponents are getting to the line at just a 26.1 percent rate per field-goal attempts. Simply put, Wisconsin doesn’t commit fouls and teams don’t get to the line. Davante Gardner has been to the line four times in his last two meetings with the Badgers, though he did go six times as a freshman.
WHERE THE BADGERS STRUGGLE
— Forcing turnovers: Again, Wisconsin doesn’t change much from year-to-year. Its methodical offense stays pretty straightforward on defense, meaning the Golden Eagles won’t face too much pressure. The Golden Eagles may struggle to put up large point totals, but they should remain efficient if they can get inside.
THREE KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Get Jake Thomas going from the outside
2. Keep calm when the going gets tough
Look, Wisconsin is going to go on a run, stifle the Marquette offense for a long stretch and drain a few 3-pointers in a row at some point tomorrow. It’s just going to happen. What the Golden Eagles must do is what they did two seasons ago; not panic, find open shots and rely on playmakers to make plays. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long afternoon.
3. Find an x-factor
Games against Bucky, especially ones in Madison, have an unusual feel to them. At such a slow pace and against such a unique opponent, it’s tough to execute a game plan if you’re an opponent. That means an unknown could step up in a big position when Marquette needs a stop or a bucket. Early candidates are Steve Taylor and Deonte Burton. Let’s see what happens.