The rivalry between Wisconsin and Marquette has been interesting over the last decade because both programs have been relevant on the national scene.
There was a dark period for the Golden Eagles near the turn of the millennium (Marquette missed the NCAA tournament from 1998 through 2001), but they rebooted under Tom Crean and Buzz Williams. The Badgers haven’t missed the Big Dance or a 20-win season under Bo Ryan.
But Marquette still owns a 55-64 record in the series, as the two programs prepare for another intrastate battle on Saturday.
This year, Buzz needs the win more than Bo. Marquette is approaching desperation in its quest for the resume-boosting nonconference victories that will pay off on Selection Sunday.
A series of mishaps in holiday tournaments diminished the Big East’s buzz. The conference’s contenders failed in recent nonconference matchups that would have enhanced their respective NCAA tournament hopes/seeds.
Marquette was pegged as the preseason favorite to win the new Big East. And the Golden Eagles are certainly talented enough to fulfill that prophecy. But they’re struggling right now after losing to Arizona State and San Diego State in two of their last four games.
And they’ll face their toughest and most significant test when they meet the Badgers over the weekend. Both squads feature defenses ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 20 for adjusted efficiency.
Wisconsin’s offense has improved (14th in adjusted offensive efficiency) this year, but Marquette can’t find consistent scorers.
The Golden Eagles, 103rd in adjusted offensive efficiency compared to 25th last season, are still searching for offensive continuity following the departures of Vander Blue, Trent Lockett and Junior Cadougan (30.3 PPG combined).
How will they score? On Saturday? In the games after that? During the conference season?
Solving that riddle against a Badgers squad that gave up just 38 points in a win over Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Wednesday will be difficult.
The Golden Eagles won’t have a prayer unless they spread the load.
Jamil Wilson (10.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and Davante Gardner (14.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG) have done the bulk of the offensive work this season. But they’ve been inconsistent, too. Williams needs more offensive production from a unit that features multiple freshmen. And he needs his team’s stars to be go-to players every night.
This might be the team’s last chance for a meaningful nonconference win.
Saturday’s game might not be a must-win for Marquette. But it’s close.