By Andy Mac Williams, 11/12/2018

The Muskies and Badgers know each other exceedingly well. This is their third game in four years. Wisconsin pulled the NCAA Tournament upset in St.Louis in March 2016 knocking out second seed Xavier 66-63 coming back from 8 points down in the final 6 minutes. Bronson Koenig torpedoed XU with two long threes-the final one at the buzzer. Last November the Muskies got revenge with an 80-70 Gavitt Games victory over the Badgers in Madison. X rallied from 2 points down in the final 2:30. Trevon Bluiett went on a scoring run. Tyrique Jones made a dynamic hustle steal play against WU star Ethan Happ and then canned two vital FTs.

J.P. Macura enraged the Red Scare student section with an emphatic dunk followed by the Gator Chomp. PGA golf pro Steve Stricker questioned Xavier's sportsmanship in a series of angry tweets. So Tuesday evening's' tilt at Cintas (6:30 Tip-FS1) is the rubber match. Wisconsin is favored in Vegas and by Ken Pomeroy (74-72 Badgers-X with just a 42% chance of winning) on a Cintas floor where the Muskies have posted 41 straight home court non-conference "Ws" over almost 6 full seasons.

Wisconsin does have everybody back including 6-10 Senior star and four year anchor Ethan Happ. 6-8 Aleen Ford will miss the game with a knee injury. Xavier has plenty of new parts including a new coaching staff. A Muskie secret weapon in preparation is assistant coach Ben Johnson. He's scouted WU many times while working for the Minnesota Gophers and he's the lead scout this time. X has struggled defensively in two wins over IUPUI and Evansville to open the season. The Badgers are 1-0 with a lopsided 85-63 win over Coppin State (349 KenPom) last Tuesday. WU is a big step up in competition for XU but it's the same story for Wisconsin.


This is the 4th season for this BIG EAST-Big Ten challenge series. It's 8 games/season. Each year the leagues have split 4-4 for a three year 12-12 record. Talk about parity.!!! Xavier is 2-0 vs the Big Ten so far with an 86-70 win at Michigan in 2015 and that "W" at Wisconsin a year ago. WU is 0-2 with the loss to XU and a road "L" at Creighton. Here's a list of the other 7 games in this year's series. Tuesday late-Georgetown at Illinois. Wednesday: Michigan at Villanova Seton Hall at Nebraska Marquette at Indiana. Thursday: Ohio State at Creighton Penn State at DePaul. Friday: St Johns at Rutgers.


The Badgers have played stubborn physical half court basketball since Bo Ryan took over two decades ago. His assistant Greg Gard is in year 4 as head man. The Badger tempo is slow. They pass patiently and hunt open threes. Happ is a traditional Big Ten post with an unreal passing touch and strong rim protection skills(triple-double vs Coppin State-10 points-11 rebounds-12 assists plus 4 blocks). Double team Happ and he sprays the ball to a bevy of three point snipers arrayed outside the arc.

Low fouls-low turnovers-low scores and a lotta wins make up Badger basketball. Last season they missed the NCAAs for the first time in 19 years mainly because of injuries. They made the Final 4 in 2014 and 2014 with Frank the Tank and Sam Decker.


We've talked about Ethan Happ already. KenPom rated him the 8th most efficient player in the country last season and he's better now especially his FT shooting. PG D'Mitrik Trice scored 21 vs Coppin. He's a jet and a sniper. Soph Guard Brad Davison played all last year in a shoulder brace and still averaged 12PPG and 4 assists. He's constantly on the floor going for steals etc.

Gard is playing more three guard line-ups now. Senior Brevin Pritzl sticks threes. He had 16 vs Coppin. 6-5 Wing Khalill Iverson is super athletic. 6-10 Nate Reuvers moved into the starting line-up midway thru last season to play beside Happ. Kobe King is a wing shooter off the bench along with one BIG Charles Thomas. They miss the wing span and stretch four ability of injured Aleen Ford.


Since 2006(12 years ago) the Muskies have posted a strong 11-3 record against the Big Ten. That includes regular season games-the Gavitt Series-NCAA Tournament and exempt holiday events. Home-road-neutral court-Xavier has played well. The 3 losses were close(by 3 points to Illinois and three Big Ten officials at United Center in 2015-in OT to #1 rated Ohio State at Rupp Arena in the 2007 NCAAs and no intentional foul call on the Buckeye's Greg Oden and NCAAs 2016 by 3 at the buzzer to Wisconsin.

There's a pattern of good results here fashioned by great players being coached well. No reason why that pattern can't continue!! X needs to tighten up the defense considerably. Marking Badger three point shooters and staying focused after many passes is vital. Wisconsin will be patient. Happ finds the open man. X needs post dominance. Maybe we see Tyrique Jones and Zach Hankins together some?? for a different look.

Quentin Goodin was plus 15 versus Evansville in his first action of the year scoring 14 points in 15 minutes. He and Paul Scruggs need to play 30 minutes plus each and win the guard wars against Trice and Davison and King and Pritzl.

Naji Marshall is a tough match-up for the Badgers. Hopefully he finds his driving mojo after recovering from the flu. The grad transfers have to chip in and assert themselves as they did against IUPuI. Good Castlin and Welage minutes are important.

Home court and a sellout crowd should help also. It will be close. Wisconsin is a quality team with an ingrained style that plays well on the road. Happ can control things at both ends of the floor.

Call me crazy! Call me a homer! I like Xavier 67-64 for Travis Steele's first signature win and a strong send off to Maui.

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