This is the fourth year we’ve had the Marquette Courtside blog, but it’s felt like we’ve turned a corner this year. I won’t get into the background baseball of it, but people are paying more attention to the coverage we’re giving Marquette online. It’s a good thing.

That leads us into this week, in which I find I have to walk as delicately as John McClain (Bruce Willis) through broken glass in the Christmas classic, “Die Hard.” Allow me to explain:

 I work for The Big 920 WOKY, Milwaukee’s radio home of all things Wisconsin Badgers. I cover Marquette Basketball for The Big 920, and I do so as someone who is both part of Marquette (now in my 11th year as the PA announcer for soccer) and a longtime Marquette fan. Obviously, The Big 920 wants to promote and support Badger fandom, per number one. I subscribe to the idea that rivalries are fun and rivals should be tormented. 

It is … difficult … for me to balance these ideas this week. As a Marquette fan, I have … feelings … about the Badgers, the same way I have feelings about the Bears as a Packers fan. However, it would be beyond unwise for me to openly and vociferously express those feelings here on thebig920.com.

As a result, when I’m live-tweeting the game from the Kohl Center, I have to keep it mostly factual and not inject my own thoughts. Serious journalists should do this, anyway, but I don’t necessarily aspire to be a serious journalist under normal circumstances. On Saturday, I do. Here in the blog, I can tell you: If you’re a loyal reader, you know how I feel and you know who I’m rooting for. If don’t know, and you want to figure it out, you probably can. But it would be a bad idea to actually put it in (digital) print.

That said, here’s a pretty straightforward preview of Saturday.

For Marquette, living and dying by the three has been the name of the game. Much like the Packers with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, a clicking offense can hide a lot of flaws in Marquette’s spotty defense. If just one part of the three-headed monster of Markus Howard, Sam Hauser and Andrew Rowsey starts spitting fire, Marquette can compete with anyone. If all three are on, you’re out of luck.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be stopped, however. Despite averaging 31 points over the last three games, Howard says he’s focused on not forcing shots this year. Contest and you might be able to at least force him to the drive, where he’s good but not nearly as deadly. Hauser is the next priority. He isn’t as dynamic as Howard, but there’s a strong correlation between Hauser points and MU wins.

That leaves Rowsey, who needed a 10-assist, one-turnover game Tuesday against Vermont to vacate head coach Steve Wojciechowski’s doghouse. Wojo has asked Rowsey to be a leader for his team, and while he has shown an ability to Curly Neal his way out some situations, he’s also had games like Saturday’s Georgia loss, where he’s tried to do too much and paid the price. He, moreso than anyone on the roster, has been prone to concentration lapses, resulting in off-nights filled with bad turnovers. He also served a short team-imposed suspension during the preseason. Yes, you probably know about #TheThing — Rowsey’s act of drawing a foul after pump-faking a three-pointer in order to draw three shots. But Marquette is better when he’s thinking like a distributor first and a scorer second.

MU’s weak link is down low. Matt Heldt was OK as a complimentary option to Luke Fischer last year, but is still too hesitant. Marquette will be helped by the arrival of Harry Froling in a couple weeks, but they’ll be without him for the Wisconsin game. Freshman Theo John spells Heldt at times, but is struggling to figure out how aggressive he can be in the college game without drawing fouls in bulk.

This is where we remind folks last year’s game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center was a tale of two halves. In the first, Wisconsin big man Ethan Happ got in foul trouble early and Marquette was able to play the Badgers evenly through 20 minutes. In the second, Happ returned from the bench and took over the game. Happ is Wisconsin’s primary weapon this year, but one of the Badgers’ other options — Brad Davison, D’Mitrik Trice (even if it’s only once), Khalil Iverson or Brevin Pritzl — will have to step up. If this is a “Happ & The Kids” game, Happ will take the Badgers far, but likely not far enough. I don’t expect Howard and Hauser to be too fazed by the atmosphere.

There’s so much energy and attention on these Marquette/Wisconsin games that, inevitably, someone unexpected has a big game. In the last meeting in Madison, Fischer came through at the end of the contest, lifting Marquette to a win that probably delayed Bo Ryan’s retirement. Don’t be surprised if a young guy like Greg Elliott or Kobe King makes a difference this year.

Nonetheless, it is a huge rivalry, one so big that you can basically throw out the records or any expectations. It’s a game played in a vacuum and it’s difficult to predict how it will flow.

All I can say is this: Enjoy it. Give the Badger, or Marquette, fan in your life lots of you-know-what this week. Talk smack. Place silly bets with embarrassing consequences. That’s the fun. Rivalries are much better when the two teams, and fanbases, dislike each other in full, from their law school to their soccer team to their conference-championship-losing football team — wait, pretend I didn’t say that. Don’t sit on the fence. Pick a side and spit over the fence at the other. It’s the way it should be.

COURTSIDE SPLINTERS

A DOG AGAINST THE DAWGS: Speaking of Marquette/Wisconsin, losses to the Badgers are clearly the most disappointing of any season for Marquette fans. However, in terms of the way it could have helped or hurt tournament hopes, Marquette’s loss to Georgia this past Saturday has to be near the top of a second-tier of letdowns.

While Marquette did its tournament resume a favor in the Maui Invitational, the next best thing outside of BIG EAST play would have been to beat Georgia. Instead, Marquette looked flat throughout a 73-66 defeat that was a counter to a big win for them the year before.

I eluded to Rowsey’s struggles, though it was a team loss, too. Marquette looked sleepy for the afternoon game, even with a big crowd trying to energize them. It was the first truly bad loss of the year, and the second worrisome game in the last four, including overtime against Eastern Illinois.

Wisconsin is having a down year. A loss in Madison would be another strike against this team. That makes the rivalry game important for more reasons than just pride.

BRIEF MENTION: For what it’s worth, Marquette did get a little run on “The Dan Patrick Show” here on The Big 920 yesterday morning (Hour 1, 40:07). Apparently Patrick was watching Marquette/Vermont Tuesday and it came up in a discussion of the Mike Krzyzewski coaching tree. All Patrick had to say was “Marquette can’t guard anyone.” I noted it on Twitter and got an interesting string of responses.

COMING UP: Marquette will get a week off for finals after the Badger game.

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