The 126th installment of a heated series between the University of Wisconsin and Marquette men’s basketball teams was preceded by a captivating offseason saga that affected both programs.
When the Golden Eagles (2-0) visit the Badgers (2-1) on Sunday at the Kohl Center, it’ll be the team Sam and Joey Hauser divorced against the team the brothers did some heavy flirting with on the rebound before choosing other relationships.
That drama added some spice to a rivalry that didn’t really need it, but UW junior guard Brad Davison chooses to view the earliest meeting between the programs in 22 years from a different lens.
“The biggest thing is they’re not going to be on the floor,” Davison said of the Hausers, who combined for 28 points in Marquette’s 74-69 overtime win over UW last season at Fiserv Forum. “They obviously can do a lot of different things and they make you guard a lot of different ways. It’s definitely going to be a little different preparation wise just because it’s different personnel.”
Just as UW is adjusting to life without Ethan Happ, Marquette is in the early stages of a post-Hauser roster. A few days after Golden Eagles star guard Markus Howard decided he was returning for his senior season, the Hausers made the stunning announcement last spring that they were leaving the program.
The siblings from Stevens Point made an official visit together to UW, the logical landing spot if the Hausers wanted to continue to be teammates. Instead, Sam decided to transfer to Virginia and Joey to Michigan State, leaving UW fans as angry and confused as their counterparts were from Marquette several weeks earlier.
While three of the four best players on the floor during that game in Milwaukee last December won’t be around for this meeting — Happ and the Hausers — the one who remains will be a handful for the Badgers to defend.
Howard, a preseason All-American, is a career 43.6% shooter from 3-point range. He has made 10 already from that distance this season, giving him a running total of 323 with the Golden Eagles.
UW did a good job against Howard last season. He finished with 27 points but went 7 of 29 from the field.
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“We did a good job of making him take tough shots,” said UW sophomore wing Kobe King, noting that the Badgers let Howard get to the free throw line too often (12 of 15). “He’s a great player, so he’s going to hit some of them. But he’s got to do it over the course of 40 minutes and we can’t send him to the line.”
Howard, in some ways, compares to Saint Mary’s senior guard Jordan Ford, who scored 26 points in the Gaels’ 65-63 overtime win over the Badgers in the 2019-20 season opener.
UW contained Ford for stretches. But Ford, like Howard, can catch fire in a hurry and scored 10 points over a stretch of four possessions against the Badgers.
That should serve as a reminder against Marquette not to let up even if UW feels like it’s doing a good job containing Howard.
“They both take and make tough shots,” Davison said. “With those guys that have that ultra neon-green light — they’re out there trying to score and trying to create for their teammates — we’ve got to try to contain them the best we can and force them to make tough shots. I thought we did that with Jordan Ford, he just hit a lot of them.”
The Golden Eagles got a lift from junior guard Koby McEwen in their 65-55 victory over Purdue on Wednesday night. McEwen, who started 60 games over two seasons at Utah State before transferring to Marquette, scored 23 points against the Boilermakers.
It’s early, but it appears the Golden Eagles have made significant strides on the defensive end. That hasn’t been a strong suit for the program since the arrival of Steve Wojciechowski, whose first five teams have finished 69th, 88th, 165th, 182th and 45th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings.
“They have a lot more athletic guys out there that are denying and pressuring a little bit more,” UW junior point guard D’Mitrik Trice said.
A Hauser-less lineup won’t be the only thing that stands out about this meeting between UW and Marquette. There’s also its spot on the calendar.
The Badgers and Golden Eagles haven’t played this early in the season since they met in the 1997-98 season opener on Nov. 14. It’s only third November meeting in a series that began in 1917.
“It’ll be different,” Trice said. “It’ll be a good test for both teams, I think.”