MILWAUKEE – The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team went outside the box to help prepare for Marquette’s Markus Howard.
Former UW guard Ben Brust joined the scout team in practice Friday and played the role of Howard, a 5-foot-11 junior guard for the Golden Eagles. Freshman guard Tai Strickland had played the role of Howard during practice Thursday.
“I don’t think you can (totally) replicate it,” UW coach Greg Gard said, “just probably like they can’t replicate Ethan Happ.”
Howard has scored a combined 45 points in two career games against the Badgers, including 23 in Marquette’s 82-63 win at the Kohl Center last season.
He’s averaging 22.4 points per game this season as the Golden Eagles (7-2) get set to host No. 12 UW (8-1) at the Fiserv Forum on Saturday.
Howard scored 45 points in Marquette’s 83-71 win over Kansas State a week ago. He attempted 21 free throws in that game, making 19, and is shooting 91.1 percent from the line (51 of 56) on the season. He’s shooting 35.8 percent from 3-point range, making a little more than three per game.
“He’s a good player,” Gard said. “He’s slippery, he can score in transition, he scores off ball screens from 3, he gets by you and gets in the paint, shoots a lot of free throws. He’s not one-dimensional, so that makes it more of a riddle to solve.
“It’s going to take a team effort, it won’t be just the matchup or the individual that gets assigned to him. It’ll be their team against our team and visa versa. But Markus is a good player, there’s no doubt. He’s not the only one.”
A couple things that Gard touched on there:
First, who gets assigned to guard Howard? Sophomore guard Brad Davison is UW’s best perimeter defender and would force Howard to deal with a bigger guard, but sophomore D’Mitrik Trice has improved this defense and also is an option to use on Howard.
And, as Gard mentioned, Howard isn’t the Golden Eagles’ biggest threat. Junior forward Sam Hauser is averaging 14.2 points per game and his brother, freshman forward Joey Hauser, is at 10.2 per game.
Marquette went 14 of 22 from 3-point range against the Badgers last year. Howard, Sam Hauser and Andrew Rowsey, who was a senior on that team, were a combined 13 of 20 from beyond the arc.
That was a weird game for the Badgers. They had learned the previous morning that Trice would be out indefinitely with a right foot injury. Then, during the final practice before the Marquette game, freshman Kobe King went down with a season-ending left knee injury.
The way UW was playing leading up to that game, there was a good chance Marquette was going to win that day even if the Badgers were completely healthy.
But they basically had no chance with a depleted backcourt. Plus, Marquette played really well.
“It was a tough position to be in, but you learn from it, you grow,” UW assistant coach Howard Moore said. “Hopefully, our guys get themselves in position where this year it’s a more competitive game, it’s not as open as it was before. Take away those open 3s, transition, they’ll get out and push, so you’ve got to set your defense as early as possible and then you have to take away open and easy shots.”
Speaking of defense, that’s been a problem area for the Golden Eagles under Steve Wojciechowski. They got worse in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency category in each of Wojciechowski’s first four seasons, going from 69th to 88th to 165th to 182nd last season.
This season, they’re at No. 51.
The addition of a pair of defensive-minded transfers – forward Ed Morrow (Nebraska) and Joseph Chartouny (Fordham) – has helped. But Moore said it’s more than that.
“I just think there’s a commitment,” Moore said. “You see them playing harder, making more of a commitment to get stops. They’ve got the athleticism, they’ve got the bodies, the length and size. A lot of ability, obviously. I think it’s just a commitment to getting defensive stops. So it’s not like they’ve put any secret weapon in or anything that’s over the top. I think it’s just a really concentrated effort as a group to play harder and work at that and get better.”