Traevon Jackson knows what he’s in for Saturday night.
Attention. And lots of it.
When the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team meets Marquette at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, it’s a given that the Golden Eagles will do everything in their power during those 40 minutes to try to make the Badgers’ young point guards crack under the pressure.
“Why wouldn’t they?” said Jackson, a sophomore starter. “But I’ve just got to be ready, and I’ll be preparing for that and am looking forward to playing them.”
It’ll be another stiff test in a series of them for Jackson and his backup, redshirt freshman George Marshall. Their growing pains have been on display during a two-week run of games against high-level opponents that began against Creighton and Arkansas in the Las Vegas Invitational, continued with home games against Virginia and California and ends with the 119th meeting between UW (6-3) and Marquette (5-2).
“They’re going to send guys at them, that’s for sure,” said UW guard Josh Gasser, who’s sitting out this season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. “They’re going to pressure you. They’re going to trap you; they’re just going to throw everything they’ve got at you.
“We’ve got to come right away and just be ready for that pressure, because it’s going to come.”
When asked earlier this week to assess the team’s point guard play through the first nine games, UW coach Bo Ryan called it “spotty.” Ryan went on to say it was hard to compare to previous years because point guard has been a position of strength the past two seasons with Jordan Taylor, the NCAA’s career leader in assist-to-turnover ratio, running the show.
Jackson and Marshall stepped into bigger roles after Gasser’s junior season ended before it began on Oct. 27. Not surprisingly, consistency has been an issue for the two.
“We’ve obviously taken our lumps,” said Marshall, who started the first six games of the season but was benched after a rough performance against Arkansas on Nov. 24. “But as far as right now, I think we’re on a good track to keep improving.”
Jackson is averaging 4.6 points and has a 1.69-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s struggled with his shot of late, missing 16 of his 20 attempts from the field over the past five games.
Marshall is averaging 5.6 points and has a 1.75-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s 3-for-12 from the field since scoring a career-high 13 points in a loss to Creighton on Nov. 23.
“I think when you’re dealing with younger players who don’t have much experience, there are going to be ups and downs and part of that is going to be confidence,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said. “We can’t give them confidence; they have to earn it. We can help push it along a little bit, but it still comes with their experience and their performance on the floor.”
Both Jackson and Marshall say they haven’t had difficulty remaining upbeat during a steep learning curve.
“You’ve got to stay positive,” Jackson said. “That’s the biggest thing, just picking yourself up. You’re your biggest ally. As long as I stay mentally tough, I’ll be fine.”
Gard said the expectations for Jackson and Marshall are realistic.
“Just be solid,” Gard said. “They don’t have to be extraordinary. Just do the little things and fill their role, be a good team player. We’re not asking them to do anything that’s not within their capabilities. Just keep the game simple, that’s the biggest thing.”
As always in this game between two rivals with opposite styles, establishing tempo will be crucial. Not all of that responsibility falls on the point guards, but a big chunk of it does.
While Jackson and Marshall are in the early stages of their respective careers, Marquette counters with Junior Cadougan, a senior with 45 career starts under his belt.
“They’re a team that can really get it up the court in transition — run and gun, pressure, just a fast game,” Marshall said. “If we feed into that, it won’t be good. But if we can control the tempo, do the things we do, I think it will really go well.”
UW senior forward Mike Bruesewitz left practice Thursday afternoon following a collision with a teammate.
A team official said Bruesewitz was being treated for whiplash and his status is day to day.