Few teams in the country are as young or reliant on freshmen as the Golden Eagles and Badgers. A lot of in-state players will be getting on-the-job training on Saturday in Madison for the 122nd meeting between two schools separated by about 75 miles.
''It's bragging rights the whole year for guys that know each other,'' said Marquette center Luke Fischer, a junior from Germantown.
Fifteen players, including eight from Marquette, are from Wisconsin. Many of those players know each other from their days playing high school or AAU hoops.
In the Badgers' case, Saturday is also about getting over a 68-67 loss to Milwaukee, another in-state rival. After two straight trips to the Final Four, Wisconsin is struggling with a less experienced lineup and is just 6-4.
Otherwise, it's all about the freshmen for Wisconsin. The first two reserves off the bench are forward Charlie Thomas and guard Khlalil Iverson, both freshmen. Redshirt freshman Ethan Happ, who practiced against 2014 national player of the year Frank Kaminsky last season, has played relatively well averaging 10.7 points and 8.7 rebounds up front.
Assistant coach Lamont Paris said the coaches are happy with the freshmen, for the most part. The key, Paris said, is to learn to adjust when opponents starting figuring out their tendencies.
''They've got to find a way when things change,'' Paris said. ''They do listen. They have to put what we tell them and what we learn in practice into a game and apply it.''
Wisconsin, though, already has as many losses this year as it did all of last season. Defense has been a problem at times, while the Badgers so far haven't shown their trademark efficiency on offense.
Marquette (7-2) is trending in the opposite directing with six straight wins since a humbling 89-61 loss at home to Iowa on Nov. 19. The Golden Eagles' winning streak coincides with the addition of Traci Carter into the lineup, joining fellow freshmen Henry Ellenson and Haanif Cheatham in the starting five.
Ellenson was the jewel of the recruiting class and the 6-foot-11 forward is averaging 18.0 points and 8.7 rebounds during the winning streak, joining the 6-11 Fischer to form a formidable duo in the lane.
This presents another challenge for the Badgers, whose tallest starter is the 6-9 Happ.
Marquette will play its first true road game this year. Playing Wisconsin on the road will also be a new experience at Marquette for the veteran Fischer, who transferred from Indiana as a sophomore but wasn't eligible for last year's game in Milwaukee.
''It's tough to describe what it's like to guys who have never done that before,'' Fischer said. ''There's no way to really prepare for it, you just have to get through it and get used it.''
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