MILWAUKEE (AP) With 15 wins in coach Steve Wojciechowski's second season on the bench, Marquette seems to playing well for a team that relies so heavily on a young cast led by touted freshman Henry Ellenson.
Unfortunately, the Golden Eagles play in the rough-and-tumble Big East, where the more experienced teams tend to rise to the top.
So to have a shot for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, Marquette (15-9, 4-7) needs to make a statement in the final month of the regular season starting with a game Wednesday against No. 20 Providence.
''We're not hiding from it,'' Wojciechowski said Tuesday about locker room chatter about what needs to be done make the NCAAs. ''There are certain things that have to happen for you to put yourself in position to do that. The very first thing is to take care of the next game.''
Marquette has had its moments this year, including wins in an early-season tournament in New York over then-No. 22 LSU and Arizona State, and a victory in Madison over rival Wisconsin. The best true road win came in a 65-64 victory on Jan. 5 against the Friars, who were then ranked eighth.
There have been tough lessons as well in Big East play, including a 20-point loss at Villanova and, most recently, defeats at Seton Hall and Xavier. Defeats to Belmont and Iowa were notable nonconference losses, and a home loss to DePaul (8-15) in Big East play doesn't look good on the resume.
Center Luke Fischer sees Marquette as desperate going into a game against Providence, just like how he viewed their last meeting against the Friars.
''We know what we have to do to get there,'' Fischer said about the NCAAs. ''It's just a matter of playing our best basketball at the right time.
Fischer, a junior, is entering his first full season at Marquette after transferring from Indiana, but he's still considered one of the team's older players. Big men Fischer (12.3 points, 6.8 rebounds) and Ellenson (16.3 points, 9.8 rebounds) have been Marquette's most consistent players.
Wojciechowski also likes what he has seen from another freshman, guard Haanif Cheatham, who has started all 24 game. Against Xavier last weekend, freshmen Ellenson and Cheatham combined for 43 points in a 90-82 loss at Xavier.
''It's not easy when you're relying on freshmen in this conference to be ''the guy'' or ''the guys,''' Wojciechowski said before referring to the outings by Ellenson and Cheatham versus Xavier.
''I mean, c'mon man - that's not happening. I mean that may be happening at Kentucky and Duke every other year, but not in the Big East. The Big East is an older league,'' he added.
To make the NCAAs, evolving Marquette may need at least a few more impressive performances from their freshmen.
AP College Basketball site: http://collegebasketball.ap.org/