For the first time this year, the University of Wisconsin will have the opportunity to play a highly anticipated matchup at home, when in-state rival Marquette (6-2) visits Madison Saturday afternoon. Indeed, it will not only be the first "big" home game of the season, but for some of Wisconsin's freshmen, it will be their first hyped-up Kohl Center contest ever.
"The fans, they anticipate this game," junior forward Alando Tucker said. "It seems like the Kohl Center is always a little louder in here when we are playing Marquette."
"We know it is going to be a very important game," sophomore guard Kammron Taylor said. "The game is definitely going to be intense. We just want to go out there and play our game. We don't want to get caught up in the hype."
The past four games in the annual series have been won by the home team, a trend that bodes well for the Badgers (6-1). The fact that the game is being played on Wisconsin's home court might be even more important this season however, as Marquette will bring several key freshmen into their first hostile road environment.
Freshman guards Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews all will probably be in the Golden Eagles' starting lineup on Saturday, the core of the Marquette youth movement.
Although the trio has had their ups and downs so far this year, James has been the most impressive, leading the team in scoring with an average of 15 points per game and also in assists, dishing out 6.4 per contest.
"He's one of those guys who likes to get up and down the floor. He can catch, he can shoot, so we are going to have to contain him," said Taylor, who will likely be matched up against James at times Saturday.
If the games UW has played earlier this year against upstart shooters are any indication, James could be in for a long afternoon. When Wisconsin played Coastal Carolina, they held 2005 Freshman of the Year Jack Leasure to 2-for-16 shooting (1-for-10 from 3-point range). Pepperdine freshman Michael Gerrity only made four of his 13 shots, many of them in the closing minutes, and against UW-Green Bay Wednesday, heralded freshman Ryan Tillema was held scoreless, going 0-for-8 from the field.
Although Wisconsin has fared well against inexperienced shooters this year, when going up against seasoned marksmen, the team hasn't had the same amount of success. UW-GB's Ryan Evanochko had his way against the UW defense early in the game and kept the Phoenix in the game with 22 points, while Badger fans will need little reminder of what Wake Forest senior Justin Gray did to the Wisconsin defense, tearing it apart for 37 points.
The Badgers will look to do a better job against Marquette's veteran swingman Steve Novak, who is averaging 14.3 points per game.
"A Marquette team is always going to be intense. They are going to play hard-nosed, man-to-man defense, and they have some guys that can create," Tucker said. "They have a good shooter in Novak and a bunch of guys that can create for him."
The Badgers can also expect a very spirited performance from Marquette, which seems to always save its best game for Wisconsin.
"We probably bring out the best in them," Taylor said.
"They are going to try to throw some traps and press to try and get us to speed up our game, but we have to control the tempo," Tucker said of the high-energy style of play he expects from the Golden Eagles. "We are here at home and we have to be able to control the tempo and get to the free-throw line early."
As if covering the talented Golden Eagles wasn't difficult enough, Wisconsin will also have to battle their own emotions in the annual grudge match.
"We can't get too much of an emotional high out there," Tucker said. "Guys are going to have to control their emotions."
Although emotions will surely be running high, the Badgers are still very thankful to have the game being played at home, where Wisconsin will look to build on its 61-3 record at the Kohl Center under Ryan.
"Last year, you could probably count [exactly] the amount of fans we had at Marquette," Taylor said. "But coming up this Saturday, we are going to see nothing but red and white out there."