Marquette and Wisconsin have played each other on 122 occasions over the course of their college basketball rivalry, and for the first time in a long time – though maybe not the first time since 1917, when they originally met – the former has more in-state players than the latter.
Both programs are well-stocked, as the Golden Eagles possess eight former prep standouts from the state and the Badgers have seven. To see a combined 15 Wisconsinites on the rosters when the two teams meet Saturday afternoon in Madison will no doubt be a satisfying sight for local hoops junkies. It also supports the notion, which I wrote about extensively earlier this year, that the state suddenly has become a hotbed of high school basketball talent.
It’s the surprising predominance of that talent at the Milwaukee private school rather than the state public institution that is a major part of the programs’ seemingly shifting power dynamic. Besides having the edge in total number of in-state kids, presently, Marquette also boasts the better ones.
First and foremost, the Golden Eagles (7-2) bested the Badgers for freshman forward Henry Ellenson, one of the best players the state has ever produced and almost assuredly an NBA lottery pick when he decides to declare. Ellenson, from Rice Lake, was ranked by Scout.com as the seventh-best prospect in the country for the Class of 2015, just behind No. 6 Diamond Stone, the Dominican big man who chose Maryland over Wisconsin for reasons that, some suggest, involved academics.
The Badgers (6-4) still came away with De Pere guard Brevin Pritzl, the nation’s 61st-ranked player, according to Scout, while the Golden Eagles also secured Neenah center Matt Heldt, who was No. 76. Pritzl won’t play on Saturday and is out indefinitely after re-injuring his left foot.
In the past three classes, counting 2015, Marquette has scored the higher-rated in-state recruits. Last year, they got No. 88 Sandy Cohen, a wing from Seymour who’s turned into a do-everything jack-of-all-trades. Wisconsin settled for Oconomowoc guard T.J. Schlundt and Appleton swing man Matt Ferris, neither of whom was ranked nationally or is currently contributing.
In the 2013 class, the Golden Eagles reeled in Dominican guard Duane Wilson, who was rated No. 71 by Scout. Via transfer from Indiana, they also got No. 79 Luke Fischer, a center from Germantown. Since last season, they’ve been two of Marquette’s most valuable players. The Badgers did all right in 2013, too, bringing in Green Bay forward Aaron Moesh and Aquinas’ Bronson Koenig, who’s become one of the Big Ten’s best point guards.
Not since 2012 – when it attracted Sheboygan forward Sam Dekker, Scout’s No. 15 player and a first-round draft pick by the Rockets this year, and Germantown guard Zak Showalter – has Wisconsin out-recruited Marquette in the schools’ statewide backyard.
That might not change anytime soon, either. Steven’s Point forward Sam Hauser, the top player in the state and No. 73 in the country for the 2016 class, is headed to the Golden Eagles. And although Central guard Kobe King, currently ranked 96th in the Class of 2017, has already committed to the Badgers, the coaching uncertainty surrounding the program could hurt further recruiting efforts.
PHOTO: Wisconsin Athletics
Bo Ryan announced in June that he planned to retire after this season. A couple months later, he said he was no longer sure about that and possibly could coach another "four or five years." Ryan, 67, one of the Big Ten’s best coaches, has taken Wisconsin’s program to great heights, culminating in two straight Final Four appearances, including last year’s loss to Duke in the national championship.
But most of those players are now gone. Beyond Koenig and junior forward Nigel Hayes, who could bolt for the NBA after this season, the Badgers’ roster is bereft of difference-makers. A waffling coach and a monotonous offensive system won’t help the Badgers’ living-room pitch to high schoolers, especially those in the state being courted by a comparatively exciting program.
Former Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski, in his second year as Marquette's head coach, has infused the Golden Eagles with new life. After struggling last season with transfers and injuries – Marquette was down to eight scholarship players – Wojciechowski’s first complete recruiting class was a consensus top-10 group, ranked as high as fifth in the country by ESPN. Several of those freshmen are already playing major roles: Ellenson, Haanif Cheatham and Traci Carter are starters, and Heldt and Sacar Anim are getting minutes off the bench.
The first-years are accounting for at least 40 percent of Marquette’s scoring, rebounds, assists and steals. Ellenson, averaging 16.7 and 8.8, is among the top 10 freshmen in the country in points and rebounds per game, respectively.
The Badgers own the advantage in the all-time series, 66-55, and they beat the Golden Eagles last year in Milwaukee. But, with Marquette fueled by an injection of in-state talent, might there be a new powerhouse in Wisconsin college basketball?
The game is at 12:30 p.m. CT on Saturday at the Kohl Center.
Opposite directions: Marquette comes in riding a winning streak of six games, including the last four by an average margin of 30 points. Wisconsin, which beat No. 14 Syracuse last week, lost 68-67 at home to Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Wednesday. It was the Badgers’ first loss to the Panthers in 23 games and a rare nonconference defeat in Madison.
Hot and cold: During their winning streak, the Golden Eagles have shot 50.8 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from 3-point range. Conversely, for the season, Wisconsin is shooting 41 percent from the field and 32 percent from beyond the arc.
Interconnected: There are a few links between the two teams, especially among the in-state players. Marquette’s Luke Fischer and Wisconsin’s Zak Showalter were high-school teammates at Germantown. Henry Ellenson was hotly pursued by the Badgers and his father, John Ellenson, played for Wisconsin from 1989-91.
Post presence: Marquette gets much of its production from the frontcourt. The 6-foot-10 Ellenson operates all over the floor but is skilled down low and attacks the basket. The 6-foot-11 Fischer, averaging 14.6 points on 68.5 percent shooting with 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, is an interior monster who will be hard to handle for 6-foot-9 Wisconsin big man Ethan Happ.
Hayes blazing: Nigel Hayes did all he could to help the Badgers avert the loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, scoring a career-high 32 points on 9-of-18 shooting with eight rebounds. For the season, he’s averaging team highs in minutes (36.1), points (16.9) and assists (3.9).
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.