Sunday, December 07, 2008

MU 61, UW 58

(photo from Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

It's always a highlight of the winter sports calendar in Wisconsin and one of the best but oddest rivalries in college basketball. Every season, the Wisconsin Badgers take on the Marquette Golden Eagles. In recent years the Badgers have become a very good program and Marquette has steadily re-built its brand to a level approaching the glory years of Al McGuire. As a result, the games have been very close in recent years and yesterday's game was no exception, with MU prevailing 61-58 in Milwaukee.

It is an odd rivalry because, other than the annual game, the paths of the two schools rarely cross. The Badgers of course are charter members of the Big Ten, while the Golden Eagles hold forth as the westernmost outpost of the Big East, although historically they've played just about anyone, anytime. It's easier to wrap your mind around traditional Big Ten rivals like Purdue and Minnesota than it is to envision a conference game against Rutgers or South Florida, which Marquette now faces each year. In a lot of ways, UW and MU share a home state but little else.

Every time I see the game, I'm conflicted. I grew up with the great McGuire teams and one of the sports highlights of my childhood was the magical 1977 season when Marquette ran a gauntlet of Kansas State, Wake Forest, Cincinnati, UNC-Charlotte and finally Dean Smith's North Carolina Tar Heels to win the national championship. I can still see it my mind's eye -- Marquette in their garish uniforms with untucked shirts, the Butch and Bo show, mighty Jerome Whitehead scoring crucial baskets, the talented Bernard Toone providing instant offense from the bench. It was a great team and a great time and while college basketball gained even greater popularity since then, it was wonderful.

In those days, the Badgers were the footwipe of the Big Ten. MU got the better of the rivalry then but since the 1990s, things have changed. The Badgers finally started to get their act together when Michael Finley came to Madison in the early 90s and under Dick Bennett and his successor Bo Ryan, the Badgers have become a force in college ball. And the rivalry has become even more intense. I root for the Badgers in most college sports, but I just can't bring myself to root for them against MU. In sports, as in everything else, you never forget your first love.


Anonymous said...

Never, ever, ever, never root for UW over MU.

MU 61, UW 58 ... all is right in the world once again. Bo is 4-4 against MU during his 8 years at UW-Madison. If he doesn't start to recruit more athleticism, that number could go below .500 over the next several years as Buzz has some big-time prep standouts headed to Milwaukee.

Mark Heuring said...

Don't worry, good sir. I'm in the MU camp. I had heard that MU has some good kids coming in. They'll need them because the Big East is a rough neighborhood.

The kid from Sibley that Bo has coming in, Brusewitz, is good. He'll help. But the door is closing in Minnesota for Bo because Tubby Smith will get the guys he wants going forward. What will Bo do?

Anonymous said...

Marquette won the game because McNeil put the team on his shoulders. A good effort but I don't think anyone would say the Marquette is decidedly better than the Badgers.

Marquette is a senior laden team and they played like one. Wisconsin is a young team and while they'll go through growing pains, the guess here is that they will learn from their experience and move on to have a fine season.

I hope Buzz Lightyear has some big recruits coming because the they literally lose almost everything from experience. It's extremely rare for a recruiting class to have every member contribute and live up to expectations, but the senior class at Marquette most certainly has. The only potential problem I see is that the guy who recruited these guys is now a Hoosier.

We'll see how things play out for the rest of the year. Best of luck to both teams.

Mike said...

I have been surprised that Bo Ryan has found as many players as he has in Minnesota...this is still not that great of a basketball state (Wisconsin is better). But you are correct in that Tubby Smith will lock MN down the extent he recruits instate. Bo may have to pay more attention to Wisconsin so he doesn't keep losing the Jamil Wilsons, Korie Luciouses, and Jeronne Maymons of the world. I also think if Bo wants UW to reach the highest level, he needs to convince a blue-chipper or two to head to Madison. You don't find too many blue-chippers in Minnesota (or Wisconsin for that matter).

As for MU-UW, that is always a tough game for me. Being that I went to Minnesota, I don't have a dog in that fight anymore. I would go for Big Ten loyalty, but that's harder to do with an instate rivalry like MU-UW. It's just too bad UW doesn't have this in either football or hockey.