A Rivalry Worth Watching

March Madness will always steal the show as college sports' most anticipated event of the year. Whether you are secretary highlighting 13/4 seeded upsets in your office pool or the game's most avid fan, the culmination of the college basketball season can rouse almost anyone with a pulse. But the field of 65 isn't the only exciting thing about college basketball.

March Madness will always steal the show as college sports' most anticipated event of the year. Whether you are secretary highlighting 13/4 seeded upsets in your office pool or the game's most avid fan, the culmination of the college basketball season can rouse almost anyone with a pulse. But the field of 65 isn't the only exciting thing about college basketball.

Travel the nine miles down Tobacco Road that separates Duke and North Carolina on game day. Have a drink at a local saloon in Lexington, Kentucky when the Wildcats hook up with Louisville. Listen to what the Bloomington folk talk about when Purdue comes to town. College basketball rivalries like these are what the game is all about. These rivalries have been well publicized by the media and can explode when both teams are playing well coming into these games. The national news crews aren't parading down I-94 this weekend, but that doesn't mean there isn't a big game. Try telling Marquette and Wisconsin that Saturday's tilt doesn't mean anything.

Come noon on that day, Marquette and Wisconsin will tip off their 112th game all time. Marquette has won just 51 of those games, but has won two of the last three meetings. Things seem to be a little tighter in both camps this week, as this rivalry has really intensified in the last few years. One reason why this rivalry has gained so much steam is simply because both programs are at high levels right now. Wisconsin is coming off an Elite 8 appearance and has reestablished itself as one of the top programs in the Big Ten after a dismal drought of forty seven years without a tournament appearance. Marquette is just two years removed from a Final Four and recently moved into the Big East, a conference many consider to be the best all time.

Some might also suggest that the unspoken rivalry between MU head Coach Tom Crean and UW coach Bo Ryan has added fuel to the fire. Just this week, Bo Ryan jabbed at Crean and the fact that Marquette hasn't scheduled a game with the school they share a city with, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in many years.

"I think it says a lot about our school that we are willing to play all the other schools in the state," said Ryan in reference to his own team scheduling UWM already defeating UW Green Bay this season. "I think these games are bonuses in promoting basketball." Ryan also went on to say that he doesn't talk to Crean that much, save a few media events, and that he wished Marquette would have played UWM more when Ryan coached there in 1999 and 2000.

Crean, on the other hand, has kept a quiet confidence about him heading into this weekend. His young Golden Eagles squad has already opened eyes this year at 6-2 with a Great Alaskan Shootout Championship already on the team's resume.

"We know that a lot of people have their eyes on this game," remarked Crean. "Our guys feel fortunate to be a part of a game that has such magnitude in this state." Crean's strategy this week is-the less said, the better. "We have a lot of respect for Wisconsin. They have a very strong maturity about them, the way they play. There just aren't a lot of weaknesses and there never really are in Wisconsin teams."

Personal issues aside, one could also point to recruiting as a large reason why these schools are so competitive. In the recent few years, Marquette and Wisconsin have established a lock down on the state's top recruits. Ryan and Crean have been able to keep home grown talent in Wisconsin. Both schools seem to be involved with any big name player. Most recently, Ryan plucked PF Marcus Landry from Milwaukee's Vincent High School while Crean went and got SF Wes Matthews from Madison's Memorial High. Next years big showdown will be for 6-8 PF Keaton Nankivil who also goes to Memorial High School.

This is why they play the games. Saturday's contest will again determine bragging rights for a year and add another chapter to a story book that is growing quite long between these two schools. While casual fans elsewhere may just notice the score flashing on a ticker somewhere, the State of Wisconsin stands vigilant for Saturday morning's showdown between Marquette and Wisconsin.


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