A year before their historic march to the 2003 Final Four, a young but very talented MU squad traveled to Madison to play the Badgers. On paper, the two teams had no business being on the same floor. Marquette was 10-0 coming off of their Great Alaskan Shootout Championship and ranked 14th in the country, while the Badgers were a lowly 4-6, unranked and looking for an identity.
What ensued would only perplex those not closely affiliated with the rivalry. The Badgers jumped out in with a quick start on offense, led almost the whole way, and ended up winning by double digits. There were few things for Marquette fans to cheer about, as the Golden Eagles seemed to be in foul trouble before they got off the bus and the Badgers couldn't – and wouldn't – miss from the field. The only bright spot in the game for MU came midway through the second half when Dwayne Wade stole a pass and flushed it on the other end to tie the game. However, Kirk Penney's game-high 33 points helped Wisconsin pull away down the stretch for a 73-86 victory.
I was in seventh grade at the time, but that game serves as a recurring memory whenever I think of this series. While my father has a more pleasant Marquette-Wisconsin memory – Maurice Lucas capping a ridiculous comeback with a turnaround jumper at the buzzer to beat the Badgers 59-58 in February of 1974 – I believe my memory truly gets at the heart of this rivalry, showing how competitive and meaningful it truly is to both schools, no matter the circumstances.
This rivalry has never failed to be great in the state of Wisconsin because it continually pits polar opposites on each side that people either love or hate. It's the little Catholic school from the city versus the big state school from the capital. Flamboyance and finesse versus power and control. Gold versus red and, for some people, right versus wrong. It's Marquette-Wisconsin, an emotional rivalry for all those involved.
To date, Marquette trails Wisconsin in the all-time series, 52-62, but for the most part this rivalry has had a tendency to see-saw back and forth with no side dominating the other for too long. There have been exceptions though, as Marquette rattled off fifteen straight against Wisconsin in the 1970's under Al McGuire and Wisconsin took seven in a row during the late 1940's and early 1950's. Recent history would tend to favor the home team, as seven in a row were won by the host from 1999-2005. However, in the past two seasons the visitor has emerged victorious, so who knows what trend this series will take next.
When Marquette (6-1) and Wisconsin (6-1) meet this Saturday for the 115th time, you can be sure of one thing – much will be at stake. While nationally this game will be seen as two teams looking for a quality non-conference win, the state of Wisconsin knows better. The winner gets more than a non-conference victory. Bragging rights for players, fans, alumni, and students is on the line, and, even more importantly, so is an edge in intrastate recruiting. Considering how hard each school recruits the state of Wisconsin and the impacts that players like Wisconsin's Marcus Landry (Milwaukee Vincent H.S.) and Marquette's Wesley Matthews (Madison Memorial H.S.) have made, there is no telling how important a win could be for the future success of each program.
All signs leading into this game would point to a win for the Badgers. Wisconsin has a decided size advantage, a deeper bench, and motivation from having their 28-game home winning streak snapped by Marquette last year. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles continue to battle key injuries and are coming off of a disheartening loss to Dayton in the Chicago Invitational final. The team that wins Saturday night will undoubtedly be the side comes in with the most desire and makes the fewest mistakes.
However, one can never be too fact-oriented when looking at a Marquette-Wisconsin game as, more often than not, the only thing predictable about this series is an utter lack of predictability.
Nick Chmurski is a sophomore majoring in finance.