When Wisconsin (6-1) hosts Marquette (6-1) Saturday (1 p.m., ESPN) it will mark the conclusion of the Badgers' three consecutive matchups with the rest of the state's Division I men's basketball programs. After wins against UW-Green Bay and UW-Milwaukee last week, the Badgers can complete a sweep Saturday. Wisconsin's players, though, will not indulge in any in-state rivalry hype.
"We are just taking it as another game at this point," forward Mike Wilkinson said. "There is no reason to make them like a special team or anything. Sure, we know people on the team but if you don't prepare for them like they are just another game and you change the way you're preparing it may mess you up."
The Golden Eagles and Badgers are rated in both the Associated Press poll (No. 23/No. 22) and the coaches poll (No. 21/No. 19), only the second time that each team is ranked at the time of the game in the 110-game history of the matchup. Wisconsin won the other such contest, 71-52, in 1994.
As Wilkinson alluded to, the teams are quite familiar with each other, not only from intercollegiate matchups but from playing with and against each other in high school. The Badgers have four players—guards Devin Harris, Freddie Owens and Boo Wade and forward Ray Nixon—who hail from Milwaukee. Harris' prep teammate from Wauwatosa East, Scott Merritt, plays for Marquette.
"They are always intense games and that's the kind of games you want to have in the non-conference season to get ready for the conference season," Harris said.
Yet through the course of the Badgers' intrastate run, time and again the team has reiterated that the games are treated like any other.
"We don't have a different approach, we are just trying to do the same stuff that we have done for every other game and be prepared for them," guard Clayton Hanson said.
This is not mere words. The only thing different about Wisconsin's practices week by week is what color jersey the scout team is wearing and what system it is impersonating. The Badgers prepare with a remarkably even keeled intensity.
For coach Bo Ryan, the treat-every-game-the-same attitude stems from a disappointing eight-year old Little League season.
"One time in my life did I ever go over a schedule and do a prediction thing with a buddy," Ryan said. "We were so far off on that thing that from that day on I never said I would look at a schedule and ever think, ‘well we're going to get this one and I know we've got them and ooh this one right here.' What happens is at eight you get all wired for the team that you think is really good and you end up not playing as well…then now as a I grew older I watched other teams do this and it hurt them and it helped the team's I was on. So I always said, there will never be any change in what I do from game-to-game as a player or as a coach."
And that Little League team?
"That was the only year we didn't win the championship," Ryan said. "We lost when we were eight years old and we won it when we were nine, 10, 11 and 12."