"When we beat the state schools," said then-junior Brian Butch after the Badgers went 3-0 against the state schools last season, "we take pride in being the top team in the state of Wisconsin."
The Badgers (6-1) look to add to their already impressive state history when they renew their annual I-94 in-state, civil-war rivalry as UW hosts No.11 Marquette (5-1) this Saturday in Madison.
In the last six seasons, the Badgers are 16-2 against Wisconsin teams (13-0 at home) and have won seven straight. In addition, UW has handled the Marquette series, winning seven of the last nine and the last two in the heated rivalry. Last season, Wisconsin, behind a 28-point performance from Alando Tucker, pulled away late to edge the host Golden Eagles by four.
"We kept feeding the ball to Tucker because he had the hot hand," Kammron Taylor said at the time. "Tucker was hot and he carried us."
After Tucker torched them for five-straight seasons, the Golden Eagles are probably thankful to not have to handle the All-American forward ever again.
At the same time, Marquette returns a potent offense from last season's squad that will surely test the Badgers, highlighted by a unit that lives or dies by the play of its guards.
"Look how much those teams have back. That could be considered a disadvantage (to us)," said Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan, who is replacing three starters from last season. "How do we make it an advantage? Play older at each position. We have some seniors but we need to play with more experience."
This game is important to Matthews, who is looking to avenge a horrendous afternoon the last time he returned to his hometown. In Marquette's 14-point loss two seasons ago, Matthews, who's father, Wesley Sr., lettered for the Badgers from 1978-80, shot just 2-for-12, scoring nine points in 32 minutes. Behind James and McNeal, however, the junior is only averaging nine points per contest and leads the team with 2.3 turnovers a game.
While the Badgers have the ability to go small with a three-guard lineup of Jason Bohannon, Trevon Hughes and Michael Flowers to counteract the Golden Eagles' backcourt of James, Matthews and McNeal, Wisconsin will adapt its lineup to the present situation.
"If you study our minutes, you can't say that we play big most of the time," Ryan said. "There are certain games where certain guys get more minutes depending on what's happening in the course of the game. If you look at a tape of any of our games and say we are playing big or small, what makes small small and what makes big big? We have parts that mix and mingle."
In addition to each team having talented guard play, both teams have only one loss on its résumé this season and ironically, both have come at the hands of Duke. While Wisconsin was shelled at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 27th, Marquette lost by four in the finals of the EA Sports Maui Invitational in Hawaii on Nov. 21.
Both teams have played just once between its loss to Duke and Saturday's game – Wisconsin beat Wofford 70-43 on Monday while Marquette beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee 100-65 last week Friday.
While it would seem obvious that the Badgers would look intently at the Duke game to see what worked and what failed, Ryan maintains that the learning experiences from Durham were equally important to any other game this season.
"We take stuff from the Savannah State experience (and) from every team we play," Ryan said. "We spent almost 45 minutes on the Wofford clips - things that were good and things that were not so good. Our guys have notes from every team we've played – exhibition or regular season."
With all the implications that surround this game – state bragging rights, recruiting battles, etc. – every season, Ryan gets up for this game just like any other game, although he knows the importance of coming out ready to compete, as slow starts have already cost his team once this season.
"We'll be as competitive for every game and that never changes," Ryan said. "What players do, I can't speak for them. But, I just want competitors that want to win even if they are in a gin rummy or cribbage game. If you're competitor, what difference does it make where you are or you are playing, you just want to beat the guy."
In his six games against Marquette, however, Ryan has beaten the other guy four times.
That makes a big difference to Badger fans.
No.11/15 Marquette (5-1) at No.23 Wisconsin (6-1)
Date/Time - Saturday, Dec. 8 at 5 p.m. CST
Arena – Kohl Center. (17,190)
Television - ESPN2 (Terry Gannon, Jay Bilas)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas)
Series – Wisconsin leads 62-51
Last Meeting – Wisconsin won 70-66 in Milwaukee
This will be the 114th meeting between Wisconsin and Marquette, making MU the Badgers'most-played non-conference rival
UW leads the all-time series 62-51, including 36-14 in Madison, and has won seven of the last nine meetings
The Badgers have not lost at home to Marquette since 1997, including going 3-0 under Ryan
Marquette coach Tom Crean is just 2-6 against Wisconsin
UW guard Michael Flowers and MU guard Wesley Matthews are both Madison natives
One or both teams have been ranked at the time of the game in eight of the last 10 seasons
The Badgers are 97-5 at the Kohl Center overall, including 28-straight wins, and 51-3 in non-conference games under Ryan. The Badgers have won 44 of their last 45 non-conference home games, including the last 17 in a row