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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 22, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Ben Brust and the Wisconsin Badgers are one of the top basketball teams in the country? Do they get any love in Milwaukee? (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Do the Badgers get any love in Milwaukee?


Sitting in the OnMilwaukee.com offices a few days ago, a couple of us were talking about the state of basketball in Milwaukee. Everyone kind of squirmed a bit – it's not going all that well.

  • The one pro franchise, the Milwaukee Bucks, are slip-sliding their way to the top of the NBA Draft lottery. While some fans are excited about this, it's an empty optimism – no one is really attending the games and the buzz around rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn't been enough to bring in casual fans (yet).
  • The BMO Harris Bradley Center's other tenant, the Marquette University Golden Eagles, are struggling along at a few games over .500. It's unlike the last couple years where this team made deep NCAA Tournament runs, and while I think – in the end – Buzz Williams will get things straightened out, they are running out of games to do so.
  • The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers are a great story so far, sitting at 12-6 overall and in the top half of the Horizon League standings. But while they're a feel good story at this point, the lack of signature victories have kept them from really capturing the imagination of the locals.

Then someone mentioned the Wisconsin Badgers.

They are, after all, undefeated and the No. 3 team in the country.

My immediate response was "no one cares about Badgers basketball in Milwaukee."

Some disagreed, others agreed.

I get Badgers football – they're the only Division I program in the state – but Milwaukee has two Division I programs of its own and the state's NBA franchise (not to mention the high school programs that have devoted followings).

I know there is a huge Bucky alumni base in the Cream City – just like there are all over the country – but I just don't feel a buzz about this team.

Not that Twitter and sports talk radio is a scientific gauge of fan interest, but it feels like the Badgers basketball conversation is forced, and it quickly goes away once the Packers, Brewers and even the Bucks are brought up.

This isn't to say there isn't a passionate base here that hits the bars and drives to Madison. Not at all. But on the whole, I just don't think the Badgers resonate within the Cream City's boundaries.

And, specifically, I don't think this undefeated team has captured the imagination of anyone.

Perhaps they're paying the price for all of the 20-win, Big Ten championship-contending teams over the last few decades that can't seem to advance to the Elite Eight – let alone the Final Four.

Here's a rundown of the Badgers' tournament results over the last decade:
2013 – Second round*
2012 – Sweet 16
2011 – Sweet 16
2010 – Second round
2009 – Second round
2008 – Sweet 16
2007 – Second round
2006 – First round
2005 – Elite Eight
2004 – Second Round
*The NCAA now calls its play-in games the first round, so while the Badgers technically were in the second round last year, they did not win a game in the tournament.

It's nice to be in the tournament and all, but 2005 was a long time ago. The 2000 Final Four run seems like a lifetime ago, too. In fact, those are the only two times the program has advanced to the Elite Eight outside of the 1941 national championship season.

Consider that in that same 10-year span, the two Milwaukee-based programs have made it as far as the second round three times, the Sweet 16 three times and the Elite Eight once. It's essentially the same record.

Perhaps I'm clouded by the lack of national love tossed at Bucky's direction. I don't hear Bo Ryan's crew talked about as a potential national champion, or even Big Ten champion. Perhaps it is because, if you toss in the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, basketball allegiances across the state are split.

Undefeated teams at the Division I level, let alone in a conference like the Big Ten, at this point in the season is a rare thing. It means this group is really, really good. But for whatever reason, it seems like they're an afterthought in the state's biggest city.

Talkbacks

buck | Jan. 15, 2014 at 12:35 p.m. (report)

MU rarely fills the Bradley Center. They do when the play UW, and a couple of big conference matchups. That's it.

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Photodavie | Jan. 15, 2014 at 7:33 a.m. (report)

I think there is a misunderstanding when people say there are a lot of Badger fans in MKE. Those fans are 90% into football, only 10% into basketball. With Marquette playing locally, they fill the Bradley center and get a lot of MKE support for a private school. Also with no football team at MU, I know many MU basketball fans that cheer for Badger football and even go to the games at Camp Randall.

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buck | Jan. 14, 2014 at 8:27 p.m. (report)

Jim, I know you are new to the area, but you couldn't be more wrong. UW is the college team in Milwaukee. More fans of UW here than MU. And there has been lots of local/nat'l chatter about this team. Not sure where you've been looking.

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Badger Fan | Jan. 14, 2014 at 2:29 p.m. (report)

Bter Marquette fan/alumni? Couldn't get into UW-Madison? I suppose I would understand if that were the case for me too. It's actually pretty funny to hear you discuss UW-Milwaukee as a serious basketball program and claim that the UW-Green Bay team has as many fans as the Badgers. Maybe they aren't the best in the nation, but they are a whole lot better than any other college team in the state. I would think that would be reason enough for you to get behind them. Other areas of the country only know of and care about one school in this state- UW-Madison, and there is a reason for that.

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Photodavie | Jan. 14, 2014 at 1:42 p.m. (report)

Being an MU fan, I would never cheer for the Badgers (openly). However, it's hard to deny they have a quality program, and this year they are taking it up a level. I also think they have the respect of the league with their #3 ranking in recent polls. Although they are not my team, I'm still proud they represent Wisconsin.

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