By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Dec 10, 2006 at 5:27 AM
There was a lot of hype. There was a lot of hoopla, and a lot of talk, too. Just for good measure, there was also great deal of hatred. In the end, though, there was a pretty decent basketball game.

It was hype that Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan didn’t mind too much.

“How else do you get Bill Rafferty to spend money in the downtown establishments?” Ryan quipped.

The often stoic Ryan was able to let his funny bone out for a moment thanks to the Badgers’ 70-66 victory over Marquette Saturday at the Bradley Center, a game that represented one of the all-too-rare moments that a game actually lives up to its advance billing.

It was a solid performance by the Badgers, though it was on the ugly side with 44% combined shooting. The Badgers missed half of their 18 free throws, Marquette was 3 for 18 from beyond the arc. Still, despite the mistakes and a lack of flow, the game seemed to live up to the hype leading into it.

Only twice before had both teams entered the game in the national rankings, but never before had either team been ranked higher coming in. Only once before had a national television audience been invited to the UW Field House, the Milwaukee Arena, the Kohl Center or the Bradley Center.

Saturday afternoon, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Badgers and Marquette were big time.

It’s always been a big deal when the Badgers meet the Warriors / Golden Eagles; but it wasn’t until recently that the game actually meant something again in the grander scheme of things.

In the early 1990s, Kevin O’Neill began the process of turning Marquette into a national power again. He alienated many fans at the time by putting a greater importance on the conference schedule than the traditional rivalry.

At the time, it was the right thing to do. The rivalry would survive, but without a conference affiliation, Marquette might have been in trouble. Now, nearly two decades later, the Golden Eagles are among the nation’s elite programs, claim one of the best players in the NBA as an alumnus and were able to hang a Final Four banner.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, seemed to always be on the short end of the stick when Al McGuire was roaming the then-Warriors’ sideline. The Badgers suffered through a pretty hefty drought, missing every NCAA Tournament between 1947 and 1993.

Stu Jackson got the ball rolling and things in Madison got rosy when Dick Bennett took the most unlikely group to the Final Four. Enter Bo Ryan, who took Bennett’s defensive-minded recruits and taught them how to score in the swing offense.

Two Big Ten Conference championships, a Big Ten Tournament Title and trips to the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight have made Ryan and the Badgers one of the more dangerous teams in the Big Ten.

It wasn’t that long ago that the college hoops landscape in these parts was bleak. If you were watching the game Saturday, you had to sit back for a second and enjoy it, regardless of the scoreboard.

Whether your sweatshirt was red or gold, you had to love the atmosphere at the Bradley Center. The full house was loud, into the game and provided a great setting for ESPN2’s national broadcast – one in which Rafferty, Sean McDonough, and Jay Bilas raved about the success and talent levels of both programs.

Ryan was looking at the bigger picture.

“Wisconsin’s got some pretty good basketball,” Ryan said – referring to his residence and not his employer. “The high schools and the AAU programs have improved so much.

“We have players being recruited nationally; these two teams have players from in the state. The other D-I schools have players from the state.”

Without a doubt, it was one of the more intense games in a series that has seen 113 venom-filled episodes. A record 19,020 fans – the biggest crowd to ever watch a college game in Wisconsin – was on hand to see it. Rarely has the Bradley Center been louder.

And maybe now, people can look at the state of Wisconsin as being inhabited by legitimate sports fans; not drunken, blaze orange-clad folks that talk like hicks while sitting in the cold of Lambeau Field. Not all of us are bumpkins from “Up Nort”.

Sure, Wisconsin may produce great football linemen, but it also produces big time athletes like Michael Flowers and Wesley Matthews. The Badgers guard and Marquette forward both hail from Madison.

College basketball is putting Wisconsin on the map.

To have Saturday’s contest mentioned in the same breath as Cincinnati-Xavier, Kentucky-Louisville, and Memphis-Tennessee is just another sign that success has found a home on the hardwood in Wisconsin.


Are there any two coaches in basketball that have, shall we say, more spirited “discussions” with the officials than Ryan and Crean? During a pivotal stretch late in the first half, both coaches engaged in debates with the crew of Tim Higgins, Ted Hillary, and Ed Hightower (officials, incidentally, from the Big Ten Conference). If the coaching thing doesn’t work, it would be easy to imagine these guys working a jury over.

Scheduling in college basketball is always a difficult thing, especially considering the length of the conference seasons; but it’s too bad that this game can’t be played on the same weekend every year. For a few years in the late 1980s, early 1990s, the game was played on or around New Year’s Eve. A traditional date would make for a little more excitement.

Tere was a definite buzz in the streets of downtown Milwaukee Friday night and Saturday morning. While there are a lot of UW alums in the area, one has to wonder just how crazy things will get around Water Street when Marquette and Milwaukee tip off next season.

Crean tends to play the diplomatic role before big games, but it’s no secret he wants to win. A lot is made about the fact that Ryan and Crean don’t spend a lot of time in the off-season fishing. Dominic James told’s Andy Katz that as intense as Crean is, he’s more so for the Eagles’ annual date with Wisconsin. Considering Crean’s 2-7 record against the Badgers, it’s easy to understand why.

Speaking of records, sophomore point guard James and his cohorts Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews are now 0-2 against the Badgers.