Men's basketball

On and off the court, connections run deep in Wisconsin-Marquette rivalry

Sophomore guard Kobe King was one of several Wisconsin players heavily recruited by Marquette coming out of high school, but stayed committed to the Badgers.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

The long-running rivalry between Wisconsin and Marquette is ever-present in America’s Dairyland. It has caused friendships to fracture. Parents and siblings root for the younger members of the family to spurn one university or the other; sometimes they even watch, with feigned horror, as their loved ones make the “wrong” choice. People in (slightly) long-distance relationships are forced to weather the tensions that accompany these divided loyalties.

Once a year, the Badgers and Golden Eagles hit the hardwood to settle the debate for a matchup in which the stakes could not be higher.

After one of the best starts in recent memory, the No. 12 Badgers (2-0 Big Ten, 8-1 overall) will face a Marquette (0-0 Big East, 7-2 overall) team always eager to best their in-state rival. Though the game will likely have little impact on each program’s ultimate missions this year, both teams have enjoyed success early on in the campaign and will be keen on keeping momentum.

“It’s an in-state game, it’s important for the state,” head coach Greg Gard noted after the Badgers’ 69-64 victory over Rutgers Monday.

In-state bragging rights is not the only thing that will be on the teams’ minds. Even for those partaking in the rivalry for the first time, this game will have a familiar feel. As the two premier programs in Wisconsin, these teams are inextricably intertwined. Personal histories abound between them, dating back to high school and travel-team rivalries and fiercely-contested recruiting battles.

Eleven Badgers hail from Wisconsin, Minnesota or Illinois; nine Golden Eagles can say the same. Naturally, these players and coaches have experience playing with and against one another. Playing for high schools in De Pere, La Crosse, Neenah, Minneapolis, Chicago and elsewhere, they crossed paths in conference play, state tournaments, travel-team circuits and regional talent camps.

The most obvious link is redshirt sophomore guard Trevor Anderson. He played for Stevens Point Area Senior High, as did Marquette junior Sam Hauser and his younger brother Joey, a freshman for the Golden Eagles. Upon announcing his transfer to Wisconsin, Anderson tried recruiting Joey to come to the Badgers. The fraternal connection between the two was too strong, however, as the younger Hauser committed to Marquette in July 2017.

Players on each team were recruited at varying degrees of intensity by the opposing staffs. Redshirt freshman Kobe King, who missed much of last year to injury, had a prolific high school career. Named Wisconsin’s Mr. Basketball, Gatorade Player of the Year and AP Player of the Year, King was heavily recruited by the Golden Eagles, but stuck with the Badgers. Redshirt junior Brevin Pritzl, who graduated from De Pere in 2015, also held an offer from the in-state rival, as did sophomore forward Nate Reuvers, who originally hails from Minnesota.

The same is true of some Marquette players. In addition to the Hausers, the Badgers showed some interest in junior guard Sacar Anim, senior center Matt Heldt, sophomore forward Theo John, junior forward Ed Morrow and junior guard Markus Howard.

The Badgers have had a hectic November schedule—Tuesday was their first day off in quite a while, Gard noted on Monday night. When asked about the Marquette game, he admitted, “Honestly, I haven’t watched a whole lot of them. I’ve seen bits and pieces when they’ve been on.”

Immediately thereafter, however, he rattled off many players’ names. “I know the guys, Howard and the Hausers, Matt Heldt, I could go on and on. Sac Anim. Probably could name most of their roster because I know those guys.”

Gard was the lead recruiter for most of these players, and built up personal relationships with them over their high school years.

In the end, Saturday’s tilt will not likely be a make-or-break game for either team. After the final buzzer sounds, both squads will move on, eventually entering (or re-entering, in Wisconsin’s case) conference play, when wins and losses carry much more weight. Yet the relationships and rivalries, steeped in a history of competition, will persist. 

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