When it comes to intense, traditional rivalries, Marquette is certainly not lacking.
First and foremost is the rivalry with Wisconsin. That game, which has been played 114 times in the 101 years of Marquette basketball, pits the state’s largest public institution against its largest private school. It matches urban university against campus town, highly liberal against slightly conservative, Big Ten against Big East. It strains families and friendships. And it is certainly here to stay.
Marquette’s move to the Big East has strengthened its rivalries with two closely geographic Catholic schools, Notre Dame and DePaul. Marquette migrated from Conference USA with the latter, allowing it to again tangle with the former on a consistent basis. As long as high school seniors from Chicagoland continue to rank these schools one, two, and three on their applications lists, these I-94 rivalries will remain intense.
The Golden Eagles and their fans are certainly treated to a great deal of excitement whenever these contests roll around. The same can be said for a few of the other schools that traveled with them from the land of mid-majordom to the Big East, such as Louisville.
But a Page-Two article from ESPN.com several month’s back, which suggested that a developing rivalry between Marquette and one of the traditional Big East schools would be one of the storylines to watch for this season, got the staff at Marquettehoops thinking. Let it not be forgotten that Al McGuire himself was very close with many of the founders of the original Big East. We selected a few of the Big East’s traditional frontrunners and analyzed their chances of developing a long-term rivalry with the Golden Eagles.
One game does not a rivalry make. And despite the fact that Marquette and Syracuse both possess separately repleasant basketball histories, their history with each other amount to exactly that. One game, won by the Orange 70-58 behind 20 points from sophomore Eric Devendorf.
And while Devendorf’s shushing of the student section might have many Fanatics riled up, it will not become a rallying cry for bad blood for several reasons. First and foremost, Coach Tom Crean is not one single out one of his own players much less at a member of the opposition. Secondly, the gesture was not widely publicized by other means. Classes at Marquette were not in session, and the game was not seen on television outside both local markets.
“I think it’s going to be hard,” offered Mike Waters, an eighteen year veteran of Syracuse basketball for the Syracuse Post-Standard, on developing a rivalry between the two teams. “There’s no proximity, and no history between these teams before the Big East.”
Waters suggested that the likeliest flash-points for a rivalry between the Orange and the Golden Eagles would be repeatedly playing close, meaningful games in the Big East Tournament, or a pitched recruiting battle. The latter scenario seems more and more likely now that Marquette is consistently mining the New York area for talent.
Although Waters admits of MU’s most recent East Coast prospects, Lazar Hayward and David Cubillan, “[Syracuse coaches] knew about them, but didn’t pursue them.”
Simply put, the history-rich Orange have a bevy of historic and memorable East Coast rivalries as it is. And something pretty big would have to happen for them to add one from the Midwest.
University of Connecticut
If only there was even a single starter back from last years UConn team. Then they would remember last year’s embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Golden Eagles. They would remember Steve Novak draining three after three on his way to 41 points. They would remember being the top-ranked team in the nation and falling to an unranked team playing its first-ever game within a power conference.
But only Coach Jim Calhoun remains as a significant holdover from last season, and a would-be flash-point goes by the wayside.
Then perhaps ending the Huskies’ prolific 31 game home winning streak might get things going. Marquette accomplished exactly that this season, once again facing a more highly ranked Huskies team.
If Tom Crean and his terrific trio of guards were not such classy individuals, a cocky statement after that victory may have sparked a feud, just as it did when Georgetown won the final game in Syracuse’s old stadium and their coach famously remarked, as retold to us by Mike Waters, “Manley Field House is now closed.” That rivalry has scarcely cooled since.
These teams are still very young and very talented, so the potential for paralleled success in the league, leading to important meetings in the Big East season and postseason tournament, is certainly there. Excluding walk-ons Tommy Brice and Craig Kuphall, Marquette’s roster includes only three juniors and two seniors. And the top eight players in the Huskies’ rotation are either freshmen or sophomores, including leading scorer Jeff Adrien.
Jerel McNeal has consistently elevated his game against the Huskies, tallying 19 points in each game so far. And if Doug Wiggins were to repeat his January 10 performance, he may quickly become a thorn in the side of many Marquette fans.
Both schools celebrate their 125th anniversary this school year, but it is the youth of both teams that gives this one hope. A loss to the Huskies in the next meeting might serve to elevate things more quickly.
Outlook: wait and see
University of Pittsburgh
Coming off the Golden Eagles’ recent overtime victory in the Steel City, this series is currently the hot topic in many college basketball circles.
Out of all the other traditional Big East schools, Pittsburgh’s geography most closely favors a rivalry with Marquette. As a city, Pittsburgh is also much closer to Milwaukee in terms of its Midwestern, working-class demeanor.
The big spark here could be the Sweet-16 game of the 2003 NCAA tournament, in which Marquette beat Pitt on its way to a Final-Four berth. “You could cut the aggressiveness and tension in there with a knife,” said Crean of that game.
It could just as easily arise from the intense, physical nature of the three Big East games played since then. In last season’s 77-71 loss in the ‘Burgh, Dominic James was the recipient of a blow in the back on an attempted fast break. No foul was called on the play, and James was unable to return to the contest.
In Marquette’s thrilling 84-82 home victory in mid February James was guilty of a hard foul when he attempted to block a shot by Ronald Ramon and wound up wrapping an arm around Ramon’s face.
And the first installment of this year’s series was not without its scuffles. TV cameras captured an exchange of elbows between Pitt center Aaron Gray and Golden Eagles freshman David Cubillan.
And even without any extra-curriculars, this series produces the type of basketball that builds rivalries. Games are physical, with defense and play under the basket playing key roles. There are big-time shooting performances, and each team exerts stretches of dominance. Lastly and most importantly, each game goes right down to the wire.
“This series is turning into a rivalry because of the competitive nature of the games between the two teams,” said Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
These games also play to a great atmosphere because of the passion displayed by both schools’ student sections. The Zoo is legendary, and the Fanatics are no slouches, either.
According to Barker Davis of the Washington Times, “The Bradley Center is the second toughest, behind Pitt, in terms of places to play in the Big East.”
Before Marquette’s marquee win last week, the Golden Eagles had played the Panthers to a 3-3 all-time record. This will be the second year in a row that Marquette has played a home-and-home series with Jamie Dixon’s Panthers.
Not to be forgotten is the tremendous media coverage this match-up has received. The most recent game was a national telecast on CBS, and Marquette’s home finale against Pitt will again capture the national spotlight as the Bradley Center play host to ESPN College Gameday. Certainly the television outlets are hoping for a good game.
A rivalry with Pitt would take on added dimension for Crean. His wife, Joanie, attended Pitt, and the couple’s first daughter was born while Crean was an assistant at Pitt during the 1994-95 season.
These two teams rose to renewed prominence at very similar times and they continue to share paralleled success.
Outlook: on the verge of a full-blown feud
This potential rivalry is perhaps the dark horse candidate as far as most people are concerned, but many of the conditions are in place for it to take on many elements of the Marquette-DePaul series.
The Hoyas and the men ringing out ‘Ahoya’ played two hotly contested defensive games last season. The first a 57-51 home victory for Marquette, and the second a 62-59 round-two loss for the Golden Eagles in the Big East Tournament. That nail-biter in Madison Square Garden, in which Georgetown and Marquette traded runs of six or more in the final 5 minutes, knocked Marquette from the conference tournament after they had played their way to one of the four first-round byes.
The Hoya’s beat writer, Barker Davis of the Washington Times, spoke excitedly about a possible rivalry with Tom Crean’s crew. He cited the similarities between Georgetown and Marquette as institutions as the main spark to the rivalry. Both schools are midsized Jesuit institutions fixed in an urban setting. Neither school sponsors a football program, making hoops the main athletic draw. And both possess storied histories in that department.
“When you have similarity of schools a rivalry is almost instant,” he observed.
Davis pointed out that the similarities between the two schools, especially the Jesuit Catholic parallel, create a lot of alumni overlap. This fosters instant rivalry, as it always does with Marquette’s Lincoln Park rivals. Davis even cited a personal example of such a phenomenon.
“I went to Georgetown, and my aunt and uncle went to Marquette. For us it’s all about who beat who last.” And he added, “I’m not even Catholic.”
On the court both teams feature vastly different personnel and styles of play. Seven-footer Roy Hibbert is the latest in a storied line of centers to come out of Georgetown. He and his tree-trunk running mates feature an attack that stresses ball control and backdoor cuts.
On the other side, of course, is Dominic James. The dynamic sophomore leads a wide-open running attack that doesn’t count too much on its size. And James continues what has been a trend of excellent guard prospect during the Tom Crean era.
And just as Crean has espoused numerous times the amount of respect he holds for Jamie Dixon’s Panthers, there is a great deal of mutual admiration between these two teams as well.
The Hoyas and Golden Eagles will meet in the nation’s capital February 10.
Outlook: very likely in the near future
**Jeff Wolf is a freshman majoring in Advertising.