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Some rivalries headed in opposite directions

Washington is checking out of its rivalry series with Gonzaga after this weekend in Spokane, at least for the foreseeable future.

The reason has something to do with a change in the scheduling philosophy, going a bit more national and not overloading the schedule.

OK, that's the Huskies' choice. Because Gonzaga routinely puts together a national slate prior to and during the WCC season, it's not going to beg for the game's return.

Still, the end of this rivalry game, easily one of the most intense nonconference games on either schedule -- and arguably as feisty a game as any in their respective conferences -- is a shame.

There was an edge to this thing. Maybe it had to do with Gonzaga's rise to power and the interest garnered in Seattle. Perhaps there was still some residual effect from the UW coaching staff related to Gonzaga (along with Washington State and Eastern Washington) having a role in talking to the NCAA about a Huskies recruiting violation.

Still, there was something to it. That's not always the case, not as much with most of these rivalries. Some have had that edge in the past, especially the ones in the West such as BYU and Utah State or Utah and Utah State, as neither of the more recognizable schools had an easy go when they had to play in Logan.

There has never been a villain in one of these rivalries quite like former New Mexico State coach Neil McCarthy, who would provoke the New Mexico crowd at the Pit in the early '90s. These two schools still play home-and-home in the same season, and those games are two of the toughest on their schedules.


That brings us to one of the best, most intense and historic rivalries of this kind: Marquette and Wisconsin.

The two schools, the two anchor Division I schools in the state, are playing for the 113th time Saturday in Milwaukee (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET). Since 2000, both teams have been in the Final Four (the Badgers' trip was coached by Dick Bennett, but current coach Bo Ryan took the Badgers to the Elite Eight in 2005).

When the No. 12 Badgers face the No. 20 Golden Eagles at the Bradley Center on Saturday, it will mark the first time that both teams are ranked in the AP top 20 at the time of the game.

And while there is a genuine respect between the two schools, there is an underbelly of heat in this game that isn't rivaled for either team throughout the season.

They can talk all they want about big games in the Big East or Big Ten. But this game has a rougher edge to it than any of the conference games, mostly because they know it's coming every year either in Madison or Milwaukee. The respective conference schedules rotate and there is a chance that a certain team may not come calling, or even become a no-play situation in the Big East (at least before the schedule changes next season when everyone will play each other at least once).

The two schools compete for attention in Milwaukee, with Wisconsin dominating in Madison. Milwaukee is a Marquette town but there are plenty of Badger alumni in the city, too. And it's healthy that the two coaches aren't exactly vacationing together. They don't have to be best friends. And they're not. But Marquette's Tom Crean and Wisconsin's Ryan are about as intense a pair of competitors as you'll find in the sport.

One Division I head coach with strong ties to the state said, "It's very competitive between the two, and there is no love lost. It's not nasty, but it's very intense."

How they would describe their relationship?

Ryan said this game is like every other game, it's always a competitive matchup, no difference (translation: he doesn't want to dissect the relationship).

Crean said, "I respect him. I would think we share a love for basketball and for coaching it. I have respect for him and his staff and what [assistant coach] Gary Close has brought to the program. I have an incredible appreciation for what they do on the football side and hockey. You can't live in this state and not appreciate what goes on at the University of Wisconsin."

Ryan won't say much about the competition between the two. Crean said they recruit against each other only for in-state talent, rarely for out-of-state players.

"I know that the two of them are very competitive coaches, and with that you can have clashes," Wisconsin senior Alando Tucker said. "Both are real intense and that's the way their teams play. Once they meet, they've got their game faces on."

Tucker visited both schools but chose Wisconsin because of the big-time atmosphere with football and everything else at a major state university. Marquette sophomore guard Wes Matthews, whose father played at Wisconsin, went with the Golden Eagles.

"Coach takes this game personal," Matthews said. "It's a rivalry that hits home. Everybody in the Marquette community looks forward to this game and [Crean] tries to show us the magnitude of the game."

Matthews said his parents will be cheering for the Golden Eagles. It doesn't matter that his father was a stud for the Badgers.

"It's a huge game, huge," Matthews said. "You have big games and you have huge games. That's what this is. The Marquette-Wisconsin rivalry has been going on for years and there has never been a shortage of great atmospheres."

Another Marquette sophomore guard, Dominic James, said Crean's demeanor changed this week.

"He's always intense, but imagine it two times worse than that," James said of Crean. "He really wants to win.

"He wants everything to be perfect and he's making sure we're all set on preparation," James said. "There's more detail. He's always big on it, but he just wants to make sure we're ready to go."

James said as soon as the Golden Eagles returned from beating Duke at the CBE Classic in Kansas City last month, a student came up to him and talked about beating Wisconsin.

"It's the talk of the campus," James said. "It's equivalent to a big Big East game, and even though we've developed rivalries with Pitt and DePaul and Notre Dame, this is a great game that we're all looking forward to, one that is a great prep for the conference."

James grew up in Indiana and has an appreciation for in-state rivalries, but he wasn't caught up in this rivalry until he got to Milwaukee. Now he's hooked.

So, too, is everyone on both squads.

"It's two very intense coaches going against each other who love the game, love to win and expect the most out of their players," Wisconsin point guard Kammron Taylor said. "They don't back down from anything. People say there was something with [Michigan State] coach [Tom] Izzo and coach Ryan, but they're also two great coaches who like to win."

Added Taylor: "This rivalry is healthy and brings a lot of exposure to the state of Wisconsin, and everyone is now recognizing that we're a basketball state."

By the way, so too, is Washington. It's too bad that the Huskies don't see the need to continue their fling with the Zags next season. That, too, would continue to draw attention to basketball in the state for one night, just like Saturday in Wisconsin will be all about hoops and who will get to brag until the next meeting.

As conferences expand and rivalries get diluted, these in-state affairs are part of the fabric of the game that shouldn't go unnoticed, let alone ever be dissolved.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.