On Saturday, Big East basketball fans (and specifically Marquette fans and Villanova ans) were dealt a bit of a body blow when Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes scored with 12 seconds left and Villanova’s Josh Hart turned it over on the ensuing possession. This was the finale of #1 seeded Villanova’s loss to the #8 seeded Badgers, sending the #1 overall seed in the tournament and the Big East’s regular season and tournament champion to an early exit in the NCAA tournament.
Kind of sucks, to be honest, on a lot of levels.
But, in a way, it makes perfect sense.
It’s just another page in the story that World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman Vince McMahon is telling. It’s all just one more step on the road to the final destination of a high stakes showdown that Mr. McMahon is booking between Marquette and Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament.
Don’t believe me? Check this out.
In Buzz Williams’ final season as head coach of the Golden Eagles, the team struggled to a 17-15 record and is left out of both the NCAA tournament and the NIT. Eight days after Xavier knocked Marquette out of the Big East tournament in the quarterfinals, Williams bugged out to Virginia Tech.
Meanwhile, in Madison, Wisconsin had already won their first round game by the time the news broke about Williams jetting to Blacksburg. While Marquette fans were dealing with the upheaval of a coaching search seemingly coming out of nowhere, the Badger faithful were cheering on their squad to their first Final Four appearance since 2000 and just the second since World War II.
One year later, the hits just kept coming for Marquette fans as the Badgers went one step further, advancing to the national championship game of the NCAA tournament before losing to Duke while the Golden Eagles, now coached by Steve Wojciechowski, struggled through their worst season in more than two decades. As if MU struggling through the worst back to back seasons in the lifetimes of the current student body wasn’t bad enough, the Badgers having the two best consecutive seasons in program history at the same time was just a real kick in the head.
Things started turning around for Marquette both on the court and in their rivalry with the Badgers. Bo Ryan quit his job after sticking around long enough to go out on a high note after the Golden Eagles got Steve Wojciechowski his first career win in the Kohl Center in December. The Henry Ellenson led Marquette squad finished with 20 wins on the year, but yet again, were left out of the NCAA tournament and the NIT.
The Badgers were left for dead after going 2-4 in Greg Gard’s first six games as interim head coach, they pulled out of their nose dive. Wisconsin won 11 of their final 13 regular season games and ended up with a seven seed in the NCAA tournament, and that’s when the story started turning towards a Marquette/Wisconsin showdown. In the second round of the tournament, the Badgers squared off with Xavier, Marquette’s partner in the Big East. It seemed like the Musketeers, a team that was ranked in the top 10 for most of the season, were about to snag a Sweet 16 berth, but Bronson Koenig hit two three-pointers in the final 15 seconds, including one of the crazier three-pointers that you’ll ever see to beat Xavier at the buzzer and cost the Big East at least one share of the NCAA tournament money pie.
Marquette made it back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four seasons to start the path to destiny from their side of things. Wisconsin followed up 2016’s last second victory over a Big East foe in the second round of the NCAA tournament by doing it yet again in the previously discussed defeat of Villanova.
Do you see the threads all coming together? Do you see how all the puzzle pieces are fitting into a picture of a perfect landscape?
Coming out of the two worst years in recent memory of Marquette basketball and the two best years maybe ever of Wisconsin basketball, it seems like the Badgers have started taking Marquette’s resurgence personally. They’re starting to end the seasons of MU’s conference partners, and this is quite literally costing the Golden Eagles money. Someone is going to have to stop the Badgers from bullying the Big East over and over like this. Someone is going to have to play the plucky hero squaring off against the black hatted Badgers, and that someone is going to be Marquette.
It’s not going to be next year. No, this story, straight out of Vince McMahon’s playbook, needs one more chapter to make the stakes just a little bit higher. Just watch, next year Wisconsin is going to end up knocking out one more Big East team from the NCAA tournament. Maybe it’s Butler, maybe it’s Providence, perhaps it’s Creighton? Who knows. Maybe it will be in the second round yet again, maybe the Badgers knock down a squad in the Sweet 16 to add a little bit of flavor to things. After making it back to the Big Dance this season, Marquette should be a team that’s in the mix again next year. The goal should be to get at least one win in the Big Dance, and if Mr. McMahon is planning this out just right, it might even be against a team from the Big Ten just to send a shot across Wisconsin’s bow.
That sets up some kind of clash in 2019. It’s going to have to be a game with some kind of stakes. The national championship game almost seems a little too much, and the Final Four games would almost seem a little anti-climactic since the winner would care much more about what happens on the following Monday. No, I think the perfect spot for this titanic bout would be the Elite Eight two years from now.
Marquette. Wisconsin. A renewal of a more than 100 year old rivalry. The 126th meeting between the two teams, and the first ever game contested in the NCAA tournament. A trip to the Final Four on the line. The Golden Eagles, seeking revenge for their fallen conference partners and looking to make a statement about where the program is headed under Wojciechowski. The Badgers, looking for their third Final Four of the decade and ready to declare their dominance over the landscape of college basketball. It’s such a perfect story, isn’t it?
The best part about it? As the plucky hero of the story, Marquette has to be the team that goes over and gets the win at the end.