MADISON, Wis. When Cincinnati finally closed out Florida State in the NCAA tournament late Sunday night, the fervor over the fearsome college basketball foursome in Ohio kicked into high gear.
For the first time in Sweet 16 history, four programs from the same state Cincinnati, Xavier, Ohio and Ohio State all had advanced to the second weekend in the same NCAA tournament. Talk of the achievement has continued to permeate through national media outlets all week, but the recent performances of two teams from another Midwest state deserve equal consideration for their consistently impressive play.
That's because only the state of Wisconsin can lay claim to having the same two teams Wisconsin and Marquette in the Sweet 16 over the last two NCAA tournaments.
Think about that.
Not Duke and North Carolina the Blue Devils blew their shot in the first round this year against Lehigh.
Not Florida and Florida State the Seminoles couldn't get past Cincinnati in the round of 32 on Sunday.
Not Michigan and Michigan State, Kansas and Kansas State, Kentucky and Louisville, Baylor and Texas or Indiana and Butler.
And certainly not Xavier, Ohio or Cincinnati none of which joined Ohio State in the Sweet 16 last year.
What does this say about the state of college basketball in Wisconsin?
"Maybe it says there's some appeal in Wisconsin," Badgers point guard Jordan Taylor said. "Maybe good basketball players like to come to Wisconsin. Marquette obviously is a really good team. They've proved it all year long."
Both teams have proven it for longer than that.
Wisconsin and Marquette are a combined 100-40 over the past two seasons, and they've won when it matters most in postseason play. The Badgers and Golden Eagles can further add to their NCAA tournament success this week.
Fourth-seeded Wisconsin (26-9) takes on No. 1 Syracuse (33-2) at 6:15 p.m. CT Thursday in Boston. No. 3 Marquette (27-7) plays No. 7 Florida at 9:17 p.m. CT Thursday in Phoenix.
The Cheesehead State will certainly be tuned in to March Madness this week, as both vie for spots in the Final Four with two more victories.
"For pretty much anyone in Wisconsin, you're one or the other," said Badgers guard Josh Gasser, a Port Washington, Wis., native. "So it's good for Wisconsin basketball. Everyone gets into it in March. Even if you're not a huge fan of the regular season, once March comes along, you start to hop on the bandwagons a little bit. The fact that we're both playing is definitely good for the state."
Both programs have shown in recent years that they don't necessarily rely on homegrown talent to succeed.
Marquette's top two scorers this season are Jae Crowder, from Villa Rica, Ga., and Darius Johnson-Odom, from Raleigh, N.C. Crowder was named first-team All-Big East and the Big East player of the year, while Johnson-Odom also earned first-team all-conference honors.
Wisconsin's top two scorers, meanwhile, are Taylor (Bloomington, Minn.) and Ryan Evans (Phoenix, Ariz.). Taylor, a preseason All-American, was voted first-team All-Big Ten by the league's coaches, and Evans earned honorable mention status.
Badgers coach Bo Ryan hasn't spent much time paying attention to Marquette's NCAA tournament run, but he admits state success is good for national exposure.
"You always like first your conference is what you really want," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. "Our conference has done extremely well. The fact that there's teams from the state of Wisconsin isn't all bad. That's all good. But I can only coach one team."
Though the two schools aren't in the same conference, they do play an annual rivalry game, so players are familiar with members of the other team. This season, Marquette defeated Wisconsin 61-54 on Dec. 3 in Madison.
Since Wisconsin and Marquette are on opposite sides of the draw, the only way for the Badgers to settle the score would be for both teams to win three more games and meet for a national title.
"Obviously I know they're the arch rival," Taylor said, "but maybe we both get to the championship or something, and we get a chance to face them again."
Now that in-state achievement would certainly create quite a national buzz.
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