[media-credit name=’JEFF SCHORFHEIDE/Herald photo)’ align=’alignright’ width=’336′][/media-credit]For University of Wisconsin junior guard Michael Flowers, No. 11 Wisconsin's (8-1, 0-0 Big Ten) game at No. 17 Marquette (9-1, 0-0 Big East) is more than just the annual in-state rivalry.
Flowers, a graduate of Madison La Follette, will be going head-to-head against his high school rival in Wesley Matthews, who went to Madison Memorial and is currently a starting guard for the Golden Eagles.
"We kind of built that rivalry of Madison Memorial versus La Follette," Flowers said. "It goes way back, and it's nothing but respect [between] me and Matthews."
Many thought Matthews spurned UW when he decided to attend Marquette two years ago, not only because he is a Madison native, but also considering his family ties to UW.
Matthews' mother, Pam Moore, competed in both track and basketball at Wisconsin, while his father, Wes Matthews, was a standout guard for the Badgers from 1977 to 1980 and went on to play nine seasons in the NBA.
Nevertheless, Matthews is settling in at Marquette during his sophomore campaign this season, averaging 12.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game through the Golden Eagles' first 10 games.
But it's Matthews' backcourt mate, sophomore Dominic James, who the Badgers will have to look out for.
James, a preseason All-American candidate and last season's Big East Rookie of the Year, leads Marquette with 17 points and 4.2 assists per game.
And while Flowers may be matched up against Matthews to start the game, his defensive assignment may shift to James depending on how things shape out.
"[I'll be guarding] whoever's hot," Flowers said. "So if it's James, he's their leader, and if he gets off to a good start, they'll throw me on him."
Whether Flowers is defending Matthews or James, it will be a test for the Badgers' starting guards of Flowers and Kammron Taylor, whose goal before this season was to be among the elite backcourts in college basketball.
"It's going to be a good challenge for us, and [we'll] definitely see where we're at," Flowers said. "A lot of people think Marquette has one of the best backcourts in the nation, so if we prove ourselves against them, we have our foot in the door to be one of the best."
Saturday's rivalry goes much further than just Flowers and Matthews, however. UW sophomore forward Marcus Landry is married to Efueko Osagie, a senior forward on Marquette's women's basketball team, Badger junior Tanner Bronson's mother is the Golden Eagles' women's tennis coach and former Wisconsin player Julian Swartz is currently a manager for Marquette.
But the bottom line is state bragging rights are up for grabs.
"It's great for the state of Wisconsin," UW senior forward Alando Tucker said. "Everybody's looking forward to it, and we have a lot of players from Wisconsin, so whoever wins gets bragging rights."
And Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan has been a longtime advocate of games between state schools. Having previously coached at UW-Platteville and UW-Milwaukee, Ryan knows about the importance of in-state rivalries. In fact, Ryan is well-experienced when it comes to the UW-Madison-Marquette game.
In his five years as head coach at Wisconsin, Ryan is 3-2 against Marquette and head coach Tom Crean. But Ryan knew about this rivalry a long time ago as he first came to Wisconsin in 1976 as an assistant coach for the Badgers before accepting the head coaching position at Platteville.
"I've been about Wisconsin basketball since 1976," Ryan said. "It's all about Wisconsin basketball, and the fact that you have two teams that are ranked and everything else that goes into it, that's pretty good stuff."
This year's matchup will be Tucker's fifth, as he played in the game his sophomore year despite later taking a medical redshirt. With this being his last go-around, Tucker is still astounded by just how competitive the rivalry has grown to be.
"Being here five years and seeing how highly anticipated it is within the state, I think it makes the players go out there and play even harder," Tucker said. "Once the game comes, you can tell, you can feel the pressure from everywhere with these in-state rivalries."