When you think of Wisconsin and Minnesota, a lot of hate bubbles up. Most of that hate comes from football, specifically with the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, the longest-tenured rivalry in Division I football. Minnesota leads that rivalry 59-56-8, but Wisconsin has held the Axe for 10 years straight. Similarly, the Gophers and Badgers are historically very close, but figuring out who's dominated the rivalry recently is harder to decipher. Let's assess the past, present, and future for this esteemed rivalry.
Both teams have been around the Big Ten since the very beginning. Their first encounter came in 1907, when both teams (along with the University of Chicago) shared the Big Ten title. The 1907 Big Ten championship was Wisconsin's first, but Minnesota's second. You can only imagine the hot takes delivered via telegraph, as Wisconsin fans swore to assert their dominance in the next season. Come 1908, boy did they do just that. Wisconsin won their second straight Big Ten championship.
In the pre-tournament world, both teams consistently finished atop the Big Ten. Wisconsin won 12 Big Ten titles to Minnesota's 6 before the inception of the NCAA Tournament in 1939. So if we want to throw it way back, Wisconsin has the edge.
In non-ancient history, it's been a bit more evenly matched. Since the 1979-80 season, Wisconsin holds a 35-31 advantage over the Gophers. The Gophers dominated the 80s and 90s, reaching the Sweet Sixteen 4 times and advancing to the Final Four in 1997, led by Coach Clem Haskins and Bobby Jackson. Sadly, their late 90s success has been forfeited because of an academic fraud scandal.
Wisconsin struggled in the 70s and 80s, but has come alive in recent years. That transitions well into...
Wisconsin-Minnesota Recent Years
Wisconsin has made the tournament every year since 1999, one of the longest streaks in college basketball. Sadly, Minnesota can't compete with that streak of consistency. Since 1999, the Gophers have made the tournament only 5 times. In addition, Minnesota hasn't made it to the Sweet Sixteen in any of their recent tournament appearances. On the other hand, Wisconsin has made the Final Four twice. So clearly, Wisconsin prevails in terms of tournament success. But what about regular ol' conference play?
In the last 5 years, this rivalry has been closer than you may expect. This chart represents every regular season meeting since the 2009-10 season.
|2010||Minnesota 68, Wisconsin 52||Minneapolis, MN|
|2010||Wisconsin 68, Minnesota 60||Madison, WI|
|2012||Wisconsin 68, Minnesota 61 (OT)||Minneapolis, MN|
|2012||Wisconsin 52, Minnesota 45||Madison, WI|
|2013||Wisconsin 45, Minnesota 44||Madison, WI|
|2013||Minnesota 58, Wisconsin 53 (OT)||Minneapolis, MN|
|2014||Minnesota 81, Wisconsin 68||Minneapolis, MN|
|2014||Wisconsin 78, Minnesota 70||Madison, WI|
That's 5 wins for the Badgers to 3 wins for the Gophers. But in the past two seasons, they have split their regular season series. And the home team has won in all of those match-ups. It's clear that Wisconsin has been the better team in the past two seasons. But in all those seasons, they've struggled in Minneapolis.
What does that mean for the future? That means Minnesota still has Wisconsin's number. Wisconsin can talk all they want about their Final Four appearance, but when Wisconsin travels into The Barn next season, Minnesota will be confident.
Interestingly enough, there hasn't been a lot of overlap in the two teams' recruiting circles. Minnesota recruits on a much broader geographical scale, explaining why they went down to Central Arizona College to sign DeAndre Mathieu in 2013. Their 2014 class is even wilder, with players from Florida, Washington, Kansas, and British Columbia.
Wisconsin has kept their recruiting mostly in-state and in the upper Midwest. Top recruits Sam Dekker and Bronson Koenig are all from Wisconsin, and the rest of their recent classes come from Ohio, MInnesota, or Illinois.
However, Wisconsin and Minnesota will be pitted against each other for many 2015 recruits. Top recruits like Alex Illikaninen and Jarvis Johnson will be at the top of both teams' target lists, and their decisions could dictate the future of recruiting for these two teams. Traditionally, Minnesota has been the more aggressive recruiter, whereas Wisconsin is more selective and doesn't go after too many random recruits. But with their Final Four appearance, Wisconsin's recruiting will surely take a step up.
As more and more top recruits come from the upper Midwest, it will be interesting to see how Minnesota's recruiting fervor balances with Wisconsin's on-court success.
It's a shame that this rivalry doesn't have a badass trophy like in football. Because the roots of this rivalry run exceptionally deep and it's only gotten more intense in recent years. With Richard Pitino at the helm of the Gophers, the arrow is pointing up. Minnesota is fast, intense on defense, and will be recruiting all around the country. For the Badgers, it doesn't get any more consistent than Bo Ryan. Wisconsin will look to improve on their best season in recent history, both on the court and in recruiting.
But don't worry. There's plenty of opportunity for hate between these two schools.