Wisconsinites don’t agree about everything, but when it comes to sports, we mostly seem to lean the same way. In general, we love the Green Bay Packers, cheer for the Milwaukee Brewers, and pull for the Milwaukee Bucks (though this last one took some time to develop to its current level of statewide fandom).

Sure, there are outliers whose personal allegiances fall elsewhere either due to geography—living closer to Minneapolis or Chicago than Milwaukee or Green Bay, for example—or moving to Wisconsin from elsewhere…or simply being contrarian and liking different teams because that’s their right. By large, however, the state is in agreement when it comes to mainstream pro sports: Packers, Bucks, Brewers in whatever order you please.

The one time Wisconsin’s mostly-agreed-upon opinions in the realm of athletics become less amicable is every March, when the NCAA Tournament splits the state into factions of fans who root for and/or against men’s and women’s college basketball teams based in Wisconsin. During these few weeks, students or fans of specific schools cheer on their chosen university, while simultaneously cheering against other in-state programs. Once their chosen team is eliminated from contention, some move to either secondary support for another Wisconsin school or shift into cross-state hate. That level of passion is somewhat ironic, since the majority of Wisconsinites (including the me!) didn’t actually attend the four Wisconsin universities eligible for NCAA Tournament play.

What follows are sweeping generalizations that I know don’t apply to every fan’s individual rooting interests, but seems to be the general way Wisconsin’s March Madness fandom breaks down. That is, unless you’re like those of us who are pretty much cool with any and all Wisconsin schools doing well in the men’s and women’s tournaments. Okay, let’s talk about how this year’s tournaments will shake out. Here we go!

Wisconsin Badgers

Following a hot start, the Badgers men’s basketball team has cooled off considerably. Barring a Big Ten Tournament win, they’re decidedly on the bubble for a spot in “The Big Dance.” Should they squeeze into the field of 64 (well, field of 68, actually), they’ll draw primary rooting interest from most of the state. If they don’t crack the bracket, many devoted Badgers men’s basketball fans are likely to immediately shift into full-on Marquette hater mode.

The women’s team was near the bottom of the Big Ten standings and was quickly ousted from the conference tourney, so Wisconsin women’s b-ball supporters are left to root against Marquette…and another in-state team (more on that later).

Marquette Golden Eagles

The Marquette men’s basketball team is currently ranked No. 10 in the nation by Associated Press, so even before Big East Tournament play, they’re emphatically IN the NCAA tournament—almost certainly with a high seed. So Golden Eagles men’s hoops fans have that to focus on first and foremost, and will dole out Badgers-related spite if the tournament selection committee deems it necessary. In the case the Marquette is the only Wisconsin team in the men’s bracket, factions of Badgers fans/alum are likely to focus their energy rooting against them. Meanwhile, folks who didn’t go to school in Madison will shift gears and pull for Marquette.

The Golden Eagles women’s team managed an impressive 23-8 record, finishing third in a stacked Big East. Between that and making it to the semifinals in their conference tournament, Marquette is going to be in the tournament…probably with a fairly good seed. As one of the two in-state women’s teams left on the Division 1 dance floor, they’ll probably be the main women’s rooting interest, excluding Badgers fans and people from the Green Bay area.

Milwaukee Panthers

With last night’s loss in the Horizon League Championship game (which would’ve automatically punched their ticket to the tournament had they won), the UW-Milwaukee men’s team all-but ended its season. Some Panthers faithful might temporarily shift their allegiance to Milwaukee’s other D1 men’s basketball team, while others might cheer on the Badgers (if applicable) or simply focus on the status of their own bracket.

Pretty much the same can be said for supporters of the UW-Milwaukee women’s team, which will miss the tournament on account of posting a 16-16 record and hailing from an unheralded conference. It’s either Golden Eagles or begrudgingly backing their Horizon League rivals at UW-Green Bay this year.

Green Bay Phoenix

Finally, we come to UW-Green Bay. The Fighting Phoenix men’s team has played exactly one NCAA tournament game this century, and they won’t be taking part in this March’s tournament. So they’re a non-factor these days. I’d make an educated guess once they’re officially eliminated each year, the Badgers become the top priority among Phoenix men’s b-ball backers. After that, I would imagine fans are split between pulling for the Marquette men or rooting against them.

Conversely, the Green Bay Phoenix women’s basketball team has been something of a Horizon League powerhouse for much of the 21st century. They’ve appeared in 13 tourneys since 2000 and just earned a place in this year’s NCAA Tournament by winning the Horizon League Conference Championship last night. Unless Marquette is playing against them, how can you root against this perennially competitive team from a small-ish conference? Some will surely find a way to rain on their parade, but of any team/school on this list, the Phoenix women’s squad seems to have the closest thing to statewide support going for them.

Written as someone who lives in Milwaukee and who attended a D3 school (UW-Oshkosh, baby!), I’m all in on Marquette’s men’s and women’s teams in a head-to-head meeting with any Wisconsin team. However, when that’s not happening, I’ll always pull for a Wisconsin-based university over any other college, especially when March comes along. I’m sure some of you who didn’t attend of the schools mentioned above share my sentiment. Similarly, I’m sure many who fit this criteria despise certain schools for some reason (be it justified or wholly irrational).

All things considered, one of the best parts of March Madness is picking teams to root for and to root against. Whether it’s a byproduct of where you went to school, the part of the state you call home, their logo or famous alumni, or how specific outcomes will impact your standings in the office bracket contest, we all have different motivations to cheer and jeer student athletes in March. Even a state as unified as Wisconsin when it comes to sports fandom can’t come to an agreement. In closing, GOOOOOOOO, uh…whoever you like (or whoever is playing against a school you dislike)!

About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Before co-founding Milwaukee Record, Tyler Maas wrote for virtually every Milwaukee publication (except Wassup! Magazine). He lives in Bay View and enjoys both stuff and things.