In an age where rivalry has become synonymous with in-state bragging rights, rich multi-sport history, or just pure, unadulterated hate, Louisville/Marquette has never seemed to make much sense.
The universities - one a Jesuit school in the Midwest and the other a Southern state school - are separated by 400 miles. They began playing each other in 1951, but both have multiple series with other programs that date back even further. Each program already has an established in-state rival (Kentucky and Wisconsin), and a secondary conference rival (Cincinnati and Notre Dame).
Louisville/Marquette was never a rivalry built out of necessity, it was simply unavoidable. When two high-profile programs from the same conference play memorable game after memorable game for a prolonged period of time it automatically becomes something much more than it was before, whether the parties involved like it or not.
Louisville and Marquette are two of just 37 programs to taste the sweet joy of a Division I college basketball national championship. Al McGuire took MU to the promised land in 1977, while Denny Crum made U of L the "Team of the '80s," and captured national titles in both 1980 and 1986. The two have maintained their relevance since then by advancing to a Final Four in the past decade, making the move together to perhaps the most prominent college basketball conference in the country, and by producing successful NBA talent.
And then there are the games, the undeniable backbone of the rivalry. A Cardinal or Golden Eagle fan can describe nearly every recent contest the two have played with a single name: Deane, Wardle, Myles, Hutchins, Gaines, Garcia, Smith. It's a testament to just how competitive the two programs have been in the last 15 years or so.
But is the rivalry now on its death bed? Has it received a terminal prognosis? Did I really need to make more than one basketball series as medical patient references?
Tom Crean and Rick Pitino are no longer firing subtle jabs at one another. Dwyane Wade and Reece Gaines are no longer battling for C-USA Player of the Year honors. Travis Diener is no longer pissing off everyone in the Derby City on an almost daily basis. Add in the fact that the games haven't been particularly exciting over the last couple of years and it becomes undeniable that the rivalry Sports Illustrated described as "blazing" just a little over three years ago has lost quite a bit of heat.
Louisville and Marquette are no longer big fish in an average-sized pond. The Big East has fueled budding Cardinal rivalries with Connecticut (mirror opponents in every year but one) and Syracuse. Basically, top 25 matchups don't hold the same weight they did in 2004.
This leaves the actual games carrying the entire burden of keeping the rivalry alive, and they've been quite forgettable in recent years.
The Cards blew out MU twice in '08, and the Golden Eagles returned the favor a year ago. The one competitive game sandwiched in between (a four-point Louisville victory in March of '09) was sloppy and difficult to watch for long stretches of time.
The fact of the matter is that the off-the-court hype will never be what it was in the pre-Big East days. Memorable, competitive games played with lots on the line are the only thing that will keep Marquette from eventually becoming just another name on the schedule.