So, let's examine the record that first Tom Crean and now Buzz Williams have carved out since MU departed from Conference USA. To begin with, there are 73 programs in what are sometimes referred to as the high-major conferences - the Big East, ACC, Big 10, Big 12 (soon to be the Big 10?), the Pac 10 (soon to be the Pac 12), and the SEC.
Bill Cords at MU's first Big East Press Tele-Conference in Fall, 2003.
Of those 73 teams, exactly eight had winning regular-season conference records in each of the past five seasons. That comes to 11%. Those programs include Kansas and Texas from the Big 12, Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Big 10, Tennessee from the SEC, and Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and MARQUETTE from the Big East. Not a single team from the ACC or Pac 10 managed to have winning regular-season conference records five years in a row.
Notice the schools that are missing from this list. They include Duke and North Carolina from the ACC, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Syracuse, and Villanova from the Big East, Michigan State and Illinois from the Big 10, Florida and Kentucky from the SEC, and Arizona and UCLA from the Pact 10.
Let's take this one step further. Of the eight schools mentioned that have had winning conference records each of the past five seasons, only three succeeded in winning at least 60% of their regular season league games each year. That's 4%! Which teams are they? Kansas, Tennessee, and MARQUETTE. No other Big East school can claim that accomplishment, not one.
From a related, though slightly different perspective, a generally accepted standard of success in college basketball is earning a place in the NCAA Tournament field. Over the past five years, only 10 programs have been represented in the Big Dance each year - three from the Big 12 (Kansas, Texas, and Texas A & M; two from the Big 10 (Michigan State and Wisconsin); one from the ACC (Duke), one from the SEC (Tennessee); and, three from the Big East (Pittsburgh, Villanova, and MARQUETTE).
In essence, only 14% of high-major programs have made it to the NCAA the past five years. Any objective observer would have to be impressed by these achievements. However, there is one other statistical bit of data worth looking at.
Overall conference winning percentage during this period is yet another indication/reflection of how a program has performed. So where does Marquette stand on this criterion?
The answer is that of the 73 teams in the six high-major conferences, MU ranks tied for 17th (with West Virginia) with a .628 winning percentage in conference play. In fact, MU is within a single win of tying for 13th on the list. What makes this ranking even more noteworthy is the fact that the Big East has probably been the #1 conference in the country during that span.
Yet, there is certainly room for improvement. The program has not had that one stellar year that some teams have put together. There are no 30-win seasons, for example, the past five years.
There has also been no conference championship. The highest the program finished in any of the past five years was fourth, though it has also never finished lower than sixth, an indication of just how consistent the program has been.
Similarly, there has yet to be a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament, despite a couple of near misses. Injuries to key players, most notably to Jerel McNeal in 2007 and to Dominic James in 2009 played significant roles in MU bowing out of the Big Dance sooner than players and fans had hoped.
Still, the bottom line is undeniably impressive. MU has not reached the status of being perceived as an elite program. But it has consistently found itself listed among the Top 20-25 teams in the country. Quite a few programs manage to do that for a year, two years, even three years before falling off. It is a tribute to the players and the coaches the past five seasons that Marquette has accomplished a level of consistency few programs are able to achieve.
So, what about the future? Is the cupboard now bare? Is MU staring at an inevitable drop-off? It certainly does not appear to be the case. In fact, many long-time fans see this year's roster as possibly the deepest and most athletic team MU has ever fielded.
It is certainly not unlikely that, six months from now under the guidance of "Coach Buzz," MU fans will be talking about a sixth consecutive year winning at least 60% of conference games and a sixth straight year of earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament.