GEagles scratch and claw their way into NCAA

Marquette appears to be one of those teams that just enjoys living dangerously. The Golden Eagles spent all of 2010-11 close to the elite, but not quite among them. Their nonconference slate was filled with close calls -- a five-point loss to Duke, a three-point loss to Gonzaga, a five-point loss to Wisconsin and a one-point heartbreaker at Vanderbilt.

Good enough to excite fans with its potential, but not so strong that it was a serious contender for the Top 25.

Conference play was about the same. Marquette tended to do well at home and struggle on the road, and in a league that spent all of February with 11 teams in NCAA contention was usually among the 10th or 11th of those squads. Just when it appeared to lock things up with a Feb. 24 win at eventual Big East tournament champion Connecticut, it dropped games to Cincinnati and Seton Hall to close the regular season at 9-9.

That left the team with work to do at the Big East tournament. And one thing this team has shown is the ability to do that work when required.

Jimmy Butler

There's no NBA first-round pick on the roster, as the 2009-10 squad enjoyed with Lazar Hayward. But with Jimmy Butler leading the way, the Golden Eagles scrapped together wins over Providence and West Virginia before bowing out in the quarterfinals against Louisville.

Coach Buzz Williams summed up the saga of the 23 days preceding the loss to the Cardinals as a testament to his team's fortitude.

"We were 6-and-7 after we played St. John's at home so we were five games remaining," Williams said. "We won three in a row over a 10-day period and then we lost two in a row to finish the season over a seven-day period so we finished 9-and-9. We landed in New York (for the Big East tournament) not knowing conclusively what it is we had to do."

"When you think about the last 23 days of our guys' lives, emotionally, mentally and physically, there have been a roller coaster of up's and down's, and I thought through it all at the very end they answered the bell and their character was revealed. That's what I said in the locker room -- we're one of 37 teams that will have their name announced as an at-large team on Sunday and this previous Sunday we were practicing at 10 in the morning doing things we did on the first day of practice."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Marquette played Xavier, its first-round opponent in the NCAA Tournament, in the Old Spice Classic a year ago. One thing the Golden Eagles would like to do better this time around is rebound, as the Musketeers dominated the glass 48-32.

--The Golden Eagles were thought to be a bubble team heading into the Big East tournament, but secure following its opening-round win against Providence. In hindsight, however, it looks like the team's second-round victory over West Virginia was critical, as the Golden Eagles wound up with a No. 11 seed. Based on that, Marquette was one of the last teams to avoid the play-in round in Dayton on Tuesday.

COACH: Buzz Williams, three years at Marquette, third postseason appearance (second NCAA)

KEYS TO VICTORY: Marquette has to shoot the ball well, and consistently, in order to win. It isn't going to win a lot of games that come down to defenses stops, because while the guards can force turnovers with their aggressiveness, they also allow foes to drive them to the basket. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler are the critical players, and if Jae Crowder can heat up again and play as effectively as he did early in the Big East slate, the Golden Eagles suddenly become a lot more dangerous.

Chris Otule

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It will at least give you a frame of reference. That'll be the first game I watch. I'll go back through our practice itineraries when we prepared to play them, go back through my game charts. At least there's some familiarity." -- Marquette coach Buzz Williams told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, on the prospects of opening the NCAA Tournament against an Xavier team that it beat in the regular season last year.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

GAME PREVIEW:

vs. Xavier, March 18, NCAA Tournament second round

KEY MATCHUPS: These teams played a year ago, with Marquette coming out on top. The obvious matchup problem for the Golden Eagles will be Tu Holloway, one of the best point guards in the country who averages 20 points and 5.5 assists per night. Jamel McLean leads the Musketeers in rebounding and had nine boards against Marquette a year ago.

SCOUTING REPORT: Marquette is one of those teams capable of messing up any NCAA Tournament pool. When its offense is on a roll, it can score points in bunches and go on extended runs. When the three-pointers don't fall and the free throws clank off the rim, however, the Golden Eagles can give up tremendous runs because their defense usually is not good enough to generate multiple stops in a row.

PLAYER NOTES

--Senior F Joe Fulce had his knee drained prior to the Big East tournament, and played limited minutes in the Golden Eagles' three-game trip to the quarterfinals. He's a key reserve off the bench when healthy, but it's unclear how much he'll be able to contribute in the NCAAs.

--Junior F Jae Crowder has been coming off the bench, as Buzz Williams looks to keep him in the game and out of foul trouble. After finishing January as one of the team's essential offensive weapons, he's had a harder time of things since and has been held to single digits three times in the last five games.

--Sophomore G Junior Cadougan has emerged as a capable ballhandler, able to find the open man without turning it over. His best game came at the end of February, when he got his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 assists against Providence.


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