The Golden Eagles squandered an excellent opportunity to notch up a great win on Wednesday night, as the likely National Player of the Year, Doug McDermott and sharp-shooting big man, Ethan Wragge, combined for 47 points in Creighton's 85-70 victory at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Marquette hung within 10 points for most of the contest, but couldn't string together the necessary possessions to tie it up. In fact, after Todd Mayo scored to get the Golden Eagles within five, McDermott sank a deep trey with the shot clock expiring that represented the dagger with six minutes remaining.
It's been that type of season for Marquette. Close, but no cigar. The Golden Eagles aren't blessed with a takeover player like McDermott, or even Providence's Bryce Cotton. They lost that when Vander Blue foolishly declared for the NBA Draft after his junior season.
Forget the team's high expectations after getting to the Elite 8 for the first time since Dwyane Wade took the Golden Eagles there in 2003. Those have already been thrown out the window. Right now, Marquette is fighting for a spot.
I might have jumped the gun when I said Marquette would need to win out after losing to Villanova on Jan. 25, but at 15-11 and 7-6 in the conference, the Golden Eagles need to go 5-0 to even be in the discussion.
Why do I say that? You might ask. Plenty of teams have made the tournament with a 19-12 record, you might say. Well, what makes this year's Marquette team different is that the resume isn't doing it any favors.
Marquette is 2-9 against teams inside the RPI top-50, including an 0-7 mark against RPI top-25 schools. The highest quality win on their schedule, according to CBSSports.com is George Washington (32nd in RPI), on a neutral floor in November. The next best win comes against Xavier at home. The overtime win over Georgetown on the road follows.
The good news? Marquette has plenty of chances to pick up quality wins. Aside from DePaul on Saturday afternoon, the Golden Eagles play four teams who will be in the tournament discussion. Marquette will travel to Providence and Villanova and get Georgetown and St. John's at home.
The bad news? Marquette will have to string together its longest winning-streak of the year to do it. The margin of error has dissipated. Let me explain why.
A loss to DePaul would be too hideous to overcome. The Blue Demons are in a tail spin and don't have their star player, Cleveland Melvin. A loss in Chicago, and it's time to start thinking N.I.T.
Georgetown has been as rocky as Marquette, but is starting to play its best basketball in the final stretch of the year. Marquette will need to take care of business against an evenly matched team, who it will be competing with for one of the last invitations to the dance. A loss to the Hoyas is another missed opportunity for a decent RPI win in Marquette's home gym.
If Marquette prevails in those first two contests (which I think it will), then the road trip against Villanova and Providence may decide the team's postseason fate. Beating Villanova is essential, as it would be a strong, road victory against a likely top-three seed. Marquette needs a win that it can flaunt to the tournament committee like a recently engaged woman who flaunts her diamond ring to her peers.
The Friars are in a similar spot to Georgetown, except they may be more on the outside looking in. A road win over Providence could pop its bubble and give Marquette a solid RPI victory.
The schedule does Marquette no favors on this trip, as it will play those two contests in just three days, a tough task for any college basketball team to overcome.
Victories over the Wildcats and Friars would allow Marquette to have its tournament hopes in its own hands on Senior Day against St. John's. The Red Storm is also battling for a tournament spot, but is a much better team at Madison Square Garden.
If this all happens, the Golden Eagles would be 20-11 and 12-6 in the Big East, which is respectable given the pedigree of their non-conference schedule and probably good enough to get them in the dance. Marquette's done it with a worse record.
Take 2011 for example. The Golden Eagles limped into the conference tournament at 18-13, won two games in the Big East tournament and made the dance. Granted, that team had three wins against ranked opponents.
One more loss and Marquette will need to win the Big East tournament and guarantee itself a bid. Anything is possible, but Marquette has not performed well in the conference tournament recenly, losing twice in a row in the quarterfinals after earning a double-bye in the regular season.
Would it stun me to see Marquette go on a remarkable run that catapults them into the tournament? No. But I've been waiting for that breakout moment for the 2013-14 Golden Eagles, but it hasn't come.
Marquette still has a chance to rectify its horribly disappointing campaign, but it would take something that this team hasn't shown all season: consistency.