Third Time a Charm?

Marquette will have a doubly challenging weekend with ranked teams Georgetown and Pittsburgh coming to the Bradley Center. The Golden Eagles find themselves at a critical junction of the season following a disappointing road loss to perennial conference bottom feeder Rutgers.

When you have something to prove, there is nothing greater than a challenge. For Marquette, it will be a doubly challenging weekend with ranked teams Georgetown and Pittsburgh coming to the Bradley Center. The Golden Eagles find themselves at a critical junction of the season following a disappointing road loss to perennial conference bottom feeder Rutgers.

Marquette enters the weekend with a 15-8 record against Division 1 opponents and a 6-5 record inside the country's best conference. With Selection Sunday just over three weeks away, the Golden Eagles are sitting on the bubble of making the NCAA tournament. Most bracket projections, however, have MU "in," if the season was to end today.

Does this sound familiar?

Since Marquette marched to the Final Four in 2003 on the back of Dwayne Wade, the Golden Eagles have sat in this very same position during the last two seasons. In 2004, Marquette was flying high at 13-5 after an incredulous 77-70 road victory at Louisville. Even after losing four of their next six, Marquette took a 15-9 record and tournament hopes into UAB and was blown out in a key, must-win game. Marquette was ranked all the way through the beginning of February in 2004.

Last season, Marquette raced to a 13-1 record and a #23 ranking in the country. After an up and down beginning to the Conference USA season, due mostly in part to injuries to Travis Diener, Marquette still stood at 18-8 heading into the seasons last four games. The chances of making the tournament believable, but losses in three of those last four games crushed the dream again. For the second consecutive season, Marquette limped off to the NIT.

Are the Golden Eagles heading for three years in a row? What is different about this year? For starters, MU did not begin the 2005-6 campaign with the expectations of the past few years. The Golden Eagles were and still are a young team, with close to 50 percent of their scoring coming from freshmen. In addition, Marquette now plays in the Big East conference. Tulane and East Carolina aren't on the schedule anymore, and as Jim Calhoun put it, "This new conference is a real bear."

But the reality is, Marquette has to rise to the occasion this weekend. Whether they want it or not, the city of Milwaukee and the Marquette campus are hanging their hats on this young team. Two losses this weekend would be absolutely devastating to any NCAA hopes. Few foreseeable situations would give Marquette a chance if MU can't nab one game.

A win over the Hoyas or the Panthers would be fairly comparable. Both teams are ranked and are locks for the 2006 NCCA big dance. If Marquette can split the two games, they would hold their current position, "in the tourney, but barely," and would move onto those perilous last three games of the season. If the Golden Eagles win both games, fans can start making travel plans for March 16th, the opening day of the tournament.

The Marquette camp can take solace in the fact that MU still controls their own destiny. But as noted, this isn't any different than the past two seasons. The big challenges are coming Thursday and Saturday night and Marquette is standing at the crossroads. For those still scratching their heads about this team, give it a few days, and the picture will come clear.

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