Often times, no matter how long the visit may be, the quality of a Marquette basketball road trip is determined by the outcome of the game. We've had virtually silent car rides home from DePaul, trust me. But this past weekend was, as Al would so eloquently say, "seashells and balloons."
Marquette defeated Notre Dame 80-72 on Saturday in an important road contest. Marquette now stands at 19-8 and is a lock to make the 2006 NCAA tournament. The win came at the hands of one of Marquette's most bitter rivals. Notre Dame's loss to MU puts them in serious jeopardy of missing the Big East Conference tournament and ended any hope of making the NCAA's as an at large team.
A few things stood out this past weekend after visiting South Bend. If the Marquette spirit present at the Joyce Center was any indication of how MU fans will follow this team in the NCAA's, Marquette's last "home" game may not be on March 4th against Providence. The Golden Eagle fans were definitely outnumbered this weekend, but were much louder than the home fans. WE ARE MARQUETTE chants could be heard throughout the second half, especially after Marquette hit four straight three's to put the game away. Splashes of gold were scattered throughout the lower level while the upper bleachers were, at the very least, split between Marquette and Notre Dame fans. The same could be said about the local watering holes after the game.
I got the sense that this is a rivalry in the making. Most of the Notre Dame students are very knowledgeable about this year's Marquette team. Most of them tried a, "Number Two," chant when Dominic James had the ball during the game. This cheer referred to James' finish in the Mr. Basketball Indiana voting last season, to Notre Dame Freshmen Luke Zeller who won the award. As the game progressed, however, the South Bend faithful soon found that James would be the new number one--Big East Freshmen of the Year. It was clear by the end of the game that Marquette is just in a different spot right now. While many Irish fans are calling for the head of Head Coach Mike Brey, Marquette is reveling in the success of Tom Crean and his grossly overachieving Golden Eagles. For the first in program history, Marquette took two games from both DePaul and Notre Dame in the same season.
Though the two teams are going in different directions this season, the beat will go on in this basketball rivalry. Some believe Marquette cannot match the glory of the Golden Dome, the history of Notre Dame Football, or maybe even the prestige of the University, but it was evident that Marquette has pride…and two, very satisfying victories in their back pocket this year. While the Irish count the days and hours until they put the football pads on again, Marquette will be riding high in the NCAA's.