Cautious Optimism, Continued Improvement

With expectations and excitement rising, how will Marquette approach the 2006-2007 season? There is an underlying optimism about this season by shear fact that so many contributors from last year's team are returning. However, the focus of this Marquette team is simple: Improve everyday.

What can you say about the 2005-2006 Marquette basketball team? The Golden Eagles overachieved, exceeded expectations, and were the most surprising team in the Big East, if not the entire country. Marquette did lose a heart breaking game in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Alabama but had still achieved enough to call the season a successful one.

On the eve of the start of the college basketball season, Marquette is already facing a challenge. The Golden Eagles will not be able to accomplish what they did last season. MU will not be the team flying under the radar. Marquette will not be able to sneak up from behind the Big East's best and boldest names. They will not be able to be the team on the rise. Someone turned on the spotlights.

While Head Coach Tom Crean and most of the players deflected discussion about expectations and the extra attention the team will receive this season, it's clear that this is a different team with lofty goals. Crean reiterated that his expectations and goals are never numerical, but that he expects his team to push each other and improve upon on last season's finish.

"To be honest, it really doesn't make a difference what my expectations even are," said Crean. "Internally, the players have to be willing to put in the work to get the most out of each other. If it's just about getting a lot out of yourself, you are only going to go so far. But how far will you push for your teammates? That is what really counts."

In the last half of their NCAA tournament loss to Alabama, Marquette certainly had a push. If not for a first half in which Marquette dug itself a sixteen point deficit, MU would have advanced to the round of thirty-two to play UCLA. The second half was highlighted by a stifling full court press, an aggressive attack and offense, and a spirit that was indescribable. Some wonder whether the second half comeback would be a sign of things to come and a preview of what Marquette will feature this season.

"We look at that half a lot and think, ‘how can we get this all the time,'" remarked Crean. "We will use the film of that game to show what we have to do, but also what we have to avoid doing. But there was a fire in that second half, no question. I felt something different in that game that I have never felt in a game before but it's a whole new team this year. We cannot script it like that again. We have to find it in our hearts to build that consistency."

Consistency will be a huge theme this season as Crean's team will try to improve on their 3-7 road record. Marquette lost road games to average teams like Nebraska, Rutgers, and Louisville in addition to not closing out ranked opponents Pittsburgh and Villanova away from the Bradley Center.

"There were a lot of games where we just didn't play forty minutes," said Crean. "To win in forty minutes, you have to do whatever it takes. You never win or lose a game on the last possession; it's always the things that went on inside the game that determine the outcome."

It seems as though this year's team is willing to let the college basketball world predict whatever they want for this team. That same approach last season proved to be a motivating factor all year long, as most wrote Marquette off as a certain bottom feeder in the Big East. Crean joked that many of the cynics and skeptics from last season are the same people who are now predicting Marquette to do really well this year. It doesn't matter what anyone expects, be rest assured that MU will improve. The spotlight is on, but it's not blinding anyone in gold.

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