Moreover, the schedule sets up well for a strong finish for the Golden Eagles -- if they can take care of business on the road.
Marquette began the season losing its first five true road games. Losses at Wisconsin, West Virginia, Villanova and Syracuse are nothing to be ashamed of, considering how good those teams are and where they fall in the Top 25. But the fifth of those losses was at DePaul, against a team that hadn't won a conference game in more than a full season and in a game that the Golden Eagles blew in the final seconds.
Since that defeat, the nadir of the team's season, it's been a different team that has taken the court. Marquette followed that with the five-point loss at the Carrier Dome but has won its last five games since then. Two of those came on the road, wins at Providence and Connecticut.
Of the team's last six games, the final five are against unranked teams, but three of those are on the road. Getting some success in the trips to Cincinnati, St. John's and Seton Hall would be instrumental in getting the Golden Eagles back to the Big Dance, which would be an impressive feat considering where the team was just three weeks ago.
--Marquette did not have a great day at the foul line Feb. 13 in the South Florida win, but did do a nice job of keeping the Bulls from getting there themselves. The Golden Eagles went 13-for-20 from the stripe, a mediocre 65 percent, but South Florida had just six attempts all game, making four……The victory over South Florida was Marquette's 50th in Big East play. It has been a member of the conference since the 2004-05 season……. ON THE SPOT: Injuries haven't left Buzz Williams without much of a bench, but in his two years at the helm of the program he hasn't shown much tendency to use the reserves anyway. Only seven Marquette players saw action against South Florida, with all five starters playing more than 30 minutes and three playing 37 minutes.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's corny, but every day we're just working hard. Every day in practice, in film, we're just putting it all in combination, and when the game comes, we're ready." -- Marquette forward Lazar Hayward to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Marquette moved to 7-5 in the Big East with an 11-point win over South Florida at home on Feb. 13. The victory came after Bulls guard Dominique Jones guaranteed his team would win, and put the Golden Eagles squarely above South Florida in the quest for an NCAA Tournament berth.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Lazar Hayward, G/F Jimmy Butler, G Darius Johnson-Odom, G David Cubillan, G Maurice Acker. Key Subs -- F Joseph Fulce, G Dwight Buycks, G Junior Cadougan, F Erik Williams.
Marquette 80, DePaul 69 …. Marquette 82, Providence 79 …. Marquette 63, South Florida 52
vs. Pittsburgh, Thursday, Feb. 18 … at Cincinnati, Sunday, Feb. 21 … at St. John's, Wednesday, Feb. 24 … at Seton Hall, Sunday, Feb. 28 … vs. Louisville, Tuesday, March 2
IN FOCUS: The Golden Eagles enter the week on a five-game winning streak with greatly bolstered NCAA Tournament chances. It would boost the team's credentials even more to get another win over a ranked team, which it could do on Feb. 18 when Pittsburgh comes to town. The Panthers are a gritty team that is never out of a basketball game, and relies on its backcourt to carry the scoring load, so Darius Johnson-Odom will have another challenge on his hands if he is matched up against Ashton Gibbs.
--For a guy who wasn't expected to be a part of the team during the offseason, G Maurice Acker has made himself indispensible. Not only is he one of the top three-point shooters in the country, he leads the Big East in assist/turnover ratio.
--F Lazar Hayward continues to move up the Marquette record books. He passed ex-teammate Wesley Matthews and Troy Smith to move into seventh place on the Golden Eagles scoring list with his 18 points against South Florida.
--G Darius Johnson-Odom scored just three points in the South Florida game, but nevertheless was one of the key Golden Eagles in the victory. He guarded top Bulls scorer Dominique Jones, who scored 16 points but went 6-21 from the field.