But the Golden Eagles have reason to be both proud and confident heading into March. Not many expected the team to reach the NCAAs after saying goodbye to Jerel McNeal, Dominic James and Wesley Matthews during the offseason. More jumped off the ship after the team began the Big East schedule 2-5, filled with excruciating losses that would crush the confidence of many teams.
Marquette wasn't able to stop playing close games, but suddenly got much better at winning them. The Golden Eagles surged at the end of the season, going 9-2 over its final 11 conference games to get into position for an NCAA Tournament berth, and then ending all doubt with a run to the Big East tournament semifinals.
The big-time talent on the team is Lazar Hayward, the All-Big East forward who can score anywhere on the court and averages 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per night. Right behind him in the indispensible category is Jimmy Butler, who averages 14.9 points per night and often is the glue that holds the team together. It is also a very good 3-point shooting team that can score points in a hurry when it gets hot.
Sure, there are some holes here. Hayward and Butler both get in foul trouble, and when they are on the bench the Golden Eagles suffer. Buzz Williams sits either when they get two first-half fouls, so if that happens in the NCAAs it will be a long 20 minutes until they come back for the second half.
But one thing is for sure: the Golden Eagles won't be intimidated by close games. It has spent the last two months playing game after game that went down to the wire, and the season turned around once it learned how to win them.
--Marquette is unlikely to be fazed if it finds itself in a tight spot in the NCAA Tournament. It played 15 games in 2009-10 decided by four or fewer points, the most in the sport heading into the NCAA Tournament.
--The Golden Eagles had a rare stretch of ineffective offensive basketball in its loss to Georgetown in the Big East semifinals. It went scoreless for one seven-and-a-half minute stretch in the second half as the Hoyas pulled away.
COACH: Buzz Williams, two years at Marquette, two years in NCAA Tournament.
KEYS TO VICTORY: Marquette doesn't have a great margin for error. Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler have to be contributing on offense, and at least a couple of the guards have to be knocking down their shots. It also has to stay out of foul trouble, since the bench is not very deep and does not see the court very often.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I definitely thought our seed was going to be way lower. We have to take our hats off to the committee -- they showed a great deal of respect for us. You never know what to expect, and we can't control any of that. They definitely showed us a lot of respect." -- Marquette's Lazar Hayward told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, on his team's NCAA Tournament draw.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING REPORT: Marquette gets its offense from Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler, and the 3-point shooting of Maurice Acker, Darius Johnson-Odom, and David Cubillan. Hayward is the player who's the most dangerous, because he can score from anywhere on the court, but he can also take himself out of the game with foul trouble. If a team attacks he or Butler on defense, particularly early, they can reap the benefits because Buzz Williams will usually keep his players on the bench for the rest of the half if they pick up two fouls.
Marquette 57, St. John's 55 (Big East tournament second round)
Marquette 80, Villanova 76 (Big East tournament quarterfinals)
Georgetown 80, Marquette 57 (Big East tournament semifinals)
vs. Washington, Thursday, March 18, NCAA Tournament, East Regional first round.
--G Darius Johnson-Odom had the best day of his Marquette career in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, scoring a career-high 24 points against Villanova. However, he came crashing back down to earth in the semifinals, held to four points on 1-8 shooting by the Hoyas.
--F Lazar Hayward was named to the All-Big East First Team. The senior led the team with 18 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
--F Jimmy Butler has been an unsung hero for the Golden Eagles this season, but the Big East coaches recognized