Marquette Advances to the Sweet 16

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“This team?” a friend asked me just minutes after Marquette sealed a third round NCAA Tournament victory against Syracuse to earn their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2003. Yes, THIS team.

Not the Golden Eagle group led by the Big Three of Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, and Dominic James that suffered heart-wrenching second round losses in back-to-back years (Damn you Brook Lopez. Damn you ref who called Lazar Hayward for stepping over the line on that inbounds pass.)  Not last year’s overachieving bunch that earned a six seed and just seemed poised to make a run but were instead upset in the opening round by Washington.

THIS team that lost 14 games, finished as the 11th seed in the Big East Tournament, and frustrated the hell out of me far too often this year is one of sixteen teams still standing in the Big Dance.

By: David Kay

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The coach speak at the beginning of every tournament is that all teams start fresh with a 0-0 record.  That has proven to be true in the past couple of days for this Marquette team.  As frustrating as the collapse at Louisville, their heartless second half effort against St. John’s, and awful season-ending performance at Seton Hall were; the Golden Eagles look like the team that got my expectations high when they played with Duke for forty minutes and gutted out a crucial overtime victory at UConn.

They are playing with tremendous passion sparked by a terrific defensive effort with in-your-face pressure on the guards.  Jimmy Butler has led the charge by absolutely locking down Tu Holloway on Friday night and drawing several different defensive assignments against ‘Cuse.  (It is still baffling that Butler was only a Big East Honorable Mention for the All-Conference team by the way.)  For the most part, their rotation on double downs in the post have been picture perfect as they pretty much took Rick Jackson completely out of the game in the third round by constantly running an extra defender at him.  That tenacity has enabled them to force 33 turnovers, and hold Xavier almost 18 points below their regular season average and Syracuse nearly 12 points lower than their average total.

That type of relentlessness on defense has been needed since the offensive output has been anything but a masterpiece.  The Golden Eagles have turned the ball over 28 times and scored ten points below their season average, but their unselfishness continues to be a strength.  19th in the nation with almost 16 dimes per game in the regular season, Marquette assisted on 28 of their 45 made baskets in Cleveland which is slightly above their season average.

MU has also gotten clutch shots by Darius Johnson-Odom.  Jae Crowder is resembling the Jae Crowder we all fell in love with earlier in the year.  And when the opportunity has presented itself, Marquette has been able to use their transition game to get easy fast break buckets.  Always a favorite number of Buzz, the Golden Eagles have also made more free throws than their opponents have attempted and are hitting 76% from the free throw line which is about seven-percent better than what they shot during the regular season.

In the tournament, that is all that matters; playing your best ball at the right time.  As Buzz would say, Marquette has definitely looked like “us” the past two games and that why their season extends to a match-up against North Carolina Friday night in Newark.  And considering I came into this tournament with absolutely zero expectations from this team, I am still far from satisfied and neither are the players as several of them have already tweeted at Dwyane Wade, “trying to do what ya’ll did” in reference to the 2003 making a run to the Final Four when nobody gave them much of a chance to get there.

DJO summed it up best after the win against Syracuse, “When guys come out and play just as tough as ever and put it all on the line, then you’re supposed to be in positions like this. Sweet 16 is for us.”  Yes, the Sweet 16 is for THIS team.

David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank.  He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a fomer contributor at The Washington Times Communities.  You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.

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  1. Peter Christian says

    D-J-Ohhhhhhhhhhhh \\\o o///

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