The regular season for the Marquette Golden Eagles came to a dismal end on Saturday. A double-overtime loss to St. Johns put the cap on what has turned into the worst season for the school since 2005.
I’m not sure if it’s good or bad news, but the season isn’t over just yet. Can Marquette overcome the odds and pull of a Madison Square Garden miracle? I’d like to think so, but let’s be honest…it’s most likely not going to happen. Resilience and toughness have become a staple of Marquette basketball, but those attributes have been absent this season.
In March, there’s always a chance for a team to gather around each other, find new life and go dancing (take UW-Milwaukee for example). That’s why we love March, right?
But the inconsistency of the Golden Eagles has been extremely frustrating and discouraging. This isn’t a team worthy of making the NCAA tournament, nor do I think they will. But, there’s always a chance.
That being said, Marquette will begin Big East tournament play as the #6 seed against #3 Xavier Thursday night. The match-up isn’t a terrible draw, but it’s going to be an uphill climb .
The Golden Eagles and Musketeers split the two meetings earlier this year, both in close contests. In the two games, Marquette shot 85 percent from the line (34-of-40) against Xavier’s 76 percent (47-of-62). If you thought that’s a lot of free throws, you’re right. The two teams have combined for an astonishing 85 fouls (Marquette 47-Xavier 38), meaning free throws will once again be an important factor.
A positive for Marquette is that Xavier’s starting center Matt Stainbrook has already been ruled out for Thursday’s game. The 6’10” center is the centerpiece of Xavier’s offense, averaging 10.2 points and 7 rebounds per game.
The Golden Eagles’ big men will have the edge inside and need to take advantage of it. Whether it’s drawing fouls or getting high-percentage looks, Marquette can’t afford to go away from the getting the ball inside of the paint.
Another plus is that Jake Thomas has played his best basketball against Xavier. Thomas has 35 points in the two meetings and is shooting 11-21 from three-point range (52.3 percent). Expect the Musketeers to try and keep its main defensive focus in the paint, which will result in open looks for Thomas. If Thomas can bury open shots, the Golden Eagles should be in a good position to advance in the tournament.
It wouldn’t get any easier after that, as they’ll take on the winner of Creighton versus DePaul with a win.
With just one path to the NCAA tournament, Marquette’s time has run out. From here on, it’s win or go home (or to the NIT).