Although Marquette made the NCAA Tournament in each of coach Buzz Williams' first five seasons, the Golden Eagles weren't always a sure thing in early February.

In the 2009-'10 season, they were 14-8 at this point, 5-5 in the Big East and unranked. They finished the regular season 20-10 and 11-7.

The next year, they were 14-9, 5-5 and unranked. They finished the regular season 18-13 and 9-9, won two games in the conference tournament and made the Sweet 16.

Now, Marquette is 12-10 and 4-5 halfway through the new Big East season. After the Golden Eagles lost Saturday at St. John's, Williams presented a case wherein they could finish 7-2 in the second go-round against the league, beginning Tuesday night at home against Butler, and possibly make the NCAA Tournament.

Not even Williams knows if his theory is possible, but the Golden Eagles have a few things working in their favor if they finish strong, as well as several factors against them.

Five of Marquette's last nine games are at home: Butler, Xavier, Creighton, Georgetown and St. John's. Seton Hall, DePaul, Villanova and Providence are on the road. Anyway you break it down, it is hard to find seven victories against a schedule it lost five against the first time around. The Golden Eagles lost to Butler (12-9, 2-7) on Jan. 18 after blowing a 12-point second-half lead at Hinkle Fieldhouse; they certainly cannot afford to lose to the Bulldogs again.

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that the Golden Eagles have not had a winning streak longer than two games. The runs that carried them in previous seasons under Williams haven't materialized with a roster that doesn't have the talent and/or balance of his first five teams.

But say the Golden Eagles have a run in them and finish 19-12 and 11-7. Would that be good enough to make the tournament?

It would depend on how the selection committee values the new Big East.

In Williams' first five years, 19-12 and 11-7 would have been more than sufficient for inclusion. But with No. 1 Syracuse, No. 7 Cincinnati, No. 14 Louisville, No. 22 Connecticut and No. 25 Pittsburgh no longer in the Big East, it is difficult to judge the relative strength of the new league.

Its only ranked members are No. 6 Villanova and No. 12 Creighton. But depending on which power-ranking service is referenced, the Big East is either the third- or fourth-strongest league in the country, behind the Big 12 and Big Ten and jockeying with the Pac-12.

"By the time we get through the end of February we'll have a chance to be the third-best league," said Williams. "If you really start studying all that stuff, look at the supposed bottom teams in our league and their record in league play. And then look at the supposed bottom teams in the three leagues that are ranked ahead of us. It's dramatically different."