Some of the names and faces have changed for everyone at the Big East tournament. No more Syracuse and Jim Boeheim. No more Connecticut and Jim Calhoun. No more Louisville and Rick Pitino. Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are also among those who no longer darken the Madison Square Garden door this time of year. But for Marquette, the change in this particular year is a near-singular experience. For the first time in coach Buzz Williams' six seasons, with the possible exception of his third, the Golden Eagles won't be playing for NCAA Tournament seeding. If they don't win the whole thing, beginning Thursday night against Xavier, they'll miss the NCAAs for the first time in Williams' tenure. "Do we have to win it? I'd say probably," Williams said. "But we definitely have to get to the championship game to have a chance to get there. "I think it changes our operation because you know you have to win in order to go to the NCAA Tournament. Not everybody in our organization was here in year three, but we all feel that way in year six because that's where we're at." The Golden Eagles put themselves in this vise by finishing sixth in the Big East at 17-14 and 9-9. Their only real chance is the automatic berth that comes with the tournament championship. Seeded No.6, the Golden Eagles are an 80-to-1 shot to get by third-seeded Xavier, Creighton and Villanova. They completed the regular season with three consecutive losses, including double-overtime decisions to Providence and St. John's. They were swept this season by the top two seeds, Villanova and Creighton. The Golden Eagles have a chance against Xavier because the Musketeers' 6-foot-10 center Matt Stainbrook has been ruled out of the Marquette game with a knee injury. His absence could open the door for a big evening from Davante Gardner because the Musketeers won't have an interior presence to counter him. Jake Thomas, the inconsistent three-point shooter, found a comfort zone this season against Xavier, combining for 35 points in the season split. The Musketeers will scheme ways to take him out of the game, but even if Thomas and Gardner play well the Golden Eagles will still have to find a way to stop high-scoring guard Semaj Christon and the Musketeers. The NCAA rule changes that cracked down on defensive hand-checking hurt a physical team like Marquette this season, especially against Xavier. The Musketeers shot better than 50% against Marquette in each of the two games. "I think offensively we scored enough points to win but we've got to do a better job defensively in order to give us a chance," Williams said. "It's hard to win when an opponent is shooting over 50%. We're going to have to do a better job defensively in order for us to have a chance to beat them in New York."
Marquette's one shot for NCAA Tournament berth: Big East title
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Mar 13