NEW YORK — The Big East will be setting a record three days from now, when the NCAA tournament bracket is unveiled and the conference has 11 teams included. The current record is nine. The Big East owns that as well.
The impending, unprecedented statistic became as close to fact as possible Thursday night because Marquette did what so many others have failed to do this year: win against a good opponent to gain ground and leverage. The Golden Eagles won 67-61, making West Virginia the second team who earned a bye but not a win at the Big East tournament; Georgetown falling to UConn in the first of Thursday’s four games in the Garden was the other.
Marquette's Jae Crowder (right) shook his head in acknowledgment when asked if the team was worried in the past two weeks.
“It got really tense for us,” Crowder said. “We knew we had to come along really fast or this thing would get away from us. We knew time was slipping away from us.”
But Buzz Williams, like most coaches, publicly said he doesn’t care about seeding. And the Golden Eagles’ head honcho didn’t use winning against Providence or West Virginia, and what that meant for the teams tournament chances, as means of motivation. All he wanted to do was get his team wins to keep the momentum going and try to get his team into a groove that it’s failed to get into for most of the season.
“Relative to how it impacts our seeding, honestly, I don’t have an opinion on that because I think there’s so many games other than just our game that impact that,” Williams said, his voice slowly moving away from that hoarse tone he's become known for.
Now here comes Louisville, and despite the collective knowledge and understanding that this team will be dancing, Williams will try to keep his team's vision as narrow as possible.
“I don’t know that our mentality will change,” Williams said of the preparation for Friday night's game against Louisville. “We’ve had success every year we’ve been in New York because we’ve had great energy.”
And back to the Cardinals, who embody a double-edged sword. See, if Marquette loses, then fine, it’s done, goes home and waits to see a 10 or 11 next to its name in the 6 p.m. ET hour Sunday night. But if it wins against Louisville? Yeah, that’s terrific — but what if it vaults Marquette into an 8/9 game? That’s a bad spot. As weird as it may sound, big-picture, Marquette would likely benefit from losing to Louisville and having an easier road to making it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Now that he's in, Williams won't get greedy, though. He said he doesn't care where or against who. Just happy to be at the party. That's Buzz.
“We wanna play. Whether we’re eight or four or 12, we’re thankful we get to keep playing,” Williams said. “I think, when you start talking to 19- and 21-year-old kids about, ‘OK, now, if we do this and the other team does that, and the other tournament, if these team in the Big 12 got beat …’ I think that just dials down what makes us good.”
What was interesting about Marquette's at-large case that is no longer existent: by virtue of beating a 20-11 West Virginia team, the Golden Eagles leap-frogged the possibility of getting put in Dayton for the First Four. Most bubble teams aren't afforded such luxuries after winning a do-or-die game.
“We’re now not focused on being in (the NCAAs),” said. “We really want to get to Saturday, here. We get to Saturday, we’ll feel we have a chance to win it all.”
Marquette lost to Louisville in the only meeting between the teams this year, a 71-70 result at Marquette on Jan. 15.
“We let one slip in Louisville, and we’re thirsty to get those guys back,” said. “That’s one of the teams we picked out in the bracket.”
The bracket being the Big East bracket. The only one Marquette has to worry about now.
Posted by Matt Norlander
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