By Jeff Goodman
NEW YORK - Marquette feels disrespected. No, not because the Golden Eagles were picked to finish sixth by the coaches in the league or due to the fact they believe they should be ranked higher than 11th in the country.
Because of the "toughness" tag that the program is unable to shed.
"That's all people talk about," Marquette senior Jae Crowder said shortly after burying a 3-pointer with 6.3 seconds left to give Marquette a 79-77 win over Washington. "At some point it has to end."
"That makes us one-dimensional," he added. "And that's not what we are."
For a while there, Marquette coach Buzz Williams loved the label. Basked in it. Why? It's the ultimate sign of respect when an opposing coach says that your team plays hard and is tough.
But enough is enough.
People need to finally start talking about the talent on this team, the talent in this program, in conjunction with the toughness. Lazar Hayward went from a mid-major recruit to an NBA first-rounder. Jimmy Butler did the same. Darius Johnson-Odom was also an under-the-radar guy who has a chance to play at the next level.
Williams may not be recruiting McDonald's All-Americans, but he's brought in plenty of talent to go along with the toughness.
Johnson-Odom and Crowder are the clear-cut stars and leaders of this year's team. DJO finished with 23 points while Crowder added 18 - including the game-winner. However, Vander Blue has made a significant improvement, Todd Mayo (O.J.'s little brother) has been terrific as a freshman coming off the bench and the inside duo of Chris Otule, Davante Gardner has been solid. Junior Cadougan won't blow anyone away, but he knows how to run a team and has the ability get his teammates open looks. There's also depth with guys like Jamil Wilson, the defensive-minded Derrick Wilson, Juan Anderson and Jamail Jones.
"At some point, people have to give the credit that the program is much deeper than just toughness," Williams said. "At some point, it's more than playing really hard and more than just toughness."
You don't go into Madison and knock off Wisconsin solely on grit and determination. You don't follow it up with a victory over a Washington team that could have three future NBA guys in Madison Square Garden without talented players.
This group is about more than just toughness.
But if I were Williams and Marquette, I'd continue to embrace the "toughness" label.
It's complimentary -- and seems to be working.