Marquette University is a private, Catholic institution based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Boasting a student body of around 11,500 undergraduates and graduates, Marquette is one of the largest Jesuit universities in the country.
With the Golden Eagles as their mascot, the Marquette basketball program plays in the Big East Conference, where they have been a member since 2005. Prior to that, they called Conference USA home.
The Marquette basketball team is one of the more prestigious programs in the nation. Thursday’s game against the Huskies will mark the university’s seventh trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past 10 years.
In 2003, the Golden Eagles — led by Dwyane Wade and Travis Diener — made the Final Four and were toppled in the semifinal by an imposing Kansas ballclub (led by Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, Keith Langford, and Aaron Miles). In seven other trips to the Big Dance dating back to 1996, Marquette has exited the Tournament in either the first or second round.
Overall, the Golden Eagles have made 27 trips to the Tournament dating back to 1955, posting a 34-28 record in the process. They have won one National Championship, accomplishing the feat with a win over North Carolina in 1977.
Notable alumni of the Marquette basketball program include the aforementioned Wade and Diener; current Los Angeles Clippers forward and Bill Simmons punchline Steve Novak; current Portland Trailblazers assistant coach and former Sonic Maurice Lucas; current Boston Celtics head coach and former NBA point guard Doc Rivers; current Utah Jazz shooting guard Wes Matthews Jr., son of ex-NBA player and former Xavier McDaniel punching bag Wes Matthews Sr.; and last but certainly not least, former Seattle Supersonic legend and 1995 free agent signee Jim “I’ve got splinters in my ass” McIlvaine.
This year’s edition of the Golden Eagles, led by head coach Buzz Williams, finished with an overall record of 22-11, while posting an 11-7 mark in league play. Their conference record was good for a fifth-place finish in the Big East, behind No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Pittsburgh, No. 3 West Virginia, and No. 4 Villanova.
Marquette began the year with a tough non-conference schedule that saw them take on the likes of Xavier (win), Michigan (win), Florida State (loss), North Carolina State (loss), and Wisconsin (loss). Overall, the Golden Eagles compiled a 9-3 non-conference record.
In league play, the Eagles got off to a sluggish start, losing five of their first seven games — twice to Villanova, and once to West Virginia, lowly DePaul (who finished with just one conference win), and Syracuse — before righting the ship and winning nine of their next 10.
Of Marquette’s 13 conference wins (including Big East Tournament play), only three of those (Georgetown, Louisville, and Villanova) came against NCAA Tournament-bound teams. In all, the Golden Eagles have won four games against tourney-bound competition (the aforementioned three contests, as well as the non-conference win over Xavier).
In postseason play, Marquette went 2-1 in the Big East Tournament before falling to Georgetown in the semifinals. The 80-57 dismantling was the Golden Eagles’ biggest defeat of the year.
In spite of their most recent loss, the Eagles are a battle-tested bunch that have endured a number of nail-biting ballgames this season. They have had 15 games decided by five points or fewer, prevailing in seven of those contests. In late February, the Eagles were victorious in three straight overtime games (against Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Seton Hall), winning by a combined total of six points.
From a personnel standpoint, Marquette features a less-than-imposing rotation of players that includes no one bigger than six feet, seven inches tall. Coach Buzz Williams regularly plays just six people, occasionally stretching his rotation out to seven, and rarely more than eight.
Of the individuals in Marquette’s rotation, the team is unquestionably led by 6’6″ senior forward Lazar Hayward, an All-Big East second-team selection. Hayward averages 18.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He has failed to score in double figures only twice this year, and creates both an inside an outside presence. The Buffalo, New York native is shooting 43.0% from the field and 34.5% from beyond the arc on the season.
Hayward is accompanied by two sidekicks who each boast double-figures scoring averages: 6’6″ junior swingman Jimmy Butler, and 6’2″ sophomore shooting guard Darius Johnson-Odom.
Averaging 14.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, Butler is a do-it-all type who has chipped in 2.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He has also managed to shoot a robust 50.0% from three-point range, knocking down 16 of his 32 attempts.
Johnson-Odom is a dangerous marksman who has converted 47.4% of his three-point attempts this season. Unlike his teammate Butler, however, Johnson-Odom shoots from long range at a much more blistering clip. The native of Raleigh, North Carolina has knocked down 72 deep balls in 152 attempts, on his way to a scoring average of 12.8 points per game.
The rest of Marquette’s rotation is rounded out by 5’8″ senior point guard Maurice Acker (8.5 PPG, 3.7 APG, 48.0% 3-pt), 6’0″ senior guard David Cubillan (6.6 PPG, 2.8 APG, 39.5% 3-pt), 6’3″ junior guard Dwight Buycks (6.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.2 SPG), and 6’7″ junior forward Joseph Fulce (3.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 83.3% FT).
As a collective unit, the Golden Eagles shoot 40.6% from three-point range, good for sixth-best in the nation. All five of their starters (Hayward, Butler, Johnson-Odom, Acker, Cubillan) shoot the three-ball at a 34.5% clip or better. As a result, three-pointers have accounted for 32.7% of the team’s total scoring output this season (786 of 2,407 total points).
To briefly summarize, Marquette is a good-but-not-great ballclub that absolutely lives and dies by the outside shot. They’ve beaten the teams they were supposed to beat (with the exception of one loss to DePaul), lost to the teams they were supposed to lose to, and occasionally stepped up and thwarted a team who was supposed to beat them (Georgetown, Syracuse, and Villanova, to name three).
Their experience in close games should help them in what is expected to be another close game versus Washington. However, their lack of an inside presence will be a detriment against a team that features one great post player (Matthew Bryan-Amaning) and two capable ones (Tyreese Breshers and Darnell Gant). Similarly, controlling the Huskies’ dribble penetration will be a tough task for the undersized bunch.
Finally, if the Eagles expect to win on Thursday, they will need at least one big performance from the likes of Butler and Johnson-Odom. Their leader, Hayward, will more than likely be neutralized in terms of output by Quincy Pondexter. Either Butler or Johnson-Odom will be neutralized by Isaiah Thomas. That leaves one of Marquette’s trio of standouts free to step-up and take control of expanded opportunities. If he cannot do that, and if the Huskies receive a big performance from one of their many X-factors (Bryan-Amaning, Venoy Overton, Elston Turner, Scott Suggs, Justin Holiday), expect to see Washington dancing their way to the second round of the Tournament.
However, if the Golden Eagles connect on their triples with the consistency that they’ve displayed throughout the year, and if they can somehow get one or two members of their abbreviated rotation to provide more than their season average, it could very well be Marquette moving on to the Round of 32.
Tomorrow: A detailed look at how Washington can beat Marquette.