Before we ultimately put a lid on the 2012-13 season, Play For The Garden is evaluating the year of each member of the Big East.
Team: Marquette Golden Eagles
Record: 26-9 overall / 14-4 in the Big East
How did their season finish: loss in the Elite 8 to Syracuse
Accomplishments: co-Big East champions
Leading scorer: Vander Blue with 14.8 PPG
Leading rebounder: Trent Lockett with 5.1 RPG
Marquette was picked to finish 7th in the Big East in the preseason coaches poll. The justification for a middle of the pack finish seemed appropriate given they were losing 48% of their scoring from a year ago, which was the combined contribution from just two players. Jae Crowder, the Big East Player of the Year in 2012, and Darius Johnson-Odom were lost to graduation and replacing them looked to be no easy task.
That forecast seemed to be fairly accurate given how Marquette played in the first half of their schedule. Their non-conference schedule was on the weak side, and the Golden Eagles didn’t perform in any way to create much optimism for this year’s squad.
Marquette lost to Butler at the Maui Invitational Tournament in their third game of the season. But to be fair, the Bulldogs needed a desperation 3 from Rotnei Clarke to win it. It was one of the craziest shots of the season, especially when it comes to buzzer-beaters. Their next test came in the Big East/SEC Challenge in which they trekked down to Gainesville, Florida to take on the Gators. Florida absolutely annihilated Marquette 82-49. Marquette bounced back nicely to beat inter-state rival Wisconsin, but at the point the Badgers were 6-3 and hadn’t looked very impressive. So while it was a quality win for the Golden Eagles, it wasn’t anything to get excited about. But if there was any sort of excitement from that win it was quickly wiped away as Marquette went on to lose to Wisconsin Green Bay just two games later.
It was then time to get ready for conference play and without any reason to feel optimistic about Marquette’s prospects, we were quickly reminded of why we should never doubt Buzz Williams, and the masterful coach that he is. He has never finished worse than .500 in the Big East and he has taken Marquette to the NCAA Tournament every single year since he took over the program in 2009.
Big East play started well, beating three good teams – Connecticut, Georgetown and Pittsburgh – two of them in overtime plus Seton Hall before falling at Cincinnati in overtime. They only lost three more conference games after that, to Louisville, Georgetown and Villanova, all away, but they didn’t gain much attention until they beat Syracuse at home in late February.
They finished conference play on a four game winning streak and before you knew it they were co-Big East champions with Louisville and Georgetown. After earning a double-bye in the Big East Tournament they flamed out in their first game to Notre Dame in a rather uneventful fashion. Nonetheless, their strong play in the Big East earned them a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The NCAA Tournament was nearly a disaster. If it wasn’t for three clutch 3-pointers in the final minute from Jamil Wilson and Vander Blue and a layup from Blue with a second remaining on the clock, their season would have ended right then and there to 14 seeded Davidson. It seemed impossible, but they pulled it off. They then went on to face Butler, a rematch of their heartbreaking loss from way back in November. It was another close game, but this time they survived Butler’s desperation heave at the end. On to the Sweet 16 they marched, where they dismantled Miami, the 2 seed in their region, with relative ease.
They were pinned against Syracuse in the Elite 8, and the second go-round for these two did not go well for Marquette. They were held to 39 points by the Orange, ending their season.
Final Grade: A-
For a team that was co-Big East champions, earned a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and went to the Elite 8, it was a relatively quiet year in terms of media attention. This was a prime example of Buzz doing what Buzz does. Expectations were down, the team ended up being a pretty bad shooting team and one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country (only made 29.6% of their 3-point attempts which was 323rd in the country) and they took some ugly losses early. But in the end, they never lost a home game (they were a perfect 16-0 at home) and made a deep run in the NCAAs. Not a bad year after losing two players who were first team all-Big East a year ago.