Marquette was not ranked in the preseason top 25 and projected 7th in the Big East conference. Teams that finished ahead of Marquette at the end of the regular season in the AP Poll included Kansas State, Georgetown, Gonzaga and Miami.
Jim Larranega, who is beloved in the Washington area for leading a mid major team with less then major talent to the final four with George Mason in 2006, was not greeted by the basketball gods in his return to the Verizon Center. He was greeted however by a group of "have not's", with one all conference player, second team all conference at that. In a tournament that's been as unpredictable as any in recent memory, it's no mind-blowing feat that Marquette pulled off defeating the top ranked seed Miami Hurricanes 71-61, but its how convincing they handled their opponent that raised some eyebrows.
Frankly, not many expected them to get to the sweet 16 to begin with. One writer ranked them last among the 16 teams still standing, which Buzz was very aware of in his post game press conference when asked about it. "It was Myron Metclaf, that wrote that, he lives in the same town that Trent (Lockett) lives in." "Sure does," Lockett added, almost solidifying the article had been used as bulletin board material for motivation heading into their game against Miami.
"I think they were lucky is what everybody said," stated Coach Williams after being asked about his team feeding off winning a couple close games. It's the classic, "Us against the world," approach the Golden Eagles have inherited but unlike the ante'd up version countless teams simulate to psych themselves up for competition, this version is as transparent as it appears. "We're used to people not giving us credit, saying we're no good," mentioned Vander blue, "If you were to look at our roster, no one would expect us to be a Elite Eight team, our guys don't get into that much, but it's good to know that if you step on to the court, if you don't give us respect, we're going to earn it, as we work harder, I feel, than anybody in the country."
Buzz Williams prides himself on two things more then any other as a coach. Family and toughness. Both qualities fuel the fire of this team that hasn't been able to hop the Sweet 16 fence the past two seasons and play with the kids in the elite 8.
"I feel like toughness means to us getting up and showing up every day. One of Buzz' favorite quotes is get up and ring the bell every day," said Jamil Wilson, who finished with a team high 16 points.
It's the Golden Eagles toughness that won them a share of the Big East regular season title on a last second drive in overtime by Vander blue against St Johns at Madison Square Garden. Toughness that allowed them to beat a Davidson team that outplayed them all game but finished with Vander blue streaking to the hoop yet again for a second round tournament victory. And toughness that certified them to defeat Butler by two points in the third round, a team that had beaten them with a 3-pointer at the buzzer back in February.
Part of Marquette's toughness is derived from a grueling preseason boot camp introduced by Buzz Williams that the players could hardly put into words. "A lot of barfing," said Vander blue at one point, after gasping and thinking about the preseason drills. "A lot of barfing and Coach says before boot camp starts it's where we're going to be made as a team and it's where you guys can show your colors. I've been there each and every day and that's where as a team we grow as a team because you depend on each and every person to pull their weight. At the end of the day that's where our team is built," Wilson said.
Each player that spoke after the game used the word team. Now every team in sports clings to their unity and brotherhood amongst each other, but with Marquette, it's on the surface with everything they do. From the way they talk on and off the court to their sharp on-court chemistry.
By all accounts, the Marquette Golden Eagles aren't "supposed" to be here. But faith within their family of eachother and dependence on their toughness that's built in the preseason, when they weren't projected in the top 25 has them where no one expected them to be, that is, other then themselves.