Marquette, UW head to Big Dance
The Golden Eagles generally were pleased to earn the No. 6 seed in the West region and an opening-round game against Utah State in Boise, Idaho on Friday.
Marquette lost five of its last six games after senior guard Dominic James broke a bone in his foot, but the committee apparently took into account the fact that three of those losses were to Big East teams that ended up as No. 1 seeds: Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh.
“I credit the committee for not just looking at the fact that we lost five of the last six—but how we lost, who we lost to,” senior guard Wesley Matthews said. “We were in every game.”
And the Golden Eagles will be seeing some familiar faces in Boise, as in-state rival Wisconsin will be playing in the same place on the same day—albeit in a different region. They’re the No. 12 seed in the East and will face fifth-seeded Florida State.
So, will road-bound Marquette fans root for Wisconsin and Badgers fans return the favor on Friday? Don’t bet your cheesehead on it.
“I doubt it,” said Matthews, a native of Madison whose father played for Wisconsin. “If you’re a Badger, you’re usually just going for the Badgers. I’ve never met a Badgers fan that cheered for Marquette.”
The Badgers will face Florida State, which is coming off an ACC tournament championship game loss to Duke after beating North Carolina to advance.
Badgers coach Bo Ryan said his team knows they’ll be facing a quick and athletic Seminoles team, but is more concerned for the moment about getting his team’s offense to become more consistent.
“There’s just some things that we’ve got to get solidified, no matter who they put us against,” Ryan said.
Wisconsin rebounded from a six-game losing streak in January to win seven of its last nine games in the regular season. But the Badgers’ late-game struggles returned in the Big Ten tournament, where they lost to Ohio State.
“(It’s a) great feeling just to know that we’ve got another chance to show what we’re made of,” senior forward Marcus Landry said.
Wisconsin has grown accustomed to entering the tournament with a single-digit seed, but Landry said this year’s less-impressive seed won’t make a difference.
“It doesn’t affect anything,” Landry said. “We have to play who’s next.”
And it’s a rematch of sorts, as Wisconsin’s football team lost to the Seminoles in the Champs Sports bowl in December. And if Wisconsin can play Friday’s game at its own deliberate tempo, the final score might end up looking more like it came from a football game than a basketball game.
Marquette, meanwhile, finally proved it can with without James by beating St. John’s in the Big East tournament. The Golden Eagles then put together a furious second-half rally to take the lead against Villanova on Thursday, only to lose on a last-second basket.
Still, with James essentially functioning as an extra assistant coach on the bench instead of a player, first-year coach Buzz Williams says the rest of the team isn’t feeling sorry for itself.
“I don’t think our guys have ever hung their heads and said, ‘pity us,”‘ Williams said. “Dominic hasn’t hung his head. … So that’s why it’s kind of hard to feel sorry for him when he’s handling it more mature than any of us in a lot of different ways.”
And despite the heartbreaking nature of the Villanova loss, Matthews said the team has gained confidence by playing close games against so many good teams without their floor leader.
“I don’t think that we were not confident when we first found out about his injury,” Matthews said. “We’re even more confident now with the tough losses, the way we played.”
Williams said the Golden Eagles still believe they can win.
“I don’t think our confidence has ever been shook,” Williams said. “I think we have a new team, and we have to figure out how to best play with our new team.”
It’s a new team for Williams, and a new season as far as junior forward Lazar Hayward is concerned.
“Definitely,” Hayward said. “We’re 0-0 now, and we have to play for our seniors.”