Marquette eyeing signature victory against Creighton
FEB 17, 2014 3:27p ET
MILWAUKEE -- Shortly after Marquette's lackluster loss at St. John's on Feb. 1, Buzz Williams passed out a calendar to each member of the program. On it was every event the Golden Eagles would face from that date until the championship game of the Big East tournament.
Marquette was either going to go all in together over those 40 days or fold with a tough road ahead to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.
"I explained to them that this is what's going to have to transpire if we're going to have a chance," Williams said. "(Saturday) was day 12, and as a program, our managers, our assistants, all of us, I think have been accountable."
Since the team meeting earlier in the month, the Golden Eagles (15-10, 7-5 Big East) have rattled off three consecutive wins for the first time all season, including a big victory over Xavier on Saturday. It's exactly what they needed to begin thinking about the tournament again, but there's still a lot of work left to be done.
Marquette's season has become the "one game at a time" coaching cliche. It's next game just happens to be Wednesday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center against a Creighton team that routed Villanova on Sunday to take sole possession of first place in the league.
A win over the No. 11 Bluejays (21-4, 11-2) would not only be the Golden Eagles' biggest of the season, but it would give them a chance to live on for another day.
"They are all going to be like that," Williams said. "All (the Xavier win) does is put us in a position to be in a position. That's it. 'Hashtag bubble life', none of that is going on at Marquette. It just puts us in a position to be in a position.
"Instead of taking short shallow breaths the way we have the last 10 or 12 days, maybe at church tomorrow we can exhale for an hour."
While this is a position Marquette has been in before during its eight-straight NCAA tournament appearances, the Golden Eagles have been positioning themselves for a higher seed rather than fighting for a berth at this point the last two seasons.
Things have changed since returning from St. John's, intensity at practices has picked up and the sense of urgency has turned up a couple of notches.
"It did feel different a couple of weeks ago," senior guard Jake Thomas said. "But ever since the Butler game, I think we're back on the right track. We're back to the preseason practices right now. We're going hard every day. Ever since then we've had our confidence back. It's starting to feel like it did last year."
The victory over Xavier gave Marquette just its second win over a team in the top 50 of the RPI and Ken Pomeroy's rankings. Creighton is ranked seventh in the RPI and fourth by Pomeroy. Beating the Bluejays would give Marquette a signature victory and allow it to get serious about its chances.
Creighton is the first of three games Marquette has left against teams currently ranked in the top 50 of Pomeroy's rankings. A trip to Villanova and a home game against St. John's represent the other two major opportunities, but a trap game at DePaul and games against bubble teams in Georgetown and Providence loom large as well.
"It does seem to be level after level," Thomas said. "We beat Seton Hall to give us a chance and now we're getting another one after this one. It's working out right now."
The Golden Eagles are currently 2-9 against Pomeroy's top 50 and 2-8 against the top 50 of the RPI, making Wednesday's opportunity against Creighton as close to must-win as it gets.
But beating Creighton is certainly easier said than done. The Bluejays whipped the Golden Eagles by 18 points in the Big East opener on New Year's Eve and have won six of their last seven, including a 101-80 victory over No. 9 Villanova on Sunday.
National player of the year favorite Doug McDermott is averaging 25.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. McDermott scored 39 points against the Wildcats to pass Larry Bird for 13th place on the Division I career scoring list.
McDermott returned for his senior season to lead the Bluejays to the next level of the NCAA tournament, now Williams is looking to his seniors to lead the way to the big dance.
"Look at Davante (Gardner)," Williams said. "He's been to Sweet 16, Sweet 16, Elite Eight. He doesn't know what fighting for a bid is.
"(The seniors) have some ownership in what we're doing. That's going to be a portion of their legacy. That's the last chapter of their book and I can't write it for them. They are going to write it, and they are going to write it by what they do."
Because of the culture Williams has developed in Milwaukee, Marquette seems to be at its best when its backs are against the wall. The Golden Eagles have thrived as the underdogs and love when people doubt them.
Well, here they are again.
"I'm trying as all I can to help our group play as hard as possible to see if we can fight another day," Williams said. "In some ways, because of my nature and the attraction of kids that know my personality and I know there's, we like to fight more than anything else. Sometimes that's good enough and sometimes that's not.
"We're starting to fight, and that's kind of fun."
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