MILWAUKEE — In a year of milestones for Marquette basketball, coach Steve Wojciechowski accomplished the most impressive goal yet during his three-year tenure with the Golden Eagles.
Marquette is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. It’s just in time, too, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the basketball program and 40th anniversary of the Al McGuire-coached team winning the national championship.
Marquette (19-12) hasn’t returned to elite status, though it certainly is moving in the right direction.
“You always want things to happen sooner than maybe it’s capable of being done,” Wojciechowski said. “But I think our team has made progress each year. This is another step in the right direction.”
NCAA play will be a new experience for almost everyone on the Marquette roster. The 10th-seeded Golden Eagles open play on Friday against No. 7 seed South Carolina in an East Region game in Greenville, South Carolina.
Only Katin Reinhardt has NCAA Tournament experience, having played in the tourney twice during separate stints at UNLV and Southern California.
Here’s another milestone for Marquette: Reinhardt will join Derrick Gordon as the only players in NCAA history to go to the tournament with three different schools. Gordon accomplished the feat with Massachusetts, Western Kentucky and Seton Hall.
Wojciechowski turned to Reinhardt this week to fill in his teammates on what to expect.
“I’ve had a different journey than a lot of people do,” Reinhardt said. “That’s what my goal was when I transferred to Marquette. I wanted to bring this program back to where it’s been.”
It’s hasn’t been that long since Marquette was a tournament regular. Marquette went to the Final Four in 2003 under coach Tom Crean with a team that featured Dwyane Wade.
There was an eight-year run of tournament appearances that began with Crean in 2006 and carried over during Buzz Williams’ tenure. Marquette went to three straight Sweet 16s, a run that ended in 2013.
A 17-15 campaign followed, and Williams left soon after the end of that season to take the same job at Virginia Tech.
In came Wojciechowski, a former player and assistant at Duke taking on his first head-coaching gig. Marquette has evolved from a grind-it-out style during Williams’ tenure to an up-and-down game under Wojciechowski that is reliant on 3-point shooting. The Golden Eagles’ 43 percent shooting from behind the arc leads the nation.
If Marquette beats South Carolina, Wojciechowski could face his mentor, Mike Krzyzewski, in a second-round matchup against his alma mater. An upset of top-ranked Villanova in January showed Marquette players that anything is possible.
Not that Wojciechowski is looking that far ahead — he learned from Krzyzewski, after all.
“Not as a head coach, but I’ve been part of this tournament a lot, and you’ve got to take it as one game a time,” Wojciechowski said. “My focus, and my team’s focus will be on South Carolina and South Carolina only.”