MILWAUKEE — After three straight years of reaching the Sweet 16 and last season’s run to the Elite Eight, Marquette University is no longer an underdog. The Golden Eagles are now expected to not only repeat previous success but to also keep moving forward.
The only step up from a conference championship and a trip to the Elite Eight is to go to a Final Four, a lofty goal for a team that must replace it’s entire starting perimeter.
But that’s what winning does, and Marquette head coach Buzz Williams is trying to find the balance between dealing with embracing expectations and remembering how the program got to where it is.
“As your success creates more success, what originally was your goals have to change,” Williams said. “Your goals continue to change and it almost puts you in prison because what you thought was your goal, well we did that. It just keeps shrinking. As it keeps shrinking you are like, ‘Well, what are we going to do now?’ Everybody thinks this is what we are supposed to do and we have to do better.”
“It can’t become a prison because every team is unique. Within that team you have to coach that team. You have to forget about the ring that you just won, but you can’t forget the formula that got you that ring. That’s really hard to do because in our society, I think success inherently makes you soft. You go, ‘Well we made the Sweet 16 so we don’t have to work that hard. We’ve already been to the Sweet 16.’ We’ve eclipsed a certain level where subconsciously you think you don’t have to do that anymore. As you exhale you realize they are expecting us to do that but to do better.”
Williams feels the players handled putting past successes behind them until July, but he then began to see things concerning to him. He said “I don’t think the month of September was a good month for men’s basketball at Marquette,” as the players struggled in their return to campus after spending time being told how great they have been.
“I think the reason why is when you are patted on the back your sphere of influence over a long period of time, no matter how old you are or your title, and you come back and it’s time to go to work, you have to get recentered,” Williams said. “We really struggled in September. I think we’ve come out of it, but only time will tell. I think the next month will probably determine if we’re able to get off to a good start or not.”
For the past few years, Marquettte has thrived as the underdog. Always picked for the bottom of the Big East no matter how the previous year turned out, the Golden Eagles have exceeded expectations in conference play and in the tournament.
Part of the reason for the bad month could be because the Golden Eagles lost three leaders and are still early in the process of replacing them.
Marquette has a number of leadership options but is in need of someone to step up and grasp the responsibility.
“Leaders are leaders whether they are named leaders or not,” Williams said. “Number one, you have to be a leader by example. It may not be your nature to be a leader vocally. September was a bad month because we had no leadership. Everybody was trying to figure out if I talk, is somebody going to listen? And when I talk, are they going to actually execute what I’m saying.
“Jamil Wilson has been very accountable the last 10 days. The previous 30 days was garbage. Chris Otule answers the bell every day, is now beginning to learn how to talk, but he’s been forced into that even though it’s not his nature.”
Mayo on the mend: Junior guard Todd Mayo underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a meniscus injury in his left knee in late July and has only recently been cleared to return to practice.
Mayo was cleared the last Thursday in September and has participated in most, but not all of Marquette’s workouts thus far. Williams feels Mayo is anywhere from 85 to 88 percent.
“He’s progressing in the right way,” Williams said. “Will he be 100 percent by the time the season starts? I think any time you have surgery and you get to 85 percent healed, that last 15 percent is hard to guage how long it is going to take. He’s a guy that can help us, but he can only help us when he’s at 100 percent. He needs the reps. Hopefully he’ll be able to go consecutive days without his injury bothering him.”
Mayo is more confident in his current status, as he isn’t doubting if he’ll be ready to go for the season opener.
“I feel around 100 percent,” Mayo said. “It’s just about strengthening it each and every day throughout my career as a basketball player.
“I just want to keep it strong and get it strong throughout the season. As we continue to move and keep working and these double practices we’re going to get into, I just have to keep it strong.”