MILWAUKEE — Wins over South Florida and DePaul aren’t going to do much to boost Marquette’s NCAA tournament resume.
But it’s often the bottom feeders of the league that prove to be dangerous to teams like the Golden Eagles. One slip-up against either of the Big East’s two worst teams and Marquette’s body of work takes a serious hit, let alone its chances at a conference championship.
After taking care of USF on Wednesday, Marquette returned home Saturday and took DePaul’s best punch. The Golden Eagles responded with a tremendous offensive effort to stave off a Blue Demons team hungry for an upset, 89-78.
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The win was Marquette’s 22nd in a row at the BMO Harris Bradley Center and moved the No. 24 Golden Eagles (17-5, 8-2) a half game ahead of Syracuse for first place in the Big East.
“The teams that play in the postseason and play in March Madness, they have that mindset and focus that no matter what team you are playing against, no matter what game it is, you just have to come out and do what you do,” Marquette point guard Junior Cadougan said. “You have to be disciplined and mature to know any team can win at any time.”
DePaul certainly played well enough to win its second conference game of the season. The Blue Demons answered each time Marquette began to pull away with either a 3-pointer or a three-point play.
The game would have been a rout if DePaul didn’t start the second half making 5 of 6 3-pointers, because Marquette was playing what Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams called its best offensive game of the season.
“They made a lot of hard shots,” Williams said. “They were in an unbelievable rhythm offensively until we went zone and then we got three stops in a row.”
At Marquette’s media day in October, Williams flat out said he felt his team wasn’t any good. A longtime staple in the book of motivational tools used by coaches, Williams said it again Saturday.
But somehow, some way, this not very good team is all alone in first place of the Big East on Feb. 9 – at least until Syracuse plays Sunday.
“They are a solid team, there’s no question about it,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. “They don’t have any real superstars or Dwyane Wades but they are all really good players, and they have eight or nine of them.
“I like this team, but I don’t necessarily think they are the most talented team in the league. I don’t think they are Syracuse talentwise or Louisville, but they can beat them.”
Williams likes where his team sits, but “knows there’s an avalanche coming at us the next 25 days.”
That statement isn’t coach lingo, but it’s the truth. Both of Marquette’s games next week are against ranked opponents, starting Monday at Georgetown.
Next week’s outlook would be totally different had the Golden Eagles had slipped up once this past week. The fact they didn’t, played well in both games and continue to see drastic individual improvement from guys like Chris Otule, has Marquette believing it can really win the league.
“I think the sky is the limit with this team,” Blue said. “From top to bottom, I think we have everything we need. I just feel like we are so close as a unit and we have great leaders that can get us there. I think this year the tournament is going to be wide open. It’s all up for grabs.
“We have that swagger about us where teams don’t want to play us in March. We are going to get the March focus right now, so we can go into March and get a good seed and play on from there.”