MILWAUKEE — There was an audible gasp of excitement when Marquette University’s name flashed across the screen as the NCAA tournament brackets were revealed Sunday evening.
It wasn’t a reaction of relief, since the Golden Eagles knew they were going to be one of the at-large teams chosen for the field of 68. Marquette just wasn’t expecting to seeded third.
The third seed in the East Regional, Marquette will open up NCAA tournament play on Thursday against 14th-seeded Davidson in Lexington, Ky.
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“We never thought we were going to get a three seed,” senior point guard Junior Cadougan said. “We just have to come out and take advantage of that. That’s big time.”
The message the NCAA tournament selection committee sent in Marquette’s case is that it rewards teams like the Golden Eagles for their full body of work. Most projections had the Golden Eagles as a four or five seed after losing to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
Instead, the Golden Eagles were rewarded for playing a few tough non-conference games and for earning a share of the Big East regular season championship.
“I think it’s deserving,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said after admitting he thought his team wouldn’t get a three seed. “I think the committee is much more aware and probably paying more attention to out-of-conference scheduling. I think that in our tenure year, each year we’ve been more accountable to that.
“The problem is when you go on the road you are probably going to get smacked, like we did at Florida. But in the end it comes back and helps you because it proves to the committee that you were willing to try. You look at some of the other BCS teams and study their non-conference schedule, they aren’t doing a lot.”
Champions of the Southern Conference, Davidson went 26-7 and 17-1 in conference play. One of the Wildcats’ losses came to UW-Milwaukee early in the season and was 9-7 at one point before rattling off 17-straight wins.
Famous for the Elite Eight run of 2008 spurred by Stephen Curry, Davidson has made the tournament in five of the last eight years. The Wildcats lost 69-62 to Louisville in their first NCAA tournament game in 2012.
While not knowing much yet about the personnel of Davidson, Williams knows the style Wildcats coach Bob McKillop has ran in his 24 years at the school.
“Very motion oriented, they will really push it at you very, very fast,” Williams said. “They will always have four guys on the floor that can shoot and they will try and knock your head off when they screen you and very sound defensively.
“What I just told our team, it’s Notre Dame, they just don’t wear green. It’s Wisconsin, they just don’t wear red and white. That’s the type of team they are. They are very disciplined, very fundamentally sound.”
If Marquette is able to get past Davidson, the Golden Eagles would face the winner of sixth-seeded Butler and 11th-seeded Bucknell on Saturday. A potential rematch of the Maui Invitational opener could be on the horizon and the Golden Eagles would certainly be out for revenge after losing at the buzzer on a half-court shot.
But Marquette is taking it one game at a time, knowing how fast it could be over. However, ss the highest seed in their part of the bracket, the Golden Eagles are expected to at least make a trip to the their third-straight Sweet 16.
“There’s always pressure,” junior forward Jamil Wilson said. “You want to play under pressure because that’s when good players play. Always when you do something, you want to hit the next milestone. I think there is (pressure) and I think we are going to handle it the right way.”