Buzz Williams believes his team deserves a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But that doesn’t mean he expected it.
After losing to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals of the Big East Championship Thursday night, it was presumed Marquette would end up with a four or five-seed. Everyone gathered at The Annex on Marquette’s campus seemingly was taken by surprise when the Golden Eagles were revealed as a three-seed.
Williams believes the NCAA selection committee looked at teams’ non-conference schedule and their whole body of work throughout the season, which is why Marquette received its deserving seed.
“I think that the committee is much more aware and probably paying much more attention to out-of-conference scheduling. In our tenure here, we’ve become more accountable to that,” Williams said. “The problem is when you go on the road, you’re probably at times 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 you were willing to try.”
Now that Marquette knows who and where it plays, the team can focus on getting to its third straight Sweet Sixteen appearance, and beyond.
“I feel like there was pressure last year to get past it,” forward Jamil Wilson said. “There’s always pressure and you want to play under pressure.”
One positive factor about this year’s team is its experience. Eight of Marquette’s 10 leaders in minutes per game were on last season’s team, which lost to Florida in the Sweet Sixteen, and six of those were on the losing end against North Carolina in 2011.
“This is the last straw right here, especially for me,” senior Junior Cadougan said. “We just have to come with that hunger, what got us to this point, and just come ready to play at all times, every possession.”
The theme of taking games “one possession at a time” has been a common one for Marquette. Williams spoke about the team’s small margin for error, and how they can not afford to slip up at any point in the tournament.
Cadougan and Wilson both noted that mantra must be emphasized in the NCAA Tournament; because one loss ends a team’s season, every momentum shift and basket means even more.
“The game is shortened down, so every possession really does matter, and I know they say that in the regular season and preseason, but in the tournament every possession does matter,” Wilson said. “A possession, a turnover, an offensive rebound, anything can bite you in the butt.”
With every possession being crucial, Cadougan admitted there is likely to be more pressure on him. It has been well documented that the Golden Eagles are at their best when their point guard is playing well, and they struggle when Cadougan does the same.
“It’s like the quarterback being in the playoffs: it’s all on him,” Cadougan said. “I’m an extension of coach on the floor and I’m going to do my best to lead the team to victory.”
Wilson echoed those sentiments, saying Marquette’s point guards and big men are the key to any success in the NCAA Tournament.
“We need our point and our center. Chris (Otule), Junior, and Derrick (Wilson): those are our floor generals, those are our pivotal positions,” Wilson said. “Anybody else you can put in and mix around, but those guys we are going to need. We’re going to need Chris to be a force on the inside, Davante (Gardner) to be a force on the inside. We’re going to need Junior and Derrick to set the tempo offensively and defensively.”
Not surprisingly, Williams said after Davidson was announced as their opponents that he did not know too much about the Wildcats at that time. He did have praise for head coach Bob McKillop, calling him “one of the top-ten coaches in the country.”
Marquette’s head coach said he and his staff will watch Davidson’s three games from the Southern Conference Tournament, and their losses from this season – one of which came on the road to the UW-Milwaukee Panthers. Williams was able to give an idea of what he expects to see from the Golden Eagles’ second round opponents.
“What I just told our team: it’s Notre Dame, they just don’t wear green. They wear black and red. It’s Wisconsin. They just don’t wear red and white,” Williams said. “That’s the type of team they are. Very disciplined, very fundamentally sound, going to have skilled guys on the floor at nearly every position. You won’t see necessarily great athletes but you’ll always see guys that can dribble, pass, and shoot, and guys that are really tough.
“I don’t know the numbers or the names, but that’s why they’re back-to-back league champs.”
Now that he has more experience as a head coach at this level, Williams understands why “March Madness” brings out the craziest of finishes to games and the biggest of upsets. The Golden Eagles will not be taking Davidson for granted, and will not be thinking about possible third round opponents Bucknell or Butler until they beat the Wildcats on Thursday.
“It’s a two-game tournament. It’s not about Butler and Bucknell. If you don’t figure out how to beat Davidson then you’ll be home Friday morning and that’s the end of it,” Williams said. “Like every team, not just Marquette, that added desperation is why you see so many crazy things happen in March.
“Teams don’t want to quit. Teams don’t want to go home. Teams don’t want to end. There’s closure and everybody can see it, and so they’re just fighting like crazy to hang on.”