WASHINGTON — When you look at how the four remaining teams in the East Region – Indiana, Miami (FL), Marquette, and Syracuse – advanced out of the NCAA Tournament’s initial weekend, the Golden Eagles stick out from the rest.
Yes, while this part of the bracket has been as chalk as chalk can be, Marquette made its journey as interesting as possible in defeating Davidson and Butler by a combined three points.
With two narrow escapes, the Golden Eagles must be ecstatic just to be joining the other top seeds at the Verizon Center ahead of Thursday’s regional semi-finals, right?
Just ask Vander Blue.
“Once we made it to the Sweet 16 this year it wasn’t as exciting because we wanted more,” Blue said in the Marquette locker room during Wednesday’s media day. “We’re not satisfied and we’re trying to keep going.”
Blue, who scored the game-winning basket against Davidson and then followed it up with 29 points two days later against Butler, has been here before with Marquette. In fact, it’s all he knows. But he wants much more.
Now a junior, Blue has been a part of two Sweet 16 losses – North Carolina, Florida – in each of his previous two seasons. Still, he likes this year’s version to break from the mold against Miami on Thursday night.
“Nobody wants to go home,” Blue explained. “I think we have the perfect team, and this would be the perfect story for us to get to the Final Four and have the chance to do something that hasn’t been done at Marquette in awhile.”
Despite being just one of four schools – Kansas, Florida, and Ohio State – that have reached three consecutive regional semifinals, Marquette last advanced to the Elite 8 in 2003 when current Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade led the Golden Eagles all the way to the Final Four.
“I don’t know what it is, there’s just something a little special about us. Nobody expects us to be any good. They probably still say we aren’t any good. Nobody respects me, nobody thought that I was any good but I just want to be the best leader that I can be and keep leading this team as far as it can go.”
Marquette once again exceeded preseason expectations by finishing in a three-way tie atop the Big East standings after being picked by the league’s coaches to come in seventh place.
As far as teams not respecting Blue’s play on the court, that seems unlikely and more of a way for the star guard to motivate himself. Blue leads the Golden Eagles with 14.8 points per game, but he seems to be saving his best for last.
Blue has upped his scoring average up to 22.5 points per game while shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc and a perfect 12-of-12 from the free throw line during the NCAA Tournament.
When searching for advice on how to lead this year’s team of overachievers, Blue doesn’t have to look too far. It’s not just the current team that remains tight. The Marquette family extends to former players both in and out of the NBA.
“I talk to all of those guys all time, Jimmy [Butler], Jae [Crowder], Darius [Johnson-Odom]. I ask them what I can do, what do they see in my game, or how can I help the team. And it’s more of being a vocal leader. When guys on the team can look at somebody and really see the fire – that’s why I play the way I play cause I know my teammates are watching. When they can see me with fire coming out of my eyes out there playing as hard as I can I’m pretty sure they’re going to do the same as well.”
Whether or not Marquette knocks of the second seeded Hurricanes tomorrow night remains uncertain, but what seems clear is that Vander Blue will play a huge part in the outcome.