On Jan 22, 2013, an 11-7 Villanova team topped No. 5 Louisville at home, coming back late to notch it’s first victory over a top-5 opponent in almost two years. Nova had endured a string of difficult seasons consecutively, culminating the previous year with a 13-19 record. While coach Jay Wright had the full backing of the administration, there were grumblings among the fanbase that it may be time to start looking in other directions. As the buzzer sounded, fans stormed the court and launched what would be an improbable string of seasons that would culminate that year in an NCAA birth, and 3 years later in an NCAA Championship.
Almost four years to the day, a 13-6 Marquette team topped No. 1 Villanova at home, coming back late to notch it’s second ever victory over a top-ranked team. Marquette had endured a string of difficult seasons consecutively, culminating with 3 straight postseason-less years. While coach Wojo had the full backing of the administration, there were grumblings among the fanbase that it may be time to start looking in other directions. As the buzzer sounded, fans stormed the court and launched…
Ok so I took some creative liberties in this extended comparison. Nova’s three difficult seasons included two tournament births that were met with early exits, Wright had already proven he could lead a team to the Final Four and their biggest deficit in the game was only 6 points in the second half. Marquette wasn’t ranked in the 90s in KenPom like Nova was at that time, and had, just days before, taken out another top-10 team.
But take away the exact details and look at this from a big picture perspective, and the the similarities are striking. Two programs in the midst of bounce back seasons got an improbable victory that brought national recognition and sparked a fanbase in need of something to believe in.
And although it’s way too early to say if this one win will spring Marquette to an NCAA Tournament, let alone a 4-year run of conference supremacy and a national championship, it is not outlandish to say this win is a mile marker and possible turning point in Marquette basketball history.
Beyond the stats you’ve probably seen 50 times on Twitter (second-ever No. 1 win, first ever win over No. 1 at home, first win over Villanova since 2012), there was something cathartic in the way it all played out. I’m only using a snippet of a post on MUScoop that definitely deserves your entire attention, but this states it better than I can:
I’ve seen the BC more packed, and I’ve heard the BC louder, but I have never experienced a more jubilant atmosphere at the BC than last night. As we came back in those 6 minutes, the building transitioned from despondency to hope to joy. Sam’s monster three, Katin taking over the point and drilling that ice cold shot to tie it up before calmly putting us ahead at the line.
I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to go anywhere. That environment was freaking magical. Everyone in the building was so elated. As the crowds started to trickle out, I sat back down and watched the celebrations. I reflected on what this win means for the different segments of the Marquette community.
For those that have kept the faith in Wojo and the direction he’s taking the program, last night felt like a massive redemption. It felt like all that faith being paid off. We suffered through that miserable first year, watched as last year’s team started to win again but knew it was somewhat hollow due to the scheduling and the lack of a tournament berth. And this year, suffice to say for the moment we sure aren’t anywhere close to that bubble anymore. All that faith paying off, because at least last night, we were back on top of the college basketball world. Where we belong.
Again, I highly encourage you to read the full post, as it encapsulates the sentiment from a die-hard fan’s perspective eloquently and astutely.
This SBNation post takes on the view from a national perspective and I think does a fair job at finding the bigger meaning in the win.
Perhaps more importantly than that is the simpler fact that the bounce seems to be back in Golden Eagle basketball. Marquette is a proud program with an undervalued, rabid fan base. Seeing the new Big East enjoy so much success without much contribution from a program that was supposed to do much of the heavy lifting felt off. Thankfully for everyone associated with the program, it finally looks like those days are on the verge of becoming a thing of the past.
Amid the flurry of social media activity, I saw this Tweet that really made me think.
On the one hand, it’s true that one January game does not a season make. It’s also true that Marquette fans have been jubilant and outwardly so for the last 16 hours. But I couldn’t disagree more with the assertion.
If you follow Marquette closely, you’ll know that fan enthusiasm has taken a big hit the past 3 season. This can be seen on the blogs, forums and social media posts. If you took a peek at this blog’s metrics, you’d know exactly what I mean.
But more worryingly, it has manifested itself in diminishing crowds. Average attendance has fallen by over 1,000 people the last two years, from 15,327 in 2014 to 13,308 in 2016. This season wasn’t looking much better, either. Taking into account that it included the UW game (which drew over 18k people), Marquette is averaging 12,945 fans a game. Marquette hasn’t averaged less than 13k a game since 2005. This is direct revenue impacting the bottom line.
I mean, less than 2 hours before tipoff, there were 3,200 face value tickets on Ticketmaster available and a glut of single digit tickets on the resale market. The student marketplace on Facebook saw most tickets being sold for $10 or less, and this was all for a fun team against the No. 1 squad in the country, coming off a great win against Creighton. Apathy hadn’t just set in, it was the new norm.
Now go back and re-watch the last 6 minutes of the game. The crowd is as raucous as I’ve ever seen it for an extended period of time, seemingly standing and cheering the entire run. Then go to the first-person videos of those at the Bradley Center. It’s pure, raw, unfiltered emotion. Watch students, none of whom had probably ever seen Marquette play in the postseason, sprint from the upper deck to get to the floor. Tell me it doesn’t make you smile.
This was a victory that was bigger than toppling a number 1 seed. It was a victory that was bigger than making an NCAA Tournament much more likely. It was a victory bigger than any one result has the right to be in January.
This was a game that has brought fans together in a way no game has since the Elite 8 run in 2013. Folks who probably haven’t watched a game in years were posting Facebook statuses and sharing every link they could.
Marquette has a proud 100-year history of basketball, and there’s a wide consensus that this was the biggest regular season victory ever. Not this year, not under Wojo, not in the post-Al era. Ever.
Marquette won’t win the title this year, and heck, might turn around and put up a stinker on Saturday against Providence. But it seems like this win has moved the needle nationally.
What does this win mean for Marquette? It makes it worthwhile to care once more. That, more than any number of top-10 wins, is why this game meant everything and then some.