To be ranked, or not to be ranked? That is the question. By all accounts, Marquette had a wonderful week of college basketball. Coming into the week ranked #25 in the AP Poll (#23 in the coaches poll) the Golden Eagles have made yet another jump up the rankings to #20.
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – FEBRUARY 26: Tyler Kolek #22 of the Marquette Golden Eagles dribbles the basketball up court during the second half of the game against the Butler Bulldogs at Fiserv Forum on February 26, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
Not all 1-1 records are the same. Marquette’s 1-1 record this week is indeed an indicator that sometimes a loss can help your case with the committee. Entering a week full of opportunity Marquette stared down two matchups, both against ranked opponents. Surely a battle against #6 Connecticut and #12 Xavier would knock the Golden Eagle’s down a peg or two right? Au Contraire!
Marquette defended their home court against the rival Huskies, winning 82-76. This matchup sported a red circle around it the entire year. A heated rivalry that consistently produces incredible games and even better results. It definitely did not disappoint. Fiserv Forum shook with every minute the clock wound down closer to the fall of the Big East foe.
UConn had the lead at the end of the first half, but Marquette was unfazed. With the help of Oso Ighodaro’s 19 points and Tyler Kolek’s 8 assists the home team closed out the 2nd half with the lead and more importantly the win. Sending the Huskies back to Storrs, Connecticut with a defeat is usually cause enough for celebration, but when they are the #6 team in the nation, the win tastes so much sweeter.
A few days later Marquette had another test, travelling to Norwood, Ohio to engage in yet another ranked matchup against the Musketeers of Xavier. Leading up to this bout Xavier’s winning streak had been extended to 10 in a row, their last defeat coming at the hands of Gonzaga back in November. Along said torrid streak Xavier had also defeated UConn 83-73. With the goal of ending the streak, Marquette played every bit as good as their opponent. With the week already being filed as a plus in the eyes of the committee because of the victory over UConn, almost any outcome would benefit Marquette.
A back and forth game ensued. A clash of heavyweights featured the requisite haymakers with 10 lead changes and 8 ties throughout the course of the game. With a staggering 92 combined points scored in the first half it would have been nearly impossible to follow up such a barrage of points going into the second half. Marquette scored 28 points in the second half and that proved to not be enough as the Musketeers squeaked by with a win, 80-76.
Tyler Kolek had a season high 25 points and further proved why Shaka Smart has called him “the best passer I’ve ever coached.” The George Mason transfer had 7 more assists, only one short off his average of 8. I suppose if you contribute almost a third of your team’s points, it’s excusable to be one off your season average in another category.
It is rare that a loss can help you surge in the rankings but when the loss to a ranked opponent is counteracted by a win against an even higher ranked opponent, the norm changes. Marquette proved they may very well be one of the most dangerous teams in the country in the last week. When you lose a nail biter to a team that many predicted to have a rebound year after a disappointing finish to last season, you tend to garner a bit of sparkle in the eyes of the committee. Tyler Kolek and the rest of the Marquette men have an opportunity to prove even further that they are a force to be reckoned with this week.
Shaka Smart signals for a travelling call late in the matchup against Xavier
On Wednesday night they have yet another battle against a ranked conference opponent in the Providence Friars. It will be another chance for Shaka Smart to show off his teams offensive efficiency while they try to take down a team who has become a perennial contender in the Big East. Providence, who is currently ranked #22, comes into the match with a similar record to Marquette at 14-4 and 6-1 in conference play.
Providence boasts a victory over UConn recently, with that being their only matchup against a ranked opponent this season. Contrary to the loss against Xavier, a loss here for Marquette could prove costly as the Friars have yet to rack up impressive wins over impressive teams. Not to take away from their current NET rating of 37, but a lack of games against opponents such as Marquette could work against the Golden Eagles if they have an off day.
3 days later Marquette will travel to Seton Hall in the 2nd meeting of the squads this season. Marquette won the first tilt 83-69. This is the first non-ranked opponent Marquette will face since they ran roughshod over Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas of Georgetown. Seton Hall boasts a particularly stingy defense, only allowing 63.8 points per game. They don’t have one of the best offenses in the country however, so I would expect the shifty offense of Marquette to deal with Seton Hall quite easily, as they did in the first matchup.
Marquette has lived up to and exceeded expectations of almost every fan, writer and pundit in the nation thus far. The Golden Eagles are a frightening team for opponents with a particularly potent offense and a squad of well coached students, it’s hard to see a reality in which they don’t continue to pick off opponents, especially as they enter a lull of “easier” games on their schedule. However, if you have ever watched Big East basketball you understand that nothing is given, and everything is earned.