Right now, here in 2016, Marquette sits at 2-4 in Big East play. Wins over St. John's and Providence, losses to Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova, and Xavier. 12 conference games are left on the docket, along with at least one guaranteed Big East tournament game.
This can go a couple of different ways.
A Marquette squad with absolutely no size was led by senior "center" Lazar Hayward and junior "power forward" Jimmy Butler. MU entered Big East play with just two notable wins on the schedule, as they defeated Xavier and Michigan in the preliminary rounds of the Old Spice Classic, and let's be honest: those really weren't THAT impressive. They had blown a lead against Florida State in the Old Spice Classic title game, and then followed that up immediately by blowing a lead - at home - to North Carolina State. After clipping UWM at the BC, Marquette headed to Madison and got boatraced out of the building immediately, as they never really recovered from a 13-3 opening deficit.
9-3 at the start of Big East action quickly turned into 9-5, as Da`Sean Butler capped off a rally by #6 West Virginia in Morgantown to bring the Mountaineers back from down five with a minute to play, and then #8 Villanova stung Marquette on a bucket by Scottie Reynolds with 18 seconds left back in Milwaukee.
Marquette bounced back with a narrow win over #12 Georgetown, dumped a close one at #6 Villanova, and then caught a break with the Keno Davis coached Providence Friars, blowing them out by 30 points in the Bradley Center. That brought MU to 2-3 in league play with a trip to DePaul on the horizon. Hey, even things out at 3-3, shake off those near losses to top 10 teams, and let's see what happens, right?
MIKE EFFING STOVALL capitalized on David Cubillian missing a free throw, and DePaul shocked Marquette, 51-50. There it is, 2-4. Things got even worse from there, as Marquette narrowly lost at #5 Syracuse to send things down to 2-5.
That's probably about when Andy Glockner's Team Bubble Watch campaign started. In his weekly updates attempting to predict the NCAA tournament bracket for Sports Illustrated, Glockner took up the mantle of believing that Marquette had the wins in them to recover from 2-5 to make the NCAA tournament. Insanely, he was right. The Golden Eagles won the next five games to shift things to 7-5, including Jimmy Butler's baseline game winner over #19 Connecticut, a revenge game win over DePaul, and a career best night from Lazar Hayward to squeak MU past Providence on the road.
After a setback in Milwaukee against Pittsburgh, arguably the most insane thing in Marquette history happened: In order to shove themselves into the NCAA tournament discussion, Marquette needed wins badly at 16-9 overall and 7-6 in the Big East. Their next three games? Roadies against Cincinnati, St. John's, and Seton Hall. The results? THREE STRAIGHT OVERTIME WINS that collectively probably shortened every viewer's life by at least one year. Lazar scored eight of his 13 points against Cincy in the final minute of regulation and overtime, Jimmy threw in a ridiculous broken play baseline buzzer beater (really the same play that beat UConn, except he lost the ball for a second) to beat St. John's, and Marquette escaped from New Jersey when Jeremy Hazell missed as time expired.
Boom, 20-9, 11-6 in Big East play. They followed that up with the "Buzz Walks It Out" game against Louisville before getting the short end of the stick in overtime against Notre Dame to end the regular season. They ended up as the #5 seed in the Big East tournament, and advanced to the Big East semifinals by finally figuring out how to beat Villanova.
Sure, the whole thing ended in a first round NCAA tournament loss to Washington (although Quincy Pondexter will tell you that he was sure that Lazar's prayer to beat the buzzer was going to go in), but the point is that Marquette was sitting in a deep, ugly hole, largely because of near misses against top 10 teams (sound familiar?) and at least one game that they had no business losing (sup, 2015-16 Seton Hall), and still found a way to assemble a resume worthy of a 6 seed in the NCAA tournament by the time Selection Sunday rolled around.
And then there's last year.
With nothing but a bunch of junk in the non-conference resume and an already small roster ripped even further by transfers, Marquette dumps a huge second half lead against DePaul in the Big East opener. The Golden Eagles bounced back to clip a quality Providence team thanks to a giant pile of Kris Dunn turnovers, but turned right into a road loss against Georgetown. Matt Carlino raised spirits with a late bucket to engineer a win over Creighton, but Luke Fischer couldn't get a shot to fall late against Xavier leading to a loss to the Musketeers, and while Steve Taylor went bananas against St. John's, Carlino didn't have magic again and St. John's escaped with a win.
That's how you get to 2-4. A less thrilling kind of 2-4 than this year and 2010, sure, but still 2-4. The difference here was that MU couldn't capitalize on opportunities afforded them. The next three games were at home, all losses, including overtime stunners to Georgetown and Butler sandwiching a flat out punch in the face from Seton Hall. That was followed up with a clobbering at the hands of Villanova, which turned literal when Ryan Arcidiacono dumped Matt Carlino right on his head and neck. While the grad transfer from BYU somehow came back into that game, he missed the next four games with a concussion.
MU pulled together to drop a self-destructing Seton Hall team (hi, Kevin Willard), but they then lost the next six games. Part of the problem was Juan Anderson suffering an ankle injury in practice that was described as "he was standing there and all of a sudden he fell over and sprained his ankle." Anderson was never right for the rest of the season, shrinking Marquette's roster even further. Carlino would return, but Marquette would only manage two more wins for the rest of the season: a Senior Night win against DePaul to be a reverse image of the league opener, and one final pounding of the SHU team that was going south even faster than they were slightly more than a month earlier. Less than 12 hours after beating Seton Hall in the first round, Marquette was quietly bounced from the Big East tournament by the juggernaut that was (and still is) the current incarnation of Villanova.
That's how you go from 2-4 to 4-14 in Big East play and nowhere near the NIT, much less the NCAA tournament.
Two different paths. Two wildly different results. I will say this: the chances will be there for Marquette to make the impressive accomplishment of qualifying for the NCAA tournament. After the next three games, all very much must must must wins against DePaul, St. John's, and Stetson, MU has eight games scheduled against teams that are currently in the top 50 of the KenPom rankings, plus another swing at #65 Georgetown, this time in the comfort of the Bradley Center.
I'm not saying it will be easy. I'm not saying it won't take #BloodPressureCheck after #BloodPressureCheck. The chances are there for Marquette to make a run, as well as for MU to go quietly into the night. It's up to Steve Wojciechowski and his players to figure out which historical outcome they want to mimic over the next 13 (or more?) games.