On Tuesday, January 24th, Marquette knocked off #1 ranked Villanova, 74-72. The first regular season win over a #1 ranked team in 100 years of MU hoops history moved the Golden Eagles to a 14-6 record on the season, a 5-3 mark in Big East play, and gave them one of the best wins of any team in the country for the 2016-17 season.
A week after that, Marquette seemed to be firmly in the NCAA tournament field. All of the notable bracketology experts slotted the Golden Eagles in as either an 8 or a 9 seed in the national championship bracket. For a team that has not seen the postseason of any kind since the Elite Eight in 2013, Marquette fans would be 100% happy with that outcome.
Perhaps even more importantly, the win over Villanova gave Marquette a bit of leeway. As we talked about back in December, Marquette’s first eight games of the league schedule looked like they could give the Golden Eagles trouble. 2-6 in the first eight games seemed likely, and 3-5 seemed to be veering into pipe dream territory. Instead, Marquette was 5-3 with a high quality win over a team that seemed clearly destined for a #1 seed in the Big Dance. That 5-3 record should have been able to provide head coach Steve Wojciechowski and his charges a bit of cover in case they took on a loss or two over the final 10 games of the regular season, because all they really needed to do was get to 10 Big East league wins in order to be comfortable about their at-large bid positioning.
That leeway, that bit of cover that the 5-3 record provided them? It’s gone now.
Since defeating Villanova, Marquette has gone 1-4, with only a maybe-tougher-than-it-should-have-been road victory over DePaul to their credit. Freak-of-chance lucky to get two chances to win in the final 20 seconds against Providence at home, but both shots missed. A largely underwhelming road trip against St. John’s where MU trailed by double digits for most of the second half. An 11 point deficit against Butler at home completely wiped away to a two point lead midway through the second half that ended in an L. Finally, last Saturday’s journey to the nation’s capital for Marquette’s second worst offensive performance of the season where Georgetown led by double digits for all but 22 seconds of the second half.
The record is 15-10 now. It’s under .500 in league play, just 6-7. A check of the most recent bracketology shows MU either out of the 68 team tournament or barely clinging to a spot with a trip to the First Four games in Dayton.
Marquette still needs 10 regular season Big East wins to be comfortably in the NCAA tournament. They need four more wins.
There are only five regular season games left.
Every single game for the rest of the season is a must-win game.
After these last four losses, MU has been showing the selection committee why they do not belong in the tournament. They can not give the committee any more evidence to that extent.
Five more games. Five straight wins. All required if they want to be in the NCAA tournament. Maybe they could survive a loss in one of their final two road games, at Xavier or at Providence. It’s best to not find out. If the Golden Eagles take on a loss, and definitely if they take on two, then it’ll be Big East tournament title or bust to send them dancing for the first time in four years.