In case you have been out of the loop for a hot minute, Marquette men’s basketball picked up a 67-65 victory over #4 Wisconsin on Friday night. Thanks to a tip-in on a missed free throw at the buzzer by Justin Lewis, the Golden Eagles are 3-1 on the season. Things are definitely looking up for Marquette, especially after they looked particularly out of sync and perhaps even a little bit lost in their 70-62 loss to Oklahoma State earlier in the week.
And so, we go into another two game week for Marquette men’s basketball, and it’s actually one of the bigger weeks in some time for head coach Steve Wojciechowski. You could go so far to insinuate that it’s a fairly important week for the future of the program under Wojciechowski’s guidance.
Back in December 2018, I penned an article with the headline “Did Steve Wojciechowski Just Get His First Momentum Win For Marquette?” It was in the wake of — hey, what are the chances? — a win over a top 15 ranked Wisconsin team, which itself was on the heels of a win over #12 Kansas State. You can go read the whole thing to see the ongoing disaster during Steve Wojciechowski’s first five seasons in terms of a failure to build on notable wins up to that point.
It would seem that the answer to that question posed in the headline was a definitive yes, as the Golden Eagles would win 11 of their next 12 games and 15 of their next 17. At the time, those back-to-back wins over #12 ranked teams was an incredibly big deal for Marquette and Wojciechowski, as it appeared to officially shake him free from the previous four seasons’ worth of heartbreaks and disappointments.
We know now, of course, two years later, that there was only bigger problems in MU’s future.
After that 15 out of 17 run, Marquette ended the 2018-19 season by losing six of their final seven games. In the 2019-20 season, MU never recorded two straight notable wins, falling badly to Wisconsin after beating Purdue and getting trucked by #5 Maryland after winning their first two games in Disney World. A shaky start to Big East play was followed up with six wins in seven games, capped by a win over a ranked Butler squad that thrust the Golden Eagles into the AP poll for the first time all season......
And then they immediately lost six of what turned out to be the final seven games of the season again.
I know, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know and/or see in your nightmares.
Marquette went into this season with big question marks. What is Wojciechowski going to do without Markus Howard in the lineup? Can the freshmen and newcomers make an immediate impact and help this team win games right out of the gate? Is the MU we saw in the first 80% of 2018-19 the real type of future that we can expect to see from Marquette basketball under Wojciechowski’s stewardship, or are the two collapses more indicative of what MU fans can expect from him as he continues to be the head coach?
These questions are not answered, not yet, not even with Marquette having knocked off a top five ranked opponent for the just the 18th time in program history. That’s one game. One set of 40 minutes. As we have seen over and over and over and over while Steve Wojciechowski has been the head coach, one 40 minute game does not tell us anything about where the team is going. In fact, one 40 minute game has, more often than not, been a harbinger of Bad Things Ahead.
On Tuesday night, the Golden Eagles take the court for their first game following the 40 minutes that ended in elation after Lewis’ tip-in. Are they heavily favored against Green Bay Phoenix? Sure. Official Las Vegas odds aren’t out quite yet, but KenPom says Marquette by 23 and T-Rank says Golden Eagles by 21. All due respect to Will Ryan and the Phoenix, but Marquette needs to destroy those dudes, and not in the goofy “must be destroyed” kind of way that we tweet on the AE account every game day morning. That game needs to be a demolition derby, because Marquette needs to prove that Friday night wasn’t a fluke, and nothing says “hey, look at us now” than running through an overmatched opponent like a blazing hot knife through butter.
Even more than that, Marquette needs to capitalize on the opportunity awaiting them on Friday night. That’s a road trip to see our old friend Mick Cronin and his UCLA Bruins out in California. That will be 1) Marquette’s first high major test since beating the Badgers, 2) Marquette’s first game away from Fiserv Forum all season, and 3) Marquette’s final tune-up before Big East play begins. Just those three things alone make it a pretty notable game on the schedule, and the history of ups and downs in Steve Wojciechowski’s tenure make it perhaps the newest most important game that the Golden Eagles have played while he has been the guy in the big chair.
I’m not trying to start a campaign saying that Wojciechowski needs to be left in Los Angeles if they lose the game and the reins for the season should be handed over to Dwayne Killings. Far from it. It’s one game. and there are 20 Big East games left to go after that. I am, however, pointing out that between Green Bay on Tuesday and UCLA on Friday, we’re going to learn an awful lot about this year’s edition of Marquette basketball and Wojciechowski’s ability to coach and motivate by the time Saturday morning rolls around.
Let’s hope it’s fun.