Should the Golden Eagles be your March Madness dark horse pick to win it all?
Coming from the guy who wrote that Duke would be unstoppable exactly four days before Zion Williamson blew through his shoe (and almost his knee) and the Blue Devils were demolished at home by their rivals…hear me out.
The 11th-ranked Marquette Golden Eagles (22-4, 11-2 Big East) should be on your radar when it comes time to fill out your March Madness bracket this year.
All of the hype this year has been about Duke (and rightfully so), but perhaps this is the year where none of the perennial contenders (Duke, UNC, Kentucky, Kansas) actually seal the deal and cut down the nets. Maybe this is the year where the hype and pressure is so high that these teams look right past their 2nd round opponent toward the Sweet 16, Elite 8, and Final Four and trip up, ending the journey just as soon as it started.
Who would be there to pick up that mantle? Marquette would gladly take that, thank you very much.
The Golden Eagles have somehow flown under the radar with a 22-4 record, and I think that’s mostly due to the blue bloods being so good this year. They are currently alone in first place in the Big East, leading Villanova by a half game as of this posting, and the Wildcats seem to be trending the wrong way. Those two will meet in Philadelphia this coming Wednesday, and that game will likely decide the Big East regular season champion.
If you look at Marquette’s schedule, they don’t have any bad losses. The one you might be able to make a case for is the loss against Indiana (13-13) in November, but here’s a counterargument: it was the third game of the season, the Hoosiers started the season 12-2 (before dropping seven straight), and the game was in Bloomington. As a graduate of Indiana, I’m all too familiar with the early season home matchup against a ranked team. The Hoosiers almost always show up and show out for those games, and they beat Marquette handily while holding Markus Howard to 18 points. I don’t count that as a bad loss.
The other three losses? A neutral site loss to the then-second-ranked Kansas Jayhawks in the preseason NIT, and two losses to St. John’s, who currently sit with a 19-8 record overall and in third place in the Big East.
What about good wins? They rebounded from the Kansas loss to beat Louisville in the preseason NIT 3rd-place matchup in overtime. They defeated the then-12th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats in a game in which Markus Howard dropped 45 points. A week later, they beat another team ranked #12: in-state rival Wisconsin. The Golden Eagles dropped 103 points on a very good Buffalo team in December that, you may remember, knocked out Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season (and by the way, that was another Markus Howard 45 point game). And, just 13 days ago, they knocked off Villanova by one point at home.
While the Big East may not necessarily be the death trap that it’s been in recent years, Marquette is taking care of business in conference, and that’s what good teams do. CBS Sports has Marquette with the 39th toughest schedule this year, which isn’t great, but isn’t bad, and they also have Marquette’s RPI rank at 14. Essentially what that says is that the Golden Eagles are a good team playing decent competition, and they’re winning the games they should be winning.
Okay, so what else does Marquette having going for it?
Let’s not forget about National Player of the Year candidate Markus Howard, who has been referenced a few times already. Howard is averaging 25.7 points per game to go along with 4 assists per game. To put that into perspective, he’s currently the 4th-highest scorer in the nation, trailing guys from Chris Clemons of Campbell, who is one of the all-time leading scorers in NCAA history, Antoine Davis of Detroit Mercy, and Justin Wright-Foreman of Hofstra. For further perspective, Marquette great Dwyane Wade (you may have heard of him) averaged a measly 21.5 points per game when he led Marquette to the Final Four in 2003, its first trip there since winning the title in 1977. Howard also has eight 30+ point games this season, including a career-high 53 against Creighton.
So, uh, he’s good. And he very well could carry a Marquette team through the tournament in a Kemba Walker-esque style. But he’s not the only threat the Golden Eagles have.
The Hauser brothers are the next two high scorers. Sam, a junior, is averaging 15.1 points per game and leads the team in rebounding with 6.7 boards per contest. Sam Hauser also dropped a season-high 31 points in a January victory at Georgetown. Joey, a freshman, averages just under 10 points per game, registering at 9.8. He’s shooting 43.8% from beyond the arc, which is just a shade under the team leader – Markus Howard – who is shooting 43.9% from three point land, though we should note that Howard has made more 3-pointers (97) than Joey Hauser has attempted (80). Forwards Sacar Anim (8.2 ppg) and Theo John (6.2 ppg) round out the scoring for the Golden Eagles.
Marquette has a very good chance to win their last five games of the season and enter the Big East tournament as the #1 seed with a 27-4 overall record. From there, anything could happen, as anything is wont to do in college basketball in the month of March.
Marquette also has excellent value in the betting world, if that’s your cup of tea. Oddsshark currently has them at +3500 to win the tournament, so if you’re really feeling good about the Golden Eagles after reading this, go put $10 on them in a futures bet and see if you can’t just walk away with $350 at season’s end. You’ll definitely be rooting harder for the 8,000 student Catholic school if you put a little money on them, I can promise you that.
As I’ve mentioned a few times here, anything can happen in March, and anyone who has followed college basketball for some time understands that. But when the brackets are rolled out on St. Patrick’s Day and Marquette draws a 3 or 4 seed in a region with a team like Duke, or Kentucky, or Tennessee, or Gonzaga…don’t overlook the damage that Markus Howard and the Golden Eagles can do. If you ignore them, they might just be the team this year that makes you crumple up the bracket and toss it in the trash (probably missing your first shot and having to embarrassingly pick it up off the ground too, let’s be honest).
Watch out, college basketball fans. You’ve been warned.