Marquette hasn’t been nationally ranked in the top 5 since the first week of December. A ferocious start in non-conference play, with Quad 1 wins over Illinois on the road and then #1 Kansas at the Maui Invitational (and a tough 3-point loss to the subsequent #1 Purdue in the final), came to a screeching halt on the road against rival Wisconsin on December 2nd.
Some losses are heavier than others, and Marquette left Madison and dropped out of the top 5. Tested through a somewhat murky midseason, Marquette endured some key injuries and began to navigate through a tough Big East Conference schedule, where some inconsistencies led to some losses. After dropping their only home game of the season to Butler on January 10th, enough was enough, and the Golden Eagles have ripped off seven straight conference wins, and after an all-timer from Tyler Kolek on Saturday against St. John’s, look as good as they have all season heading into the final month of the regular season.
If you haven't seen Kolek’s highlights from Saturday’s game, seriously, go watch them.
Tyler Kolek finished the game against St. John’s with 27 points and 13 assists, a gaudy statline in its own right, but even more impressive was the way it looked. A completely confident leader on the floor, Kolek displayed shooting, passing, deflecting, spacing, commanding, intensity–all of it. It's the full package of what you want out of your senior point guard as you head towards the gauntlet that is March. Kolek brought home Big East Player of the Week honors after just that single performance, and seems to be heading in a familiar direction.
Remember last year?
Marquette turned it on at about this same point last season. Kolek went crazy and won Big East Player of the Year, and Marquette ran through the conference as regular season and tournament champs. It's a series of familiar events. The loss of Omax Prosper to the NBA draft was huge, but the improvement of the conference championship team around him that returned, makes this version of the Golden Eagles just as dangerous, if not more.
Oso Ighodaro has sharpened his unique skills of scoring and passing to a first-round draft grade; Kam Jones can go get 25 on any given night; Stevie Mitchell is always in the right place at the right time; and hometown kid Jop can straight shoot. The depth off the bench is more than solid. And yeah, there’s that Kolek guy. But if anything is for certain, it’s that nothing is guaranteed in the Big East. This version will most likely have to outdo last year’s version. Because UCONN.
Haven’t seen those Huskies yet
The Golden Eagles fly into Indianapolis to take on Butler for a possible trap game on Tuesday, and head coach Shaka Smart seems happy. Shaka wears his emotions on his sleeve, and when he’s well, the team is doing well. Losing spark plug guard Sean Jones for the season to an ACL injury back in early January was a big hit for everybody.
There was some dust to settle and some things to learn, but Shaka got his guys together. It’s one of his greatest strengths as a head coach. There’s no way Shaka doesn’t take things one game at a time, but for the rest of us, what’s looming large in this 18-5 season is that Marquette has yet to take on the nation’s #1 team and conference leader, UCONN. They’ll get the opportunity to see how they match up this Saturday in Hartford, and we’ll get to see what this year’s teams are going to do about winning the Big East.
The arrow continues to point up for Marquette with one month and eight games left in the regular season, but some true battles await. Sneaky sneaky Butler hosts Marquette on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m ET before Saturday’s clash with UCONN at 3p.m. on FOX.