By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Mar 09, 2015 at 1:03 PM Photography: David Bernacchi

The Big East tournament begins Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York, kicking off with the ninth-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles taking on the No. 8 seed, Seton Hall Pirates at 6 p.m. local time.

On paper, this early version of March Madness looks like it’s just an exercise for Steve Wojciechowski’s Golden Eagles, the final game of a tough year.

The numbers don't lie. Marquette finished the year 12-18 overall and 4-14 in conference play, tied with Creighton for the worst mark in the league.

"Throughout the history of almost all the programs, there’s years that are harder than others," Wojciechowski said. "If you use it the right way, and if you grow from it in the proper way, it can lead to future successes. That doesn’t make the now any easier. But, there’s a lot of things that we can learn from this year. We’ve had a lot of young guys who had virtually no game experience coming into the year, they’ve gotten a lot of game experience and have done some good things but also should have the realization that there is a lot to work on."

At full strength – or, at least the Golden Eagles’ version of it – they indeed lost more than they won.

But, "when you go into the Big East tournament, everybody is 0-0 and anything can happen," Wojciechowski said. "There have been countless examples over time of anything happening. So that’s (the) approach we’ll take."

And when you look beyond the box scores, the true results indicate Marquette can at least beat Seton Hall, which went 16-14 overall and 6-12 in conference play, and extend their season.

With a full compliment of players, the Golden Eagles:

  • Lost on the road by three to DePaul and Georgetown.
  • Beat Providence at home.
  • Fell to Georgetown and Butler in overtime, at home, after having chances to win.

"Really, with the exception of the two Villanova games, we’ve had a chance to beat every other team in our league, or have beaten them," Wojciechowski said. "We get to start fresh. We get to wipe the slate clean when it gets to that point."

Marquette split the regular season series with Seton Hall, coming out flat in a bad 80-70 loss to the Pirates at home on Jan. 28 before beating them in Newark, N.J., by three points on Feb. 7.

Should the Golden Eagles score a minor upset over the Pirates tonight, Villanova – a team many feel has a legitimate shot at winning a national championship – awaits in the second round.

This is where the ball could truly get started for Marquette, who would love to play the role of Cinderella.

In their first regular season meeting, the Wildcats trucked the Golden Eagles by 18 in Philadelphia back in early February – which was the last time Marquette had all eight of its scholarship players playing full minutes.

Matt Carlino suffered a head injury in that game, and then missed the next four games with a concussion.

Then, as he was getting healthy and eventually returning to action, Juan Anderson has had his minutes and effectiveness severely compromised due to an ankle injury.

In the other regular season contest, a very short-handed Marquette pushed Villanova to its limit on National Marquette Day at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in a 87-76 loss. The Golden Eagles forced the Wildcats to play their best to escape six scholarship players.

On paper, that potential matchup shouldn’t be a contest.

You could say the Wildcats will be dialed in at MSG, that they want to run away and hide with a Big East tournament title to secure a top seed in the Big Dance – but they are kids who can overlook an opponent they’ve handled twice, and this is tournament basketball, which means even a superior team can be had.

On paper, an upset is unlikely, but …

"I always tell the guys we can go to New York and win four games in a row," Anderson said. "I think we’re capable of doing that. Is it a long shot? Yes. But are we capable? Yes. We’ve been in every game. It’s just that we’re young, we don’t really know how to win. We’ve beat ourselves. I think we’ve beat ourselves. Other people may think otherwise."

So that’s how Marquette will approach it. Being a low seed with a losing record, they can’t afford the luxury of looking past Seton Hall. And even if they felt confident about that matchup, they know how good Villanova is.

But playing hard can keep you in games that you shouldn’t be in, and if you’re in it at the end, anything can happen. The Golden Eagles hope that proves to be the case at least for the next two days.

"It’s a long shot, but it’s capable of happening," Anderson said. "Just remain optimistic, persevere, and maybe it’ll happen."

Notes: Despite missing a handful of games with a concussion, Carlino was named to the all-Big East second team. In his lone season with Marquette, the senior guard averaged 17.2 points per game, good for fourth in the league. He also ranked in the top five in 3-point field goals made (1st, 3.4), steals (3rd, 1,9 spg.) and free throw percentage (5th, .830).

Redshirt freshman Duane Wilson also ended his first regular season with an honor, being named to the Big East all-rookie team. Wilson Wilson was the conference’s leading scorer for rookies (12.3 points per game).

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.