Stuffed into a road locker room, following a bus ride or plane trip, sleeping on a hotel pillow, Buzz Williams asks the near-impossible.
Overcome the home crowd’s raucousness. Try to rise above the extra amps that crowd gives the home team.
Then, create your own, and sustain it.
"It’s hard to bring your own energy and stop their energy and then win," Marquette University forward Jamil Wilson admitted. "That’s a lot to do for a group of 20 guys on the road."
It’s hard to win on the road in college basketball – ask any team that has traveled to the BMO Harris Bradley Center the last two years to play the Golden Eagles. Even Marquette, which has been so good this season, struggles at it.
The Golden Eagles play at Rutgers tonight in New Jersey, then at St. John’s next Saturday. Next Wednesday, they start Big East Tournament play in New York. The last of the home-cooking was served in front of over 19,000 on Saturday in a 72-64 victory over Notre Dame, Marquette’s 25th straight home win.
All seven of the Golden Eagles losses have come on the road, with one coming on a neutral court in Hawaii in November when Butler won on a buzzer-beater. Overall, Marquette is 5-7 away from Milwaukee.
In its quest to transfer the energy found at home to the road, the team has run the gamut – losing by 33 at Florida to losing in overtime at Cincinnati.
Finding the necessary energy to win the last two road games of the season will give Marquette a chance to win a Big East regular season title. Then, it may help them win two games to win a conference tournament title, or perhaps advance further than the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
"That’s the next step we have to take," Wilson said.
The BMO Harris Bradley Center’s other tenant, the Milwaukee Bucks, have had similar problems maintaining a high energy level this season. Currently, the Bucks have a seven-game lead in the loss column over Toronto for the Eastern Conference’s eighth playoff spot, but sits at just two games above .500 on the season.
There has been ebbs and flows under Jim Boylan, as the Bucks won five of six once he took over in January, to losing eight of 10 in February to winning four straight the last week.
"When you’re playing against the good teams, for lack of a better word, you’ve got to be good," Boylan said, noting it’s an individual player’s responsibility to maintain a high energy level.
Since taking over for Scott Skiles, if there has ever been one criticism Boylan consistently levels at his team is that during points of the game the energy sags, leading to a lack of focus. Sometimes, the team can turn it on and rally, like overcoming early double-digit deficits on the road in Dallas and Houston.
Other times the energy dip ultimately leads to a defeat, like the first four minutes of the fourth quarter in a 97-94 loss to Brooklyn on Feb. 20.
"Each individual guy has to look inside and see how bad does he really want it?" Boylan said of correcting the problem. "We have a bunch of guys who want it but you have to want it every night, and you’ve got to want it when you’re out there and you’re feeling a little tired from the night before.
"A lot of that is just your mental approach. Are you going to let the fatigue eat you up? Or are you going to play through it and stay focused and see an opportunity to put the hammer down on somebody and take advantage of it?"
For the Bucks, finding that energy early on – or maintaining it throughout the full 48 minutes – can be the difference in climbing up the Eastern Conference playoff standings or just hanging around the eighth spot.
The team is 10-10 against the seven teams ahead of them in the playoff standings and so far has posted winning records against Indiana and Boston while splitting games with Brooklyn, Chicago and Miami.
"It’s for everybody. It’s not just for teams above us," Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said about the team maintaining a high energy level. "You’ve got to play with a sense of urgency whether you play the Magic’s or the Bobcats or you’re playing the Heat. It’s still the NBA. Any team can beat you, so for us, our team, I think when we play with a sense of urgency and we play harder than the other team, you usually give yourself a good chance to win the game."
For the Golden Eagles and the Bucks, finding that elusive ingredient – energy – can make all the difference in whether or not each team finds success in the coming weeks.
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 OnMilwaukee.com.
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.