Michigan and Louisville will play for the NCAA men’s basketball national championship tonight in Atlanta, Georgia, capping a season that marks the 75th year of the tournament. Here in Milwaukee, fans of the game will sit and watch, sucking at their teeth like something is wedged between the incisors, gnawing at them, remnants of a good meal that left something unsatisfactory behind.
This was Marquette’s 2012-13 season.
Sure, coach Buzz Williams and the team told you they were picked to finish seventh in the Big East by the coaches at the start of the year, that they were the "upset special" in the first round against Davidson, etcetera, etcetera.
It was true, and they played the underdog card magnificently through all the nay-saying to the Elite Eight of the tournament.
Fans of the Golden Eagles could say this team overachieved, hailed the coaching of Williams and the effort of the players for claiming a share of the Big East title and winning three tournament games; yet when you get to the Elite Eight – this close to the Final Four and sniffing distance of a championship game – you can’t help but feel a little let down.
There is no question the Golden Eagles do.
From day one that group expected to be playing this past weekend, if not tonight, in Atlanta. To them, this season was no surprise. It’s an attitude that sets the team up nicely for 2013-14 when the entire team (save a couple seniors) returns.
More importantly, it looks as if Williams is returning, too.
No doubt Williams – who is an expert at recognizing which members of the local and national media attend games and limited team availabilities – finds it amusing that so many wonder where he may be headed when they pay little attention to where he is currently.
That will change next year, though.
Assuming Jamil Wilson returns for his final season (Vander Blue shouldn’t entertain the NBA draft for a nanosecond) this team will no doubt begin the year solidly in the Top 25, be the pre-season favorite to win the revamped Big East, and many pundits will predict the Golden Eagles to reach the Final Four.
This will be Williams’ greatest test. For the longest time, Marquette has been able to fly under the radar on the national scale, been able to play the underdog card, been expected to brush the chip off their shoulder.
Not now. Next year, this team will be expected to win. A Final Four is the floor, not the ceiling.
It will be interesting to see how this team and this coach react to such expectation. They’ll embrace it, I’m sure, but it will be a hard sell for Williams to say his team isn’t any good. At this point, they better be.
But, if I’ve learned anything about Williams and this particular group of players, they will rise to such challenges. The team will be energized with an excellent class of talented freshman – but the core, the leaders and best players – know what it takes to win tournament games.
It’s been a long while since the Golden Eagles were expected to contend for a national championship, but that’s the type of fine restaurant Williams has taken this program to. Tom Crean deserves his just due for making the reservation but this, now, is all Williams.
The only question now is if there will be a fine soufflé coming after that filet. There is definitely room for it.
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.