Let’s just go ahead and slap the "must-win" tag on Wednesday night’s Marquette game against eighth-ranked Xavier.
Is the season over if the Golden Eagles lose? No.
So, why does this Marquette-Xavier contest warrant the severity of must-win? Glad you asked.
The Golden Eagles are currently 4-3 in BIG EAST play, which is good enough for fifth place in the conference. Considering seven teams from the BIG EAST went to the NCAA tournament last year, Marquette is in decent position to return to March Madness, though there is still a lot of season left and the team is about to enter the most hellish part of its schedule.
Following No. 8 Xavier, Marquette plays No.1 Villanova, then Butler and Providence – currently projected as an eighth and 10th seed, respectively, in the NCAA tournament – and No. 19 Seton Hall. The schedule is like a round of Mario Kart on Rainbow Road; just when you think you’re set, you realize it’s impossible not to fall off the map (for non-Mario Kart fans, imagine driving a road covered in black ice).
That brings us back to the importance of Wednesday night’s game. A win against Xavier, on the road, would just about solidify a postseason appearance for Marquette. If the Golden Eagles were to lose in Cincinnati, however, they would need to play the rest of the season out perfectly. That means going at least 2-3 in their next five games (against the difficult opponents mentioned above), closing out the season 5-1 (opponents: St. John’s twice, Creighton twice, DePaul and Georgetown) and winning at least one game in the BIG EAST tournament.
And then you have to hope the NCAA selection committee will once again invite seven BIG EAST teams to the dance. Of course, that could happen, but with the strength of the BIG EAST, there are few games that are guaranteed victories. Marquette would be toing a thin line between success and failure. All it takes is one bad loss in the Golden Eagles’ final stretch to send them to their couches for March.
Marquette currently has one win against a top-25 opponent with its victory over then-No. 13 Seton Hall earlier this month. But do you know what’s better than one win over a top-25 opponent? Yep, you guessed it: two wins against ranked opponents.
Marquette will still need to finish out the year strong, but a win at Xavier would make its postseason resume stand out and give Steve Wojciechowski’s squad a little breathing room during the home stretch of the season. At the very least, a victory will save everybody a little stress.
The Golden Eagles gave Xavier a scare back in December, when the Musketeers slipped out of Milwaukee with a 91-87 victory. But beating Xavier this time around will be a tall task. Head coach Chris Mack’s team is riding a three-game winning streak, including two victories against ranked teams in Creighton and Seton Hall. Senior guard J.P. Macura has fully embraced being the villain of the BIG EAST and averaged 21.5 points over the past week.
Led by its sharpshooting backcourt of Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey, Marquette is coming an eight-day break and a bye weekend and should be well-rested for this must-win game.
John Hand is a junior journalism student at Marquette who has covered the Golden Eagles for Marquette TV, Radio and The Marquette Tribune. He is a former OnMilwaukee intern and current sports correspondent.