By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Mar 26, 2012 at 11:00 AM Photography: David Bernacchi

The weekend was made a little longer for Marquette University basketball fans, in a bad way, late Thursday night when the third-seeded Golden Eagles were upset by seventh-seeded Florida Gators in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

There was legitimate hope for not only a victory there, but eventually the program's first trip to the Final Four since 2003.

The disappointment festers because the Big East Player of the Year and his All-Big East First Team running mate didn't play at their highest levels.

On the other hand, there can be excitement going forward because they are the only two players this team should lose (provided no player leaves due to issues surrounding a night club incident).

This makes for an interesting off-season for Marquette basketball. There is a lot to look forward to, but just as much to worry about.

The natural, first question is how do you replace Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom?

The answer may lie on the current roster, as everyone else returns. You would expect Jamil Wilson, Chris Otule, Davante Gardner, Jamail Jones and Vander Blue to take the next step in their development, just as Crowder and Johnson-Odom did.

There is also a solid recruiting class coming in, led by Chicago Simeon product Steve Taylor and junior college shooting guard T.J. Taylor, a former Oklahoma commit. (Watch Steve Taylor highlights here, and T.J. Taylor highlights here).

The need for size was also addressed with the signing of 6-foot, 10-inch center Aaron Durley out of Bush High School in Houston, Texas.

Then again, you might not feel too good about Junior Cadougan being your senior leader running the point.

And what about head coach Buzz Williams?

Other programs came sniffing around after last season's Sweet 16 appearance, resulting in a contract extension and a raise. One would think Williams is content here in Milwaukee, but a lot has changed in the past year.

The Big East is falling apart, losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. There have been rumblings Connecticut looking at other options. TCU left before it even joined and the additions of Temple, Southern Methodist University, Houston and Central Florida aren't exactly reassuring.

Should Memphis accepts its invitation, Marquette may feel it is in Conference USA all over again.

And if John Calipari once again seeks greener pastures in the NBA, that could start a domino effect throughout college basketball that leaves a marquee program or two searching for a new coach.

And as Marquette fans have found out, you can never know what a coach feels about a particular program.

Can the Marquette faithful be happy and sit on a seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance, a second straight Sweet 16 showing and a school record-tying 14 wins in conference play?

Or is there a feeling the team underachieved when it mattered most?

Marquette had not advanced to the Sweet 16 in back-to-back years since 1976 and 1977, which begs yet more questions – is this the beginning of a run that will remind many of the program's heyday in the 1970s? Or have the last two years been a tease?

Depending on whether or not Williams can be wooed away, or surprises regarding player health and eligibility, the answers may come sooner than expected.

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.