On Thursday night in Washington, DC, Marquette seeks to get within one game of the Final Four. A victory over Miami would setup a meeting with either Indiana or Syracuse for the right to go to Atlanta. The last Final Four appearance for the Golden Eagles was in 2003. That team, featuring Dwayne Wade, was coached by Tom Crean. If Marquette gets by the Hurricanes, Crean's Hoosiers may be waiting for them on Saturday. Remarkably, the Golden Eagles program has prospered since Crean's departure.
From longtime independent program, to the Great Midwest Conference, Conference USA, and the Big East, there is a great history of hoops at Marquette. Once called the Hilltoppers, Marquette thrived as the Warriors under Al McGuire during the late 60's and 1970's. McGuire won an NIT Championship in 1970, and an NCAA Title in 1977. Hank Raymonds followed McGuire and went 126-50 in six seasons going 2-5 in the NCAA Tournament.
Rick Majerus and Bob Dukiet failed to reach the tournament over six total seasons. Kevin O'Neil got Marquette back to the dance, reaching the NCAA Tournament twice in five years. Mike Deane went twice during a half decade stint and averaged 20 wins a season. Then Crean was hired.
After Deane went 14-15 in 1998-1999, Crean took over and was lucky to inherit a program in the midst of recruiting Wade. After back-to-back 15-14 seasons, Marquette went 26-7 and reached the NCAA Tournament in 2002. The next season the Eagles made their first Final Four appearance since McGuire won the championship. Crean stuck around through the end of 2008. He made five NCAA tournaments in nine years and put together a 190-96 record. When Crean left for Indiana, Buzz Williams was hired.
In 1994, as a student assistant at Oklahoma City University, Williams took out a loan for $1,200. With the cash he bought a suit, tie, belt, pair of shoes, and round-trip plane ticket to the Final Four in Charlotte. He spent the weekend networking in the lobby of the Adam's Mark Hotel, passing out resumes to anybody that would take one. When he heard of a job at Texas-Arlington, he starting calling the head coach on an hourly basis, leaving messages to indicate his desire to interview for the position.
On Monday, Williams flew home to Oklahoma City, sold some goods to afford his vehicle and gas money, and drove to Arlington. He looked up the coaches home address in the phone book, went to his house, and waited for him to return home. When the coach arrived on Tuesday night Williams reiterated how much he wanted the job. Later in the week he was hired.
Williams got his first head coaching job at the University of New Orleans. He spent one year at UNO, and left to become an assistant for Crean at Marquette. When Crean went to Indiana, Williams got his chance.
Williams likes junior college players because they haven't been coddled. He once said that he preferred players who ordered food off a menu that used numbers, not the names of gourmet cuisine. That attitude leads to toughness.
Williams has gone to the NCAA Tournament in each of his five seasons with the Golden Eagles. This is the third straight Sweet 16 for the team. Marquette always ranks among the nation's best rebounding and defensive teams. This year’s squad has thrived despite the loss of the teams two best players from last year, Darius Johnson-Odom, who had a cup of tea with the Lakers, and Jae Crowder who plays 18 minutes a game as a rookie with the Mavericks.
If Marquette beats Miami, Williams will be one step from a free flight, lodging, and a lot of attention at the Final Four. It has been 20 years of hard work and perseverance to get to this point. It is no surprise that Marquette has won two tournament games this year by a total of three points. Williams believes. His players do too. Marquette will never forget Crean, but Williams could be two games away from making him merely a memory.