Marquette's free-fall to end the regular season is over, and the Golden Eagles are now feeling the repercussions as the NCAA Tournament selection committee seeded them sixth in the West region of the 2009 tournament.
In the first round they'll see a Utah State team that won 27 games in its regular season in the WAC, and wound up winning that conference's tournament to pull their record to 30-4.
At first glance, this looks like a tough matchup for the Eagles to deal with. A team that wins 30 games has to be formidable, but after looking at the Aggies more closely, even the most pessimistic Marquette fans should feel comfortable about Marquette's advancement to the round of 32.
The only victory Utah State has that is of any importance is a home tilt against fellow tournament participant Utah on December 22. Their losses aren't to particularly outstanding teams either, with the possible exception being at St. Mary's, a bubble team who didn't quite make the field of 65.
After this first-round game, Marquette will likely be playing teams seeded higher than themselves for the remainder of the tournament. Missouri and Memphis are likely opponents in the round of 32 and Sweet Sixteen respectively, and many probably feel that a game against either of these opponents would certainly mean the demise of Marquette's postseason.
As the perpetual optimist, I'm going to disagree and argue for Marquette's advancement to the Elite Eight.
First of all, I've been skeptical of both Mizzou and Memphis since these two teams began showing up in the AP rankings in January and February.
Missouri has losses to Nebraska and Kansas State. They lost to Illinois by 16 and Texas A&M by 10. Don't get me wrong, I know Missouri has good wins (Cal, USC, Texas), but Marquette can beat them with the team they have right now.
The permanent knock on Memphis is Conference USA, and I have to bring it up as well. Houston, UAB, and Tulane simply aren't as good as Marquette or any team Memphis will have to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Secondly, Marquette is not as terrible as their recent record shows. They held second half leads in each of their losses to Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Villanova. They lost to the Wildcats at the buzzer, to the Orange in overtime, and only lost in Louisville by four.
Further, in these losses, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews have not played up to their standards, and they don't even have to play up to their season averages for Marquette to be winning these games (see link at end of article, entry titled "It hasn't been this bad since...").
I firmly believe the six by their name in the brackets will lead to underestimation by opponents such as Missouri and Memphis, and the only thing this underestimation can lead to for the two Tiger teams is misery.
Marquette also fits the profile for a couple Sports Guy team descriptors (The "nobody believes in us" factor, and the "Ewing Theory" with Dominic James out) that usually pan out well for the team being described.
That's the basis for my optimism at this juncture. For more Marquette optimism, this Golden Eagles blog is teeming with it.