It seems like every year there is that one team in the NCAA tournament that surprises the entire nation. A team that not only flies under the radar as an underdog throughout the tournament, but potentially has what it takes to make it to the Final Four.
Even though five potential Cinderella teams still remain this year, that team could very easily be the Marquette Golden Eagles.
Entering the tournament as an No. 11 seed, Marquette (22-14) has proven in their first two games why they still are legitimate contenders to advance even further in many brackets. Led by junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom, the Golden Eagles have to be very happy with making it to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003—but the road to the big dance may have only just begun.
In order to advance to the Elite Eight, Marquette will need to first take on No. 2 seeded North Carolina, who have made several Final Four appearances over the past decade. Don't be too quick to already start filling in "Tar Heels" on your brackets though, as the Golden Eagles still pose a big threat to UNC and their hopes for a Final Four appearance once again.
What makes Marquette even more of a threat at this stage of the tournament is their experience. While none of the players on the current roster have any previous tournament experience, they have faced a heavy chunk of top seeded teams recently.
Not only did Marquette play 10 games against tournament teams seeded in the top five during the regular season, but beat some of them as well.
Here are the results of those 10 games:
- 82-77 Loss to No. 1 Duke
- 69-64 Loss to No. 4 Wisconsin
- 77-76 Loss to No. 5 Vanderbilt
- 89-81 Loss to No. 1 Pitt
- 79-67 Win vs. No. 2 Notre Dame
- 71-70 Loss to No. 4 Louisville
- 80-75 Loss to No. 2 Notre Dame
- 76-68 Loss to No. 3 UConn
- 76-70 Win vs. No. 3 Syracuse
- 74-67 Win vs. No. 3 UConn
As you can see, the Golden Eagles not only defeated top seeded teams like Notre Dame and UConn during the regular season, but took down the Orangemen of Syracuse once before their stunning 66-62 victory last Sunday. Of their seven losses to top teams in the top five, the average points Marquette has lost by comes out to less than five points.
The big question that remains now is this: Can the Golden Eagles keep their success going against the North Carolina Tar Heels this Friday? If there's one team that has what it takes to take down Harrison Barnes and UNC, it's a surging underdog team like Marquette.
With a win against North Carolina, the Golden Eagles could very well be on their way to a date with No. 1 seeded Ohio State in the Elite Eight, where they will need just one more big win to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2003.