With Tom Crean, the seminal figure of the modern era of Marquette basketball, departing to Bloomington, Ind. to cast his fortunes in the BIG 10, the Milwaukee-based Jesuit institution has hoped to net similar success with Buzz Williams.
Analysts from Storrs, CT to Louisville, KY have said the BIG East, even considering its consistent excellence, could have one of its strongest seasons in 2008-09. With Connecticut, Notre Dame, Louisville, Georgetown, and West Virginia all returning strong teams, the Golden Eagles will definitely have their work cut out for them.
The one thing that bodes well for Williams is an experienced and talented backcourt featuring veterans Jerel McNeal and Dominic James.
Despite all of Marquette's talent, however, the BIG East is a meatgrinder for any squad and much of their success could rest upon how Williams handles adversity in what is far and away the deepest conference in Division I.
The expectations are great for sophomores Joseph Fulce of Plano, Texas, and Patrick Hazel of Queens, N.Y., while new freshman Chris Otule is also expected to be an effective big man as he faces the Hasheem Thabeets and Luke Harangodys of the world.
While Marquette is obviously not a prohibitive favorite to win the BIG East championship, they should be a lock for the NCAA Tournament and with experience in the backcourt, they could make a run at least to the Elite Eight.
Let's just say that for all the criticism that college basketball takes from BCS aficionados, a team like Marquette always has a chance because it's decided on the court. In any case, I'll enjoy watching Golden Eagles games again this season.