Marquette Golden Eagles: 24-9, 12-6 in the Big East Conference
Head coach: Steve Wojciechowski (5th season)
Players to watch: Markus Howard (25.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, .424 FG%); Sam Hauser (14.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG); Joey Hauser (9.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, .433 3PT%)
Season recap: Markus Howard was the engine that made the Golden Eagles go throughout the regular season, leading Marquette to second place in the Big East. After starting the season 3-2 with losses to Indiana and Kansas, the Golden Eagles had big wins against Louisville, Kansas State, Wisconsin and Buffalo to enter conference play. The momentum continued as Marquette seemed to take control of the top of the conference, going 12-2. However, four straight losses to close the regular season and a controversial 2-point defeat to Seton Hall in the semifinals of the Big East tournament have left the Golden Eagles reeling.
Howard registered 10 30-plus point games and three 40-plus point games, including a 53-point explosion against Creighton, to lead the Marquette offense. He has a knack for getting to the charity stripe—shooting 89.2 percent on more than 7.5 attempts per game—and is a solid shooter from deep connecting on 40.8 percent of his 8.6 3-point attempts per game. However, the Big East Player of the Year has been dealing with a left wrist injury since Feb. 27 and banged up his hand even further at the end of the first half in the loss to the Pirates.
Despite the top-25 efficient offense receiving all the headlines, the Golden Eagles boast the 35th-best defense according to KenPom. Theo John is a tough rim-protector averaging 2.1 blocks per game to protect the paint. Meanwhile the Hauser brothers are strong rebounders, combining for 12.4 boards per game.
How they make a run: Howard takes over the early games and leads Marquette to the second weekend where he puts a scare into a top seed that is unable to slow down his dynamic play.
How they falter: The losing skid is an omen for things to come and with Howard banged up, the burden is too big for the Golden Eagles to overcome.