The NCAA Tournament hopes for the Marquette Golden Eagles unofficially ended when they lost to the DePaul Blue Demons at the Wintrust Arena in late February. There was still a sliver of hope that Marquette would go dancing on Sunday, but when the at-large teams were announced in alphabetical order and the list skipped from Kansas State to Miami, we knew that Marquette was NIT bound.
The NIT is not a terrible outcome for this season. Marquette is a young team with only one departing senior (Andrew Rowsey), so additional games in an elimination tournament will only help with development. Ideally Marquette will win the NIT and use that as a springboard into bigger and better things. But it goes without saying that the NIT would be a terrible outcome for next season. The good news is the Marquette is uniquely set up for success in 2018-2019.
Markus Howard and Sam Hauser will return, meaning Marquette will be with two of their top three scorers from this season. The Golden Eagles will add two 4-star recruits in Joey Hauser (Sam’s brother) and Brendan Bailey, who spent the past two years completing a Mormon mission.
Marquette will also enjoy a once-in-a-generation event: the opening of a new arena. The excitement around the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center should bring large and enthusiastic crowds to downtown Milwaukee, giving the Golden Eagles an additional home court advantage. Between the new arena and the talent on the roster, Marquette should be a shoo-in to make the dance in 2019. If not, Wojo’s seat will heat up considerably.
On the subject of “hot seat” speculation, it is important to remember that Wojciechowski started from scratch when he took over in 2014, a season that ended with only 13 wins. He guided the Golden Eagles to 20 wins the following season, the NCAA tournament the season after that, and now the NIT. It should be noted that Wojo’s first four seasons at Marquette mirror Tony Bennett’s first four seasons at Virginia. It was not until Bennett’s 5th season at UVA at the Cavaliers transformed into the powerhouse they are today.
There is little reason to panic about the direction of the program at this juncture. Despite the half-step back, things are generally pointing upwards. But if the Golden Eagles are do not make the tournament next season with all of the chips they have stacked in their favor, then without a doubt it will be time to panic.