Marquette Basketball: The Golden Eagles Must Get over the Sweet 16 Hump

Matt BarbatoCorrespondent IMarch 25, 2013

LEXINGTON, KY - MARCH 23: Vander Blue #13 and Davante Gardner #54 of the Marquette Golden Eagles look on in the second half against the Butler Bulldogs during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Rupp Arena on March 23, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It was a typical game for the 2012-13 Marquette Golden Eagles. A game with multiple ups and downs, a game that had the Golden Eagles fighting again out of a first-half deficit. After a nervous final minute, Butler had the ball once again with a chance to send Marquette home for the season, which brought back memories of Butler's buzzer-beater by Rotnei Clarke in the Maui Invitational. 

This time, the Bulldogs were unable to get Clarke the ball and it was Andrew Smith who hoisted up the brick that clinched Marquette's third consecutive appearance in the Sweet 16. 

This tournament has been what I like to call "hero time" for Vander Blue. He played his best game of the season against Butler and showed signs of being the star he was projected to be. Blue dropped 29 points and was the catalyst of the victory. Two nights earlier, Blue scored seven of Marquette's final nine points, including the game-winning layup to complete the rally against Davidson in the first round.

Marquette has had a very dramatic ride to the Sweet 16. Despite being down by nine to Davidson and by 10 against Butler, the Golden Eagles have persevered and have found ways to win, something they've managed to do all season.

But as sweet as making the Sweet 16 is, making the Elite Eight would be much sweeter. This time around, Marquette won't just be happy to be here. It is time to take the next step and it certainly will not be easy. 

Marquette will face Miami in Washington, D.C. The Hurricanes are favorites to advance and are led by Player of the Year candidate Shane Larkin. Miami is also coached by Jim Larranaga, the man who coached George Mason to a stunning run to the Final Four in 2006. 

A victory would be a program-changer. Buzz Williams signed four of the top 100 recruits to Milwaukee, and a trip to the Elite Eight could generate more interest from future recruits.

As I have said before, Marquette is on the brink of becoming a big-time college basketball program. But Marquette hasn't advanced past the Sweet 16 since 2003, when a guy named Dwyane Wade led his team to the Final Four.

The Golden Eagles have defied expectations all season. They were projected to finish seventh in the Big East and finished tied for first with Georgetown and Louisville. They were a sexy upset pick in the first round but managed to steal a victory. They also knocked off America's March sweetheart, Butler. This team has shown the heart and desire of a championship team and need to play like one for another weekend.

Not only could this team hop over the barrier to the Elite Eight, but a win next Thursday could put them on the map as a nationally prominent program.