LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Buzz and his Bunch are back in the Sweet 16.
That would have shocked the nation a couple years ago, when Marquette coach Buzz Williams got the job out of virtually nowhere -- after just one season as Tom Crean's assistant. But these days, it's hardly surprising that the Golden Eagles have made consecutive Sweet 16 appearances following a hard-fought victory over Murray State on Saturday afternoon.
Williams is a grinder. Just like his players.
"A country kid that just hung in there," Williams said following the 62-53 win. "Hang in there, hang in there, throw a good pitch. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Show up and go to work and do it every day no matter what's surrounding you. That's really hard, man."
What's difficult is trying to beat Marquette.
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His two best players came via the junior college ranks. Jae Crowder, in fact, attended a pair of jucos and wound up winning Big East Player of the Year honors. Darius Johnson-Odom went the prep school route, to Patterson School, then a year at Hutchinson Junior College before landing at Marquette. The duo plays with a chip on their shoulder, both look more like boxers than basketball players.
Then there's starting point guard Junior Cadougan, a slightly rotund Canadian who at one time was ranked among the nation's top players back in the eighth or ninth-grade before completely being written off as his weight ballooned. Davante Gardner and Williams engaged in a weight-loss contest this past offseason, and while the sophomore big man out of Virginia made progress, he still doesn't have the look and feel of a Big East center with the eye test.
He took Jamil Wilson on the bounce as a transfer from Oregon, grabbed O.J. Mayo's little brother, Todd, from the prep school ranks over mid-major schools and the starting center earlier this season is a kid with just one eye.
It almost sounds like the Bad News Bears.
Williams took over a team in 2008 with three veteran guards and not much else. They went to the second round of the NCAA tournament despite the injury to Dominic James. Then came another tourney appearance despite losing all three guards. After losing first-rounder Lazar Hayward, this was a program that was sure to fall off the map.
But Jimmy Butler, DJO and Crowder led the Eagles to the Sweet 16 a year ago -- and these guys, despite the loss of another first-rounder in Butler, will once again advance past the first weekend of the Big Dance. Marquette will face the Florida-Norfolk State winner with an Elite Eight berth on the line. The Golden Eagles will go in as the favorite this time though, unlike a year ago when they took a No. 11 seed into the Sweet 16 against North Carolina.
Marquette is synonymous with toughness -- and it showed that on Saturday against a Murray State team that had lost just one game all season and also in a hostile environment in which every Kentucky fan in the crowd was pulling for the other in-state team. The Golden Eagles trailed, 46-41 with less than eight minutes remaining, but showed mental and physical resiliency down the stretch to pull out the win.
"What gives us the edge," Cadougan said. "Is working hard and proving people wrong."
Nowadays, it's proving them right.