KILLIAN: Preseason polls won’t define this Marquette team


Buzz Williams spent most of last season downplaying his team’s talent. On several occasions he specifically stated that the Golden Eagles “weren’t very good.”

You could’ve called it humility, a genuine lack of confidence or an ingenious PR strategy, but the message had an indelible impact on the roster. Williams’ attitude instilled an underdog mentality that pushed the 2012-13 Golden Eagles further than any Marquette team had gone since a guy named Wade wore the blue and gold.

Last season’s NCAA Tournament run grabbed the nation’s attention, as numerous media outlets picked the Golden Eagles to win the newly realigned Big East Conference.

Throughout his six years as head coach, Williams has excelled at keeping outside opinions in perspective. He’s even been known to use them as fuel for his teams’ competitive fire. After the Golden Eagles knocked off Butler in the third round last season, an ESPN article ranked Marquette the 16th-best team in the Sweet Sixteen. Williams gladly referenced the list in his postgame presser after Marquette crushed Miami to advance to the Elite Eight.

This season, however, Williams is doing his best to ignore the positive media hype surrounding his squad.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people who predict about Marquette have never been to the Bradley Center,” Williams said. “They just say ‘Buzz is a character and the team plays real hard, and then they’ve had a lot of success in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s just pick them in the top three.’ You’ve got better odds in Vegas. I could teach you more about dice than that in five minutes.”

Williams has said that not being very good gives his team an edge, and he’s intent on keeping that edge no matter what national experts may say.

“In our society, I think that success inherently makes you soft,” Williams said. “When you are patted on the back by your sphere of influence over a long period of time, no matter how old you are and no matter your title, and you come back and it’s time to go to work, you have to get recentered to (what that work was).”

The mindset at the beginning of this season is a lot like the beginning of Rocky III. Only Williams already knows all about the “Eye of the Tiger.” He doesn’t need his team to be knocked down by Clubber Lang to remember the thrill of the fight.

As the Golden Eagles have reached different plateaus of success each year under Williams, expectations have increased. Many would consider falling short of another deep tournament run a disappointment.

But his teams have never been defined by expectations. They’ve rarely been publicly acknowledged as talented. They’ve instead achieved under-the-radar success by outhustling and outworking their opponents. Marquette reached the Sweet Sixteen three straight times because each team, regardless of the players it lost or gained, bought into Williams’ system and embraced a collective theme of toughness.

While expectations can and have changed, don’t expect Williams’ attitude toward his team to follow suit. He wakes up every morning like he’s still in last place.