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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Oh, did it look good. Marquette raged from the blocks a perfect 9-0 and then won five of its next seven. 14-2 heading into the heart of the Conference USA schedule. It wasn't a matter of if the Golden Eagles would be heading to the NCAA Tournament. They were playing for a seeding.
Even if all-everything guard Travis Diener, he of the sweet shot and unstoppable penetration, had a stress fracture. And an ankle problem. The Eagles were soaring. And then falling. It started innocently enough, with a three-game losing streak and a win-one-lose-one stretch. Then Diener broke a couple fingers and was out. Gone. So were the Eagles. They played a first-round NIT game but lost by 14 to Western Michigan. Scored 40 points in doing so. Heck, Diener had more than 30 three times during the season. But he couldn't play. And Marquette couldn't win.
"What Travis did was play such a big role that he allowed everybody else to play their roles," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "When we lost him, we didn't have guys ready to move into bigger roles. It's hard when you lose leadership like that. We had some guys who weren't ready to step up."
Several months later, those pups who couldn't climb the tree are ready to leap onto the upper branches. Freshmen become sophomores. Sophomores become juniors. Etc. And now that Diener is gone for good, graduated and picked by Orlando in the second round of the NBA draft, those Golden Eagles who couldn't respond so well last year are ready for action. Or they better be. Crean can't wait to see his three main sophomores move into more important roles, but he's quick to remind them that there are six new faces on campus ready to take their time, should they fail to show sufficient urgency.
In other words, this is no time to be holding back. Marquette is joining the Big East. Crean is chasing the magic that won the Golden Eagles 53 games in '02-'03 and '03-'04. Step up now or (perhaps) forever lose your spot.
"The additions of the new guys will allow us to prepare for the rainy day when Travis went down," Crean said. "Of course, that was more than just a rainy day. I was disappointed last year, but never discouraged. We just didn't have enough guys ready to step up."