PHOENIX – Now it’s Marquette’s turn to be David against Goliath.
The Golden Eagles and coach Buzz Williams made the NCAA’s Sweet 16 last season, but this time the competition in the West Regional includes three teams whose coaches have national championships on their rÃ©sumÃ©s – Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Florida’s Billy Donovan.
The No. 7 seed Gators will play Marquette on Thursday (9:17 p.m.) at the U.S. Airways Center.
‘‘Coach Donovan has won 27 NCAA tournament games,” Williams said. ‘‘Coach Izzo has won 37. Coach Pitino has won 40. All of them have won national championships. All of them have coached in the [NBA] or decided they didn’t want to coach in the league. And the league that I should be in is the Lone Star Conference, a Division II league in Texas. I should be an assistant in that league. I don’t compare. I have great admiration for them.”
Talk of coaches and Marquette senior forward Jae Crowder and Florida’s guard-oriented power trio of junior Kenny Boynton, senior Erving Walker and freshman Bradley Beal were the preferred topics Wednesday.
That was just as well for a Marquette team trying to minimize any fallout from revelations that some of its underage players were ticketed for being in a Milwaukee nightclub Jan. 29.
School officials told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which first reported the incident, that discipline was handled internally with the involved players at the time and all are eligible to play against Florida.
Freshman guard Todd Mayo, 20; junior guard Jake Thomas, 20; sophomore guard Vander Blue, 19; sophomore forward Jamail Jones, 19; freshman forward Juan Anderson, 18; and freshman guard Derrick Wilson, 20, were the players who were cited. Senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom also was at the club but was the legal age of 21.
As a team, the Golden Eagles have proved to be a formidable unit led by Crowder, the Big East player of the year.
‘‘He impacts the game maybe more than any other player in the country in every facet,” Donovan said. ‘‘He’s a tremendous offensive rebounder. He’s a great defender. He comes up with loose balls, deflections. He’s a great outlet passer to start the break. He has incredible stamina with the way he can run up and down the floor. He shoots threes. He puts it down.
‘‘And maybe the most underrated part of his game is he’s a phenomenal passer. He can impact the game in almost every possible way. I love the way he competes.”
The Gators pose a different problem for Williams with their speed and strong perimeter play.
‘‘I think a lot has been made of how many threes they shoot and make [averaging 25 per game and making 38 percent],” Williams said. ‘‘They make a lot of threes and a lot of dunks. A lot of that comes from transition. If it doesn’t come from transition, it’s going to come from the ball screen, and I think coach Donovan has been ahead of the curve relative to college basketball in doing a lot of the same things that are done in the NBA.”
Marquette faced two other teams with a scoring history in BYU and Murray State, but their shots weren’t falling. The danger this time is that the Gators tend to be second-chance opportunists on the boards.
‘‘There are very few teams that have the offensive-rebounding percentage [more than 11 per game] and at the same time the offensive efficiency,” Williams said, ‘‘so it’s as potent an offensive team as I’ve studied all year.”
The Golden Eagles and Gators will play after another marquee matchup between No. 1 seed Michigan State and No. 4 seed Louisville (6:47 p.m.).