Few teams in men's college basketball are hotter than No. 22 Marquette, whose six-game winning streak has come at the expense of the traditional powers of the Big East Conference.
The Golden Eagles' next job is to avoid an upset against revenge-minded Seton Hall on Wednesday night in Newark, N.J.Marquette (14-6, 6-3) lost its first three conference games before trouncing then-No. 16 Providence by 32 points on Jan. 4. That kicked off a winning streak that has also seen Marquette beat Seton Hall, Villanova and Xavier -- all ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll at the time. The Golden Eagles' ascent earned them a ranking of their own this week for the first time this season.
Shaka Smart, in his first season coaching Marquette after a six-year tenure with Texas, expressed confidence in his team learning from its earlier losses.
"Losing four in a row... I think what you take out of that as a team is we can win, we can find a way to win those games, but we've got to be a little bit better in a variety of areas," Smart said. "And I think we've continued to get better."
Marquette hosted Seton Hall (12-6, 3-5) on Jan. 15 in a back-and-forth affair, decided by a controversial late whistle. With the game tied at 72, Marquette's Greg Elliott leaned into the Pirates' Bryce Aiken while attempting a shot, elbowing Aiken in the nose. But the officials called the foul on Aiken, and Elliott's free throw with one second left won the game for Marquette.
Aiken scored 28 points that day but entered concussion protocol and hasn't played since.
The Golden Eagles have been led by Justin Lewis, a freshman averaging 15.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this season, and Darryl Morsell -- a Maryland grad transfer -- scoring 13.9 points per game. Lewis made a game-winning 3-pointer for Marquette to stun Villanova last week.
"In the timeouts, in the huddles, even when we were down, we were just like, OK, let's go," Lewis told reporters after that shot. "We could have easily crumbled, but we never did."
Seton Hall is coming off its worst loss of the season, 84-63 against St. John's on Monday. The Pirates beat St. John's two days earlier but could not complete the season sweep. And now they must play their third game in five days.
Without Aiken, Kadary Richmond handled most of the point-guard duties in both games. The Red Storm got to him the second time, holding him to three points on 0-of-8 shooting and forcing him into four turnovers.
"This was what I was afraid of on Saturday. With one primary ball-handler, (Richmond) was going to be a little tired," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "The effort he gave on Saturday was phenomenal, the effort he gave (Monday) was great. It's just he had to do it a lot, and so sometimes you have to have a short memory."
It's unclear whether Aiken will be ready to return for the Marquette game.
Jared Rhoden is the Pirates' leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, averaging 15.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. But in the past two games, he's made just 6 of 28 attempts from the floor.
--Field Level Media