Two of the hottest teams in the country meet when sixth-ranked Marquette plays Vermont in a first-round East Region matchup Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
Marquette (28-6) is the No. 2 seed in East, its highest in program history. The Golden Eagles have won nine straight and are coming off their first Big East tournament championship.
Vermont (23-10) enters the first-round game as the 15th seed in the East after capturing the America East conference tournament championship on Saturday. The Catamounts have won 15 consecutive games.
Marquette and Vermont will be meeting for just the third time and first as postseason combatants. The Golden Eagles won the previous two meetings, including a 91-81 home win on Dec. 5, 2017.
The team that prevails will advance to face the Michigan State-Southern California winner on Sunday in Columbus.
Marquette is making its 35th NCAA appearance and is looking for its first NCAA tournament win since 2013 when it advanced to the Elite Eight.
Last year, the Golden Eagles lost to national finalist North Carolina in the first round, their fourth straight loss in NCAA tournament play.
“We’re excited about the season we’ve had to this point,” said Marquette coach Shaka Smart, the Big East Coach of the Year. “For our guys, the hard work they’ve put in all year has put us in this position. We also talked about that once the tournament starts, yeah there’s seeding but it’s really about who plays better on that particular day.”
Offensively, guard Tyler Kolek, the Big East player of the year, averaged 18.7 points per game en route to being named the most outstanding player of the Big East tournament.
“One of my old coaches from George Mason actually coaches at Vermont,” Kolek said, referring to Vermont assistant Bryson Johnson. “I was texting back and forth with him a little bit. Should be fun. I’m excited to get into the tournament and play.”
Guard Kam Jones (12.0 points per game in the tournament) and forward David Joplin (10.7) earned spots on the all-tournament team.
The Golden Eagles were just the 10th team in Big East history to win both the regular season conference championship and the conference tournament championship in the same season.
Vermont beat UMass Lowell, 72-59, in the America East conference title game to capture its tenth America East championship and earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“As a whole for the year, there were just a lot of new players, and I tried to play a lot of guys early in the year to figure out what we had which probably cost us a couple of games,” Vermont head coach John Becker said. “Obviously, it’s well documented our schedule was brutal, our travel was brutal and all that type of stuff.”
Vermont hasn’t lost since Jan. 11, and its 15-game winning streak is the second-longest active one in the nation behind Oral Roberts (17).
“We weren’t used to — in the nonconference (schedule) — losing some games by 20 to other mid-major programs and things that we weren’t used to,” Becker added. “But the coaching staff was incredible. My assistants did an incredible job … just we just kept tinkering until we found some stuff, just throwing stuff up on the wall and working and trying to figure something out. And finally, some stuff made sense and stuck. And then we were off and running.”
–Field Level Media