WASHINGTON -- For the Marquette Golden Eagles, there is so much more at stake than a berth in the Final Four.
The Big East brand isn't on the line, but a Marquette win will enhance it more than any television deal or agreement to play games at Madison Square Garden. The new Big East has had Final Four representatives in the past from the likes of Villanova, Georgetown, Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall, Providence and Butler.
But none of those matter as much right now as this Marquette team. The Golden Eagles are the last ones standing and can send a strong message to the rest of Division I that a strong basketball-centric league can survive on its own.
"It would be an enormous validation for what we believe to be our purpose in college athletics,'' Marquette athletic director Larry Williams said Friday. "We are a group of 10 schools that focus on the development of student athletes that primarily focus on men's basketball. This is an opportunity to be in the Final Four this year and we want to do it in future years. It would be a validation of our charge."
Syracuse is off to the ACC. If Marquette were to beat the Orange Saturday at the Verizon Center, it would be a signal that this league is more than viable. The new Big East, with its television partner at Fox, can pump this up.
"An already top league would climb even higher,'' Butler athletic director Barry Collier said Friday.
For the 10 that are venturing out -- especially the seven that split from the old Big East -- it would soothe any fears.
"It's a validation that we believe shows we took the right course of action,'' Williams said. "It affirms those that may have had any questions. They can say they're doing it the right way.''
Williams said he has received a number of friendly text messages from his fellow athletic directors in the new conference, particularly pleased with the potential to add NCAA tournament units. When asked if those units would stay with the new Big East or the old, Williams declined to answer.
The game will be played on the home court of another member of the new Big East -- Georgetown. The Verizon Center, like the majority of the other members' home courts, is a big-time pro environment, providing another reason why this looks like a legitimate plan.
"Obviously there is risk here by charting our own future,'' Williams said. "But we feel some sense of responsibility for it.''
Marquette coach Buzz Williams (no relation to Larry) and the team aren't feeling any added pressure to perform based on the new league. But to Larry Williams, this will be an affirmation of basketball belonging at the adult table.
"This is an important element,'' said Larry Williams of reaching a Final Four.
The Marquette brand would benefit greatly from a Final Four appearance. So too would Buzz Williams, much like Tom Crean did when he took Marquette in 2003. But the biggest beneficiary will be the new Big East, which can claim it is here to play with everyone else on equal footing -- even without football.
WHO TO WATCH
Michael Carter-Williams. Syracuse's lead guard has become one of the toughest matchups in the NCAA tournament. He shredded Indiana with 24 points and completely controlled the game. Carter-Williams scored 14 points and added five assists but had four turnovers in the 74-71 loss at Marquette last month. He seems to be seeing the floor better and is playing with as much, if not more, confidence than at any point this season. He is a tough matchup because of his size and length, and Marquette cannot afford to let him find his range and soft spot on the floor.
WHAT TO WATCH
Second-shot opportunities. The Orange successfully created additional opportunities against Indiana. Marquette limited Miami to one shot on many occasions. The wings of Marquette, like Jamil Wilson, Trent Lockett and Vander Blue, can certainly board with the bigs like Davante Gardner and Chris Otule. But they'll need to keep the length of Jerami Grant, Baye Moussa Keita, DaJuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas off the glass. Syracuse has a host of bigs to rotate in with their length that includes a wing like James Southerland. If the Orange continue to keep possessions alive, then Syracuse has a solid chance to advance to the Final Four.
STAT TO WATCH
The 3-point shot can be the great equalizer. Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and Southerland can bury daggers on 3s. The Golden Eagles aren't as prolific a 3-point shooting team. Marquette doesn't rely on the 3-ball to get into the Syracuse zone. The Golden Eagles would rather slice through it or pound the ball inside. But Syracuse can stretch leads with 3s and make it even more difficult to catch up against the zone. The onus will be on Marquette, more than Syracuse, to be on top of defending the 3-point line.