Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 3/21/12
MILWAUKEE -- As Marquette walked off the floor last Saturday following its win over Murray State to advance to the Sweet 16, everything about the team's celebration looked different than it did a year earlier in the same situation. This year, as coach Buzz Williams made his way to his wife and kids in the crowd, he wasn't shedding tears or excitedly pounding his fists on the announcers table. The Golden Eagles players were calm, as if they expected the winning result. A year ago, when the No. 11 seed Marquette team produced back-to-back upsets -- first over No. 6 Xavier, then over Big East rival and No. 3 seed Syracuse -- the team's behavior suggested that they were just as surprised to be heading to the Sweet 16 as anyone."If you look back at the tape, you can see it; They're two different teams," senior Jae Crowder said. "Last year we were jumping around, crying, hugging. This year it was, 'OK, let's go. On to the next one.' It's just a different mentality. We've been here before. Now we're trying to win it."It made sense why the Golden Eagles were so overcome with emotion last season upon earning their unexpected trip to the Sweet 16. Of the 11 Big East teams to make the 2011 NCAA Tournament -- yes, 11 from the 16-team conference -- Marquette was the last of them in. Expectations were low, so there were no thoughts about how to react should the team overcome the odds and advance out of the first weekend."I think the response was different," Williams said. "Is it because of the expectations? Maybe internally. I also think that it's because of the experience from last year that they understand, 'OK, this is where we're at. Can we be better this year?' I think that's just human nature of wanting to advance."Not that we didn't want to advance last year, but I think there was some portion of us that thought, 'This is an unbelievable deal. We weren't even supposed to be in the tournament. And here we are in the Sweet 16.' Whereas this year, it was never in question past Valentine's Day that we were going to be in the NCAA Tournament. So I think our mindsets began to shift maybe weeks ago instead of when we won the game to go to the Sweet 16."Despite losing their best player to the NBA this season -- Jimmy Butler was a first-round pick of the Chicago Bulls -- the Golden Eagles were a much better team in 2012. After going 9-9 in conference play last year to finish 11th in the standings, Marquette finished second with a 14-4 record against Big East competition in the 2011-2012 season."Last year we were in awe," Crowder said. "Last year we were happy to be here. This year we have a different mentality. We're really trying to win it, really trying to go as far as possible. I think you can tell in our practices today. The practices we had last year, we were pretty excited, but at the same time we really were happy to be there. This year we have a game plan, we're really going at it as a game we're trying to win."Crowder, who won Big East Player of the Year, is a big reason why the Golden Eagles are a much better team than a year ago. In their two NCAA Tournament games, Crowder is averaging 21 points, 14.5 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 3.0 blocks."This year, I think you have more guys who are not content with just being one of the Sweet 16 teams," senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom said. "I think you have a bunch of guys who want to do more than that."As Marquette prepared to face the No. 1 seed North Carolina in last year's Sweet 16, the players knew it was an extreme long shot for them to advance any further. But this upcoming weekend, the Golden Eagles will be the favorite as they face the seventh-seeded Florida Gators."I think when you get to this point, I don't know that seeds have anything to do with it," Williams said. "That's not to take pressure off us (as) our seed is higher than them, but there's only 16 teams left. There's not any bad teams left."Follow Paul Imig on Twitter.
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