To celebrate SLAM’s 30th anniversary, we’re spotlighting the 30 most influential men’s college teams from our past 30 years. Stats, records and chips aren’t the main factor here, it’s all about their contribution to the game’s cultural fabric.

For the next 30 days—Monday through Friday— we’ll be unveiling the full list here. We’ve also got an exclusive retro collegiate collection, out now, that pays homage to each squad’s threads. Shop here.

“Almost Jordan-like in his early days when the jump shot is falling,” the play-by-play broadcaster said as Marquette’s Dwyane Wade hit a long-range shot against Kentucky in the Elite Eight of the 2003 NCAA Tournament. 

In more ways than one, the two players were just like each other. Jordan’s arrival in Chicago signaled a new era of dominance for the Bulls, while Wade’s tenure at Marquette rejuvenated the program and propelled it to national prominence. 

And just like the Bulls, the Golden Eagles left a lasting mark on their league’s history. 

At the helm of this Wisconsinite powerhouse was the mastermind himself, Tom Crean. The suit-and-tie-wearing coaching genius molded his players into bucket-getting hoopers. His emphasis on relentless defense and fast-paced offense turned Marquette into a whirlwind of chaos for any matchup in the nation. Under his guidance, the Golden Eagles flew high, winning the hearts of basketball fans across the country. 

A high-flying, sharp-shooting Wade was at the center of the team’s success. 

Wade was all you could ever want in a first option: his quickness helped him blow by defenders. He could levitate for emphatic posters and knock down big shots consistently. The Chicago native was one of the hottest players in the NCAA during his junior season, averaging 21.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.2 steals. 

Though Marquette could always rely on Wade’s star power, the squad also thrived on collective brilliance. Alongside Wade were Travis Diener, Robert Jackson and Steve Novak, who epitomized the essence of team basketball. 

Diener dished out dimes left and right, thriving as the team’s primary facilitator. Senior forward Jackson was a brawny bully inside the paint, punishing any defender who stood between him and the rim – the Milwaukee, WI native averaged 15.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Off the bench was an emerging star in Novak, who knocked down 50.5 percent of his shot attempts from behind the arc as a freshman. 

From Wade to the 12th man on the edge of the bench, each player brought a unique skill set to the court, complementing each other with selfless play. Together, they became one of the most explosive offenses in the Conference USA, capable of giving any Blue Blood and top collegiate team a run for their money. 

And it showed in time for March Madness. 

The Golden Eagles started their postseason campaign with a showdown against Holy Cross, setting the stage for a clash of coaching titans as Crean faced off against his mentor, Ralph Willard. Despite a slow start and Wade battling foul trouble, Marquette rallied behind Diener’s hot hand to secure a hard-fought victory, one that helped him shake off the ghosts of past postseason disappointments.

Marquette’s most dramatic game came in the second round, where they found themselves locked in an overtime thriller against Missouri. With Wade leading the charge and freshman sharpshooter Novak seizing his moment in the spotlight, the Golden Eagles soared to victory in a game that embodied the spirit of March Madness—heart-stopping action, clutch performances, and an unwavering determination to win. 

The Golden Eagles then survived a narrow win against Pittsburgh in the Sweet Sixteen to punch their ticket to the Elite Eight in thrilling fashion. 

In what might be the biggest game in program history, Marquette clashed with basketball royalty in Kentucky, a showdown that would test their firepower and define their legacy. With Wade delivering a virtuoso triple-double performance for the ages featuring 29 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and four blocks, the Golden Eagles ended the first-seeded Wildcats’ 26-game winning streak on their way to the program’s third-ever Final Four appearance. 

Although they failed to hoist the national championship trophy in the end, Wade’s heroics and stardom elevated Marquette to national prominence. Across the Golden Eagles fanbase, the Windy City native instilled excitement and hope, just like Jordan’s impact on Chicago in the 80s.  

Photos via Getty Images.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here