After finishing 14-4 in conference play two seasons ago, the Marquette Golden Eagles have gone a combined 13-28 in their last two seasons in the 'new' version of the conference. The transition hasn't gone as smoothly as most fans in Milwaukee would have liked it to, but the good news is that optimism has ascended for this upcoming season for a number of reasons, with second-year head coach Steve Wojciechowski and his heralded 2015 recruiting class being a major factor, as well as the return of super-productive freshman Duane Wilson who should find himself having another terrific year in the Cream City.
Let's have a look at what lies ahead for MU this coming season in conference play and how the Golden Eagles can get off the schneid and return towards the top of the charts in the Big East.
Seton Hall Pirates (December 30)
MU has dominated Seton Hall in recent years, winning six of the last seven matchups to take place in the regular season. The Hall is coming off a dismal, disappointing season and the folks in South Orange are hoping for the best this year. Returning is Big East Rookie of the Year Angel Delgado, a power forward who was boisterous and dynamic for the boys in blue and white a year ago. Delgado will likely be taking on a prime contender for that very same award this year in the heralded Rice Lake, Wisconsin native Henry Ellenson. This game should tell us a lot about both squads as each looks to get off on the right foot.
Georgetown (January 2, Washington, D.C.)
Since the conference shifted to 10 teams, Georgetown and Marquette have split the four matchups that have taken place. G'Town comes rolling into this season loaded with talent both young and old and are perhaps the most premier of contenders to challenge the Villanova Wildcats for the top spot in the conference when the season concludes. This is not going to be a very easy matchup for Wojo and the Golden Eagles to say the very least. The Hoyas swept Marquette last season and had a memorable overtime matchup on a Saturday afternoon in Milwaukee in January. This will be one of the bigger matchups of the Big East New Year's Tip-Off and should command your attention.
Providence (January 5, Providence, Rhode Island)
Hardly gets any easier for Marquette as they will have to head up I-95 to take on the fantabulous Kris Dunn and his Providence Friars. The reigning co-Big East Player of the Year is a contender for that very award again, as well as perhaps the National Player of the Year Award and could be an NBA lottery pick if he decides to desert Friartown after the 2015-16 season is over. The Friars may not be as talented up front as they were last year with the likes of LaDontae Henton and lack a lot of size. This could play right into Marquette's hand as they will have Ellenson as well as big man Luke Fischer who could pose a big threat down low. Dunn is "Mr. Everything" for PC so Duane Wilson will certainly have his hands full in this contest.
St. John's (January 9)
Al's Day will be celebrated on January 9 and in turn, Marquette will host the St. John's Red Storm. While Chris Mullin, first-year head coach for his alma mater, has been a machine on the recruiting trail thus far with his biggest get being nabbed earlier this week, year one in Jamaica, Queens may be tough sledding as he'll have to work with a completely different lineup than the one the Red Storm trotted out a season ago. That is not of course to say that the Red Storm couldn't possibly put it all together here, but early in the conference season they may have their woes. Trips to the BMO Harris Bradley Center tend to not work out for opposing teams as MU has dolled up a terrific home record over the years. If all goes well, this could be treacherous territory for Marquette's opponent on this Saturday afternoon in Wisconsin
Villanova (January 13, Villanova, PA)
As it's been said: "You come at the king, you best not miss." That's the mindset that will be infiltrating the minds of the Golden Eagles as they head to the home of the back-to-back Big East regular season champions and defending Big East Tournament champions on the 13th of January 2016. The Pavilion will surely be rocking on this Wednesday evening and we could likely see a scenario in which Henry Ellenson and fellow heralded Big East "diaper dandy" Jalen Brunson of the 'Cats share the floor at the exact same time. What more could you really ask for? This is going to be a big test for a young Marquette team and should they pull off the upset, it would likely serve to be a 'statement game' that tells the world that they are back in business and making no bones about it.
Xavier (January 16)
The last time the Musketeers traveled to Milwaukee, they thumped MU by 20 points and held them to under 45. Further, since joining the conference, X has had Marquette's number, losing just once in five matchups between the two teams. One has to wonder if that's not only gotten under the skin of Marquette fans, but the players as well. Xavier is likely to be a good team again this coming season with the likes of Remy Abell, Jalen Reynolds and Trevon Bluiett leading the charge as their triple threat. The biggest question mark for Xavier though is the lack of a pure point guard. Marquette, meanwhile, bests them in that category to say the very least with Wilson at the helm. Whether that plays a big factor in this first matchup between the two squads is left to be seen, but you might have to give them a slight edge at this point in time. That said, time will tell, and this will likely be a very fun matchup.
DePaul (January 20)
Oh, DePaul. Here's a quick breakdown. Marquette and DePaul are no strangers to each other. They both were part of a mass exodus from Conference USA in the mid-2000s to become members of the Big East. The two teams have faced each other 15 times since that point in time. Interestingly enough, none of those matchups have occurred in the Big East Tournament. Anyways, the DePaul Blue Demons have struggled mightily against their former fellow CUSA mates. Marquette has built up a 12-3 record versus DePaul since their inaugural seasons as members of the Big East Conference in 2005. While DePaul fans may be clamoring for something to go their way it's fixing to be another long year in Lincoln Park. And, of course, at the Rosemont Horizon.
St. John's (January 23, New York, NY)
After their quick two-game homestand Marquette will fly east to take on the St. John's Red Storm inside The World's Most Famous Arena. Madison Square Garden hasn't played very kindly to Marquette in recent history. Since garnering a victory against the Johnnies on March 9, 2013, MU has lost five of their last six games played inside the venerable venue in Midtown Manhattan. This statistic includes the Big East Tournament as well, as Marquette has taken losses to Notre Dame, Xavier and Villanova in the past three seasons. We shall see if this provides an opportunity for MU to shake off their woes in The Big Apple.
Butler (January 30)
After a January nonconference affair with the Stetson Hatters, Marquette returns to conference play against the Butler Bulldogs on the penultimate night of January. The 'Dawgs have been a thorn in Marquette's side since joining the conference just like the Xavier Musketeers as the Golden Eagles have notched just one victory over Butler in the last two seasons. BU swept the season series in the 2014-15 season including a 19-point drubbing at Hinkle Fieldhouse back on February 25. With Marquette's improvements this offseason from a talent perspective, they should more than hold their own in front of their home crowd. They went to overtime in last year's matchup in Milwaukee - coincidentally occurring on January 31 - before ultimately falling by four points.
Seton Hall (February 3, Newark, NJ)
The month of February begins with the start of a road stretch that will see Marquette play five of their final nine regular season games away from the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee. The start of that set of games commences with a trip to Newark and the Prudential Center. The Seton Hall Pirates will be awaiting them and both these teams, at this point, will be fleshed out compared to the first time they met at the start of the Big East season. We have no idea what either team will look like at that point in time, but it's certainly possible that this matchup for Marquette will be one they may not afford to be able to drop if they want to make a run at the top of the Big East Conference, assuming that trouble occurs for SHU again this season. However, I am no Nostradamus, so I will simply say that this Wednesday night affair in The Garden State should hopefully be a dandy.
Xavier (February 6, Cincinnati, OH)
Following their stay inside New Jersey, Marquette will head west to have the unenviable task of going into the rowdy Cintas Center and picking up a victory. X has made life miserable for incoming opponents over the years on their home court and may already saddle up a solid home court advantage at this point in the season. MU will absolutely have their hands full in this contest and a victory over the Muskies would be a brilliant turn of events for the program and the team as they look to march onto, well, March. That is, of course, if they are to win.
Providence (February 10)
Another Wednesday night affair in February will see Kris Dunn and the Friars make their way to America's Dairyland for a matchup to be broadcasted on the CBS Sports Network. This one has some interesting flavor to it though. This will mark the 11th season that Marquette has been a member of the Big East Conference. In the ten prior seasons, Providence has made eight trips to the BMO Harris Bradley Center. In all, PC has amounted exactly zero wins in those contests. It's been nothing short of a "House of Horrors" for the Friars any time that they walk into this venue for some rhyme or reason. Marquette will look to extend that winning streak to nine wins in a row over PC at home on this Wednesday evening.
Creighton (February 13)
An interesting schedule quirk: Marquette does not play Creighton until this Saturday evening in Milwaukee. 11 days later, they will finish up their season series against Creighton, playing them twice in the span of three games. No such quirk occurs like this on the schedule for MU and needless to say, it will be intriguing (maybe only to me) to see how these teams feel each other out and combat against one another when playing each other twice in such a short span. Creighton was bested last year on a game-winning shot by Matt Carlino and the Golden Eagles will look for similar results this year, perhaps, for their sake, with a little less drama.
DePaul (February 20, Rosemont, IL)
The good ol' Rosemont Horizon will play host to this late-season matchup between the Blue Demons and Golden Eagles. Marquette has had their aforementioned successes over DePaul over the years but one of the victories that DePaul had over MU took place inside that very venue in suburban Chicago. It was, in the words of Brewtown Andy of Anonymous Eagle, "MIKE. EFFING. STOVALL." who dropped a buzzer beater on Marquette on January 20, 2010. The game ended a vicious 24-game losing streak in conference for DePaul... and as Anonymous Eagle reminds us, they would proceed to lose 24 games in a row in conference play again right after. Talk about being sandwiched.
Creighton (February 24, Omaha, NE)
The reoccurring "new team in Big East 'dominates' over Marquette" theme rears its head again as we bring up the fact that Marquette hasn't fared so well over Creighton since the Jays joined the conference. Marquette is 1-3 versus Greg McDermott & Co. and have yet to win at the "CLink" in Omaha. That said, CenturyLink Center is an incredibly difficult place to play as CU crowd resemble NBA-level crowds from a capacity standpoint. With some optimism lurking in the shadows for Creighton this season as well, this could be pivotal for both teams who will likely be jockeying for position in the conference standings at this point.
Villanova (February 27)
Is this the biggest game of the season? It could very well be. Marquette has the audacity (read: sarcasm ABOUND here, folks) to denote this as "National Marquette Day" as they welcome the big, bad 'Cats from Villanova to the 414. This one is also a nationally televised matchup on the big FOX channel, so the nation will have the opportunity to clue in on this encounter. I have a hunch that this game will be as advertised and could wind up being one of the most exciting matchups of the entire season, Big East or not.
Georgetown (March 1)
So, you wanna get back to the NCAA Tournament and back in play in the Big East, Marquette? Well, you're going to have to earn it. After facing one Big East juggernaut, they'll welcome another. The Hoyas will come to play in the BMO Harris Bradley Center in the final home game of the season and one that will likely serve with great importance for Wojo & Co. Perhaps good (?) news is that Marquette has fared well in home finales lately, chalking up three victories in the last four opportunities. Will the hot streak continue? Check back with us on the first day of the best month of the college basketball season.
Butler (March 5, Indianapolis, IN)
The grand finale will take place inside the dignified halls of Hinkle Fieldhouse on March 5. This Saturday afternoon matchup, like the one in the previous week, will be broadcasted nationally on FOX so all eyes and attention will be able to be drawn in on this game between the Golden Eagles and Bulldogs. Nap Town will likely be as lively as ever as these two squads look to end their respective seasons with a bang.
Tough to really dabble out predictions on the first day of October for games that are taking place from December to March. However! That's what I intend to do here. For me, it's how Marquette starts and it's how they finish. There's a lot of meat on the bone in the middle of their schedule but tough tests are there at the beginning and end of Big East play for them. Thus, I see it shaking out like this:
vs. Seton Hall W
at Georgetown L
at Providence L
vs. St. John's W
at Villanova L
vs. Xavier W
vs. DePaul W
at St. John's W
vs. Butler W
at Seton Hall W
at Xavier L
vs. Providence W
vs. Creighton W
at DePaul W
at Creighton L
vs. Villanova L
vs. Georgetown W
at Butler L
Final Record: 11-7