Recently, I took part in Big East Coast Bias' continued look at the most marquee games of the upcoming season (in our humble opinions), examining what lied ahead for the Marquette Golden Eagles. In that post, three nonconference games were featured as I felt MU's matchups with Iowa, LSU and Wisconsin were worthy of ranking in their Top 5.
Today, we'll be glossing over the whole enchilada, as they say. Let's take a look at Marquette's nonconference schedule.
Belmont (November 13, 2015)
The season kicks off against the Belmont Bruins of the Ohio Valley Conference. In 10 of the last 12 seasons, the Nashville-based program has amounted 20 or more wins and has hit the mark in six of the last seven campaigns as well, including a 30-win season in 2010. Rick Byrd's club is building off a season in which they shocked the Murray State Racers to win the OVC Tournament last March. Ultimately, the Bruins, who had won seven in a row going into the NCAA Tournament were dismissed by the Virginia Cavaliers but they will likely be a formidable threat again in 2015. Returning is go-to guy Craig Bradshaw who was one of the most efficient shooters in the nation. The 6-3 shooting guard amassed a 59.4 percent mark in eFG%, and a 61.4 percent mark in TS% in the 2014-15 season. Those were good enough for 68th and 88th in the country respectively. This will no doubt be a fun, early litmus test for this Golden Eagles team.
IUPUI (November 16, 2015)
Next up in the preliminary rounds of the Legends Classic are the IUPUI Jaguars. The Jags are coming off of a dismal season in which head coach Jason Gardner saw his team finish 10-21 and 6-10 in the Summit League. There's no way around saying that IUPUI was one of the worst offensive teams in the nation by nearly every metric out there. The good news is that this year's club will be seasoned with experience. Four of the five most used players on the Jaguars (via usage rate) are back including leading scorer Marcellus Barksdale. These two clubs last met in 2013, where Marquette took care of business by the tune of 86-50. Barring something cataclysmic, a similar result might be due up.
Iowa (November 19, 2015)
I might as well just copy-paste what I had listed for this game back in my top five games post for the Golden Eagles. This one's going to be fun for quite a few reasons. Firstly, it's part of the first annual Gavitt Games, a Big East-Big Ten 'challenge' where we'll see several intriguing interconference matchups. Secondly, both the Hawkeyes and Golden Eagles boast some pretty talented rosters coming into the year. The end result of this composition should be a terrific encounter and one that might not be grabbing a lot of preseason headlines, but may wind up snagging your attention once tipoff commences.
LSU (November 23, 2015; Brooklyn, New York)
Amongst the intriguing "Feast Week" matchups this year is one that will be showcasing two of the most talented freshmen in the country. Marquette's Henry Ellenson is one of those youngsters who will be under the lights at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on the 23rd of November. The other? Montverde Academy graduate and LSU Tiger Ben Simmons. Simmons might wind up being the best freshman at the end of the season and could very well be the top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, also. The Tigers, like the Golden Eagles, have an abundance of young talent that, if everything goes right, could be an NCAA Tournament team. A game like this in November could give way to large importance in March.
Arizona State or North Carolina State (November 24, 2015; Brooklyn, New York)
While all the gusto might come from the encounter with the Bayou Bengals, the finals (or consolation round) of the Legends Classic will serve up some terrific possibilities too. Lying ahead of Marquette win or loss is either facing the Arizona State Sun Devils or the North Carolina State Wolfpack. The Sun Devils nabbed Bobby Hurley away from Buffalo in the offseason after the Bulls made the NCAA Tournament. Sparky struggled last season under Herb Sendek, going 18-16 with a 9-9 record in the Pac-12 and lost their first round matchup in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament to a sluggish USC Trojans team. It will be interesting to see how Hurley sets this team up and we'll know a little bit about them in these early matchups. Meanwhile, the NC State Wolfpack are very familiar to Big East fans, as they upset the Villanova Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament this past March. While Trevor Lacey is gone, Anthony Barber returns to Raleigh as the 2013 McDonald's All-American will look to build off the successes he had under Mark Gottfried last year. Either way, both matchups should be tough ones for MU in their own ways.
Jackson State (November 29, 2015)
After tough bouts in Brooklyn, Marquette will return home to face the Jackson State Tigers. Last season, the Tigers went 11-21 in the SWAC and after starting off 2-11, finished out with a 9-9 record in conference play. This year, they'll be led by the tandem of Kaven Bernard and Raeford Worsham, a duo of seniors who were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in usage rate for Jackson State a season ago. Additionally, Worsham and Bernard were the top two scorers on the team last year, posting 12.2 and 10.6 points per game respectively. After three toughies in a row for Marquette, this will likely serve as a way to work the kinks out and head to December strong.
Grambling State (December 2, 2015)
Grambling State is next as Marquette weaves its way through the SWAC in back-to-back games. Grambling is coming off of an incredibly disappointing state as the Tigers were an abysmal 2-27 and 0-18 in conference play. Leading scorer A'Torri Shine (12.8 PPG) has departed but Mark Gray, Grambling State's second-leading scorer (10.5 PPG) in the 2014-15 season is back for his senior season. There's certainly nowhere to go but up for the Tigers in the 2015-16 season, but the Golden Eagles will look at this matchup as one where they can feast upon a considerably weaker opponent.
Maine (December 5, 2015)
Much like the Tigers, the Maine Black Bears are off the heels of an extremely dismal year. Maine, under the direction of head coach Bob Walsh, went 3-27 and 2-14 in America East Conference play in the 2014-15 season. The Black Bears might as well have been called the "Bad News Bears" as they performed extremely poorly on both sides of the ball, allowing a nation-worst 55.8 percent mark in the Effective FG% category. Playing two teams consecutively that went a combined 5-54 in the previous year should bode well for Steve Wojciehowski's club in more ways than one here in this portion of the slate.
San Jose State (December 8, 2015)
Prior to the annual matchup with the in-state rival Wisconsin Badgers, Marquette will be hosting the Spartans of San Jose State. To beat the druma gain... SJSU was one of the worst teams in the entire country a season ago, going 2-28 on the year. It hasn't been easy for former Wake Forest assistant and Boise State associate head coach Dave Wojcik in the Bay Area, having gone 9-52 in the last two seasons, with only one win inside the confines of the Mountain West Conference. To make matters worse, San Jose State couldn't even play in the MWC Tournament last year as they had a low Academic Progress Rate. It likely won't get any easier here as Marquette has peppered this portion of the schedule with cupcake after cupcake.
Wisconsin (December 12, 2015; Madison, Wisconsin)
The much-anticipated matchup between Badgers and Golden Eagles will occur in Madtown this coming season. The Kohl Center, a usually rowdy venue, no doubt will be a hostile environment on the 12th of December when Marquette rolls in. Wisconsin, coming off of back-to-back Final Fours, is a little less loaded this year but doubing Bo Ryan's club isn't something you typically would want to do. With MU's heralded and talented recruiting class coming in, expect this to be one of the best editions of this rivalry in quite some time.
Chicago State (December 21, 2015)
Marquette returns to the court after a nine day absence to face the Chicago State Panthers in the penultimate nonconference game. The Panthers of the WAC went 8-24 last season and had two Big East teams on their nonconference slate last year. Those were Creighton and DePaul, whom they both lost to and, strange but true, allowed 84 points to in each of the games. Will MU make it three in a row to 84? Only time will tell.
Presbyterian (December 27, 2015)
Before the first conference game, one final nonconference matchup remains. Presbyterian, located in Clinton, South Carolina, will saunter up to Milwaukee to battle Wojciechowski's club as they aim to not look past the Blue Hose before facing the Pirates in Newark three days later. If all goes well, this should be a game that can, could and will give MU confidence before heading into the Big East season.
Stetson (January 27, 2016)
Sandwiched in the middle of the Big East regular season is a matchup with Stetson University. The Hatters went 9-22 in the Atlantic Sun a season ago with a 3-11 record in conference, ultimately falling to North Florida in the first round of the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament. Gone is Kentwan Smith, who was one of the most efficient shooters in the country a year ago but coming back is a pair of rising sophomores in Divine Myles and Grant Lozoya who were some of the Hatters' most significant contributors a season ago. This matchup should prove to be an easy-looking break for MU in the middle of the conference season and one where they may be able to shake off any early cobwebs as the season progresses.