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2016-17 Big East nonconference schedule analysis: Marquette Golden Eagles

As Coach Wojo enters his third season, his Golden Eagles are looking at a tougher non-conference schedule.

-Anonymous Eagle

It’s a big third season for head coach Steve Wojciechowski and his Marquette Golden Eagles. Last season, Marquette went 10-2 in non-conference play. This time around, there are some tougher opponents for what should be a better Marquette team overall, even with the loss of NBA lottery pick Henry Ellenson. Here is a look at each of the Golden Eagles’ nonconference play:

Vanderbilt (November 11 - Annapolis, Md.)

The Bryce Drew era begins at Vanderbilt. Drew, known for his famous buzzer-beating shot in the 1998 NCAA Tournament to help Valparaiso upset 4-seed Ole Miss, takes over after Kevin Stallings bolted for Pittsburgh. Before becoming the Commodores’ head coach, he rose the coaching ranks for his alma mater.

He will have a tough task in looking to replace Vanderbilt’s top players from last year, Wade Baldwin IV and Damian Jones, who are both now in the NBA after being picked in the first round of the NBA Draft. The Commodores do return Matthew Fisher-Davis, who averaged just under 10 points per game last season. Fisher-Davis is one of their top shooters, knocking down a team-best 44.6 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. Inside, it appears that redshirt freshman Djery Baptiste will take the reins after sitting out last season. The Commodores don’t have a lot of a size and at 6-10, he’s the only player taller than 6-8 on their roster.

Howard (November 14)

The Bison has to be happy that the heart of the team consisted of players who were only juniors last year, which means they will be back. One such player Howard is definitely pleased about is James Daniel, the Bison’s top scorer and the only person who has averaged more points per game than Oklahoma’s scoring machine, Buddy Hield. Daniel averaged a NCAA best 27.1 points per game last season. He has meant a lot to the program, starting since his freshman year, when he put up over 20 points a game in 2013-14.

It’s far from being a one-man show, however. James Miller returns after spending most of last season injured. 6-foot-10 center Marcel Boyd nearly averaged a double-double last season, with 10.4 points per game and 9.9 rebounds per game. Damon Collins did more than double his scoring production from his sophomore year, rising up from 4.2 points per game to 10.1.

2K Classic (Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.)

Michigan (November 17)

As unfortunate as Caris LeVert's season-ending injury was last year, it allowed for John Beilein and his Wolverines to get some practice playing games without their star. LeVert, who has since graduated and now plays for the Brooklyn Nets, led Michigan in scoring when he wasn't dealing with injuries. The Wolverines were able to make the NCAA Tournament, winning their first game in the First Four, before losing to Notre Dame in the round of 64.

Michigan will look to its trio of guards, Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr., and Duncan Robinson, to lead the team once again. Each player scored just over 11.0 points per game last season. Aside from them, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman should be more involved last season. He started to heat up towards the end of the year in his first season as a starter. With an added year of experience, he should be able to be more of a contributor.

Pittsburgh or SMU (November 18)

Pitt: With Jamie Dixon taking his coaching talents to his alma mater, TCU, the Panthers usher in Kevin Stallings for his first year as Pittsburgh's head coach. Stallings comes in with 23 years of experience as a head coach, with 17 of those coming from his previous employer, Vanderbilt. Pittsburgh is coming off of a 21-12 season, which ended in a loss to Wisconsin in the opening game of the NCAA Tournament.

The Panthers graduate five seniors, but only of those--James Robinson--played major minutes. Robinson led the team in minutes played last season and averaged 10.2 points per game and 5.0 assists per game. Pittsburgh retains its top two scorers from last year, Jamel Artis and Michael Young. The senior forwards are complete players who could score, rebound, and dish out assists.

SMU: The controversial Larry Brown has resigned as head coach at SMU, who had found much success while he was there. In each of the last three seasons, the Mustangs won a minimum of 25 games. Tim Jankovich takes over after being an assistant to Brown for the last four years. It is his first head coaching gig since being at the helm at Illinois State from 2007-12.

The Mustangs had six players average double figures in scoring last season. Three of them are no longer with the Mustangs, as Nic Moore and Jordan Tolbert graduated, while Keith Frazier left for North Texas. Frazier was the focal point for the investigation on the SMU program, which ultimately led to a postseason ban, limited scholarships, and Brown's suspension. Seniors Ben Moore and Sterling Brown will lead the team, as well as proven sophomore Shake Milton.

IUPUI (November 22)

Head coach Jason Gardner is still searching for his first winning season since taking over at IUPUI in 2014. The Jaguars saw a slight improvement from his first year, winning 13 games in comparison to just 10 the season before.

He will turn to his senior tandem of Darell Combs and Matt O'Leary to do most of the work, after leading the team last season. Combs had a team-high 16.3 points per game last year, and proved to be a competent scorer from almost anywhere. He's okay with pulling up at the perimeter or attacking the basket inside. O'Leary, a 6-8 wing, is one of the Jaguars top rebounders and scorers--second to Combs. O'Leary can finish inside and occasionally knock the ball down from deep, although his 27.7 3-point shooting percentage won't scare most teams.

Houston Baptist (November 26)

Houston Baptist is looking to finish above-.500 for the first time in almost a decade. The Huskies haven't done so since the 2006-07 season, when they finished 22-7 under long-time coach Ron Cottrell. The Huskies did break even last season, finishing 17-17. They will have to pursue a winning season without now-graduated Anthony Odunsi. Odunsi was a do-it-all guard that led the Huskies in points (17.5 ppg), assists (3.7 apg), and steals (1.2 spg) last season.

They do return Colter Lasher and Josh Ibarra, both of whom averaged in double digits in scoring last season. Aside from that, one of Houston Baptist's strengths was its depth. It boasted a deep 11-man rotation, with those 11 players appearing in at least 24 games. The Huskies did graduate a couple of those pieces, but should reload with younger players taking bigger roles.

Western Carolina (November 30)

The Catamounts are ushering a new era of players. Western Carolina graduated its top four scorers from last season—Mike Brown, Torrion Brummitt, Rhett Harrelson, and Justin Browning.

Elijah Pughsley is expected to take on a larger role in Western Carolina’s gameplan after seeing a lot of time as a freshman in a veteran-laden rotation. Pughsley averaged 9.2 points per game in his debut season. He loves to shoot it from deep, taking nearly 75 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. However, he’s not an efficient scorer, shooting just 34.0 percent overall and 35.6 percent from 3-point range. Devin Peterson, Haboubacar Mutombo, and Marc Gosselin are all expected to shoulder larger roles for the Catamounts as well.

at Georgia (December 4 - Athens, Ga.)

Head coach Mark Fox is trying to bring his team back to the NCAA Tournament, after spending last year in the NIT. The Bulldogs have had three straight 20-win seasons, and can certainly make it a fourth this year.

The Bulldogs bring back their top two scorers from last year, J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten. Both Frazier and Maten averaged over 16.0 points per game and will be another tough one-two punch for opponents this year. Frazier, a senior guard, led the Bulldogs last year with 16.9 points per game. Although he stands just 5-foot-10, he can score from almost anywhere and at a high clip. Maten, who enters his junior year, filled in nicely in his first year as a starter. He was a great scorer inside and proved to be solid rebounder as well, averaging 16.5 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game.

Fresno State (December 6)

The Bulldogs were able to accomplish a lot last season. They finished 25-10, won their first ever Mountain West Conference tournament title, and went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 16 years. The road to defending their conference tournament title and getting back to the Big Dance will be more difficult this year.

Fresno State loses Marvelle Harris, who graduated after averaging a team-high 20.7 points per game. Guard Julien Lewis played major minutes for the Bulldogs last year, and he also graduated. Torren Jones was supposed to be looking forward to being one of the team’s focal points for his senior season after being a scoring complement to Harris. Instead, Jones was dismissed from the team during the offseason for violating team rules. Karachi Edo is Fresno State’s top returning player. He averaged 10.1 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Wisconsin (December 10)

After a coaching shakeup that changed the Badgers—who saw famed coach Bo Ryan retire midway through the season—they were able to overcome a slow start to the season and finish with an unseen run to the Sweet 16 under successor Greg Gard. Even more fascinating is that Wisconsin is bringing back each and every single player that started last season, and the rest of the rotational players who played major minutes too.

Leading scorer Nigel Hayes saw an increase in scoring, averaging 15.7 points per game, despite a dip in efficiency. The senior forward only made 36.8 percent of his shots, including an even worse 29.3 percent performance from long range. Bronson Koenig, the buzzer-beating hero in the NCAA Tournament game against Xavier, had the second-highest scoring average for the Badgers (13.1 ppg) and the second-highest 3-point shooting percentage (39.0 percent). In the front court, scoring threat and top-rebounder Ethan Happ will patrol the paint.

St. Francis (December 19)

The Red Flash is looking for its first winning season under Rob Krimmel. The closest it has gone to being near above-.500 was in the 2014-15 season, when it finished an even 16-16 overall, including a 9-9 record in conference play. other than that, it has just been below-.500 performances.

St. Francis is a young team. It graduated three of top scorers--the only players to average in double figures--including double-double man Ronnie Drinnon, who had a team-high 13.3 points per game and 11.0 rebounds per game. The Red Flash was derailed by injuries in the second half of conference play last season. Malik Harmon returns for his senior year and has a big responsibility once again in carrying the team. He averaged 8.0 points per game, but shot an ugly 29.9 percent overall. Isaiah Blackmon showed a lot of promise as a freshman but an ACL injury kept him sidelined for the rest of the season. Once he returns, he should contribute. Meanwhile, Basil Thompson is another rotational player that got a good amount of action last season and will have a healthier ankle this time around.

SIUE (December 21)

Since moving up to Division I in 2010, SIUE has struggled to keep up with the switch from Division II. Its best season in the last six years was a 12-16 finish in the 2014-15 season, which is far from ideal record. In fact, Cougars have been a combined 52-114 since making the jump to D-I.

Head coach Jon Harris is looking to do a lot better than his debut season a year ago, in which they finished 6-22--the program's worst record since moving to D-1. He'll get a chance to coach against his alma mater and the school that gave him his first coaching gig. He was a forward at Marquette from 1998-2002. Once he received his diploma, he became a graduate assistant the following year, before making assistant coaching stops at Green Bay, Missouri State, Tennessee, and California over the years. Now he gets to return to the place where it all started for him.

Outlook

Marquette has some cupcakes or some very winnable games on paper in its schedule. The Golden Eagles also have some games against Power 5 conferences where they are pretty well matched. They should win the games against these smaller conference schools. When it comes to the bigger conferences--SMU included, as it is it in the basketball-centric Atlantic 10--the Golden Eagles will have their hands full. It can really go either way. Despite losing Henry Ellenson, Marquette is bringing back a number of experienced guys who got a lot of playing time last season. I think the Golden Eagles will be better. They should lose no more than three, maybe four, non-conference games. Anything more would be a surprise and if they can't win a single game against a Power 5 opponent, that would be even more alarming--they would be in for another rough go in Big East play.