The Marquette Golden Eagles’ non-conference schedule is nothing to shake a stick at. Only a few years removed from having a non-con schedule to rival the 2017-2018 Georgetown Hoyas, Marquette and Coach Steve Wojciechowski are now staring down the barrel of a loaded slate of tough games, both at home and away.
Marquette starts at home against Mount Saint Mary’s, a First Four team from last year that managed to down New Orleans before dropping to Villanova in the first round. Mount Saint Mary’s returns all 5’5” of Junior Robinson, their dynamic point guard poised to have a strong senior season. However, I don’t see Marquette dropping this one at home, so I’ll take the Golden Eagles.
Purdue at home is next, and that in and of itself is a whole new monster for the Golden Eagles. Having made the Sweet Sixteen behind the ability of Caleb Swanigan before falling to Kansas, Purdue is looking to turn that run into a second straight year of outstanding play. Marquette, missing graduated center Luke Fischer and without transfer Harry Froling until the end of the fall semester, will be lacking in size, which Purdue brings in buckets, behind senior center Issac Haas (7-2), redshirt freshman Matt Haarms (7-3), and junior forward Jacquil Taylor (6-10). All of that is also not to mention the shooters surrounding this massive core, such as Dakota Mathias, who shot 45% (72 makes) from 3, Vincent Edwards (73 makes to the tune of 42% from 3 and standing at 6’8” at the forward spot), Ryan Cline (45 makes, 41% from 3), and P.J. Thompson (40% from 3 with 53 makes). This has Marquette’s worst nightmare written all over it. With the ability to bang down low that Purdue brings, Marquette will struggle while being shorthanded with only Matt Heldt and freshmen Theo John and Ike Eke being true bigs. Marquette will need to shoot lights out by themselves (which they most certainly can do) and hope that whatever defensive gameplan they devise works to perfection. I’m going to have to take the Boilermakers in this one, but it should be close, and I think Marquette’s shooting ability will keep them in the game.
Marquette then gets to ditch Milwaukee in November and travel out into the middle of the Pacific to play in the Maui Invitational, facing off against perennial mid-major force VCU, who fell last year in the first round to Saint Mary’s. VCU returns strong players in Jonathan Williams, Samir Doughty, and Justin Tillmon, all of whom have seen success in VCU’s Havoc system. The Golden Eagles will have to be disciplined to break down the gritty Rams, and this game could go either way, but I’ll give the edge to Marquette, as VCU lost a host of talented seniors and I think that they’ll still be figuring themselves out early in the season.
The Golden Eagles will face one of California and Wichita State. Cal, having lost Cuonzo Martin to Missouri, Ivan Rabb to the NBA, and Charlie Moore to Kansas, will be a rebuilding program, so should Marquette prevail over VCU, I expect the Shockers of Wichita State to be waiting as the next opponent. The Shockers will be one of the best teams in the nation this year, especially with their move to the AAC. Landry Shamet, their star guard, is currently sidelined with an injury, and it is uncertain when he will return and when he will be 100%. However, should he be available for this game, I fully expect Marquette to be challenged every step of the way in this matchup, and for Wichita State to win. I hope I get to eat my words on that one.
Marquette will then face one of Chaminade, Notre Dame, Michigan, or LSU. Besides Chaminade, any of those games for Marquette is a good schedule strengthener, and every one of the four is beatable, so depending on how things play out, I think 2-1 is a reasonable expectation for Marquette in Maui, but 1-2 is as likely an outcome.
Marquette gets Eastern Illinois and Chicago State at home in their next two matchups. Both should be handily dealt with, assuming no massive injuries or crazy acts of the basketball gods.
The next set of games will be the most interesting run of the non-conference schedule for the Golden Eagles. First is a home matchup against Georgia, a team Marquette beat on the road last year and who made a late surge to try and compete for an NCAA tournament bid last year. The Bulldogs return Yante Maten, another absolute monster of a post player who scored 24 on 10/13 from the floor in last year’s matchup and guard Juwan Parker, amongst others that contributed to last year’s matchup. I’m of the opinion that Marquette’s home court advantage will be crucial to winning this matchup, but as long as Marquette’s shooters are knocking down shots and the defense can be flexible around Maten and keep Georgia’s guards under control, I see Marquette repeating the win here.
Next Marquette sees NCAA tournament team Vermont at home, which is intriguing on many different levels. The Catamounts return Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes, their two most productive and efficient players from last season’s team according to KenPom, along with contributors Payton Henson, Cam Ward, and Drew Urquhart. This could be a trap game for Marquette, who may be looking forward to traveling to rival Wisconsin next. However, if Marquette can stay focused on the opponent at hand, and if their defense has improved from the......(is fiasco the word we want to use here?) “thing” it was last year, the Golden Eagles should match up well defensively with Vermont’s star players, and should hold serve and beat the Catamounts.
The last large test of Marquette’s non-conference schedule is traveling to the hated Badgers of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Marquette lead at home at the half last year only to watch the Badgers go on a massive run and close out a victory comfortably. The Badgers have lost most of their key contributors from last season (Nigel Hayes, Zack Showalter, Bronson Koenig, Vitto Brown), but return star forward Ethan Happ (author’s note: WE PLAYED AGAINST HIM IN HIGH SCHOOL, TOO, HE’S HAUNTING ME), Khalil Iverson (who had an excellent game against Marquette last season), and added highly recruited Kobe King. I fully expect Greg Gard to have the Badgers prepared to fight again, with names such as Trevor Anderson, Charles Thomas, and D’Mitrik Trice having the potential to be well-known by the end of the season. My only real question with the Badgers is this: as a team who relied so heavily on senior presence the past few years (Frank Kaminsky, et al.), how will they react to having players without much in the way of playing time so far having to step up and immediately be leaders on the team? Of course Happ is the focal point, and Iverson is poised to be another good Wisconsin wing player, but how does the rest of the team react to being so forcefully thrown into major roles so quickly? I might be biased in thinking that Marquette will be a bit more cohesive in this game, but usually these games are fought tough and both teams usually have a chance to win down the stretch. I’ll give the edge to Marquette (again, I’m biased) but this one will come down to the wire.
The Marquette schedule ends with Northern Illinois and American at home at the Bradley Center. Much like Eastern Illinois and Chicago State, barring any whacky occurrences, these should be dealt with handily.
Looking back at the predictions, with Marquette playing 12 non-conference games, I think that something like 10-2 or 9-3 is reasonable. 8-4 may be in the cards if Marquette runs into trouble against Purdue, Wichita State, the potential Michigan or Notre Dame game, and Wisconsin, but I believe that the Golden Eagles will have a solid resume already before entering the gauntlet that is this year’s Big East.