A couple days ago, I had the privilege to take an hour long trip up north from Chicago, IL to Milwaukee, WI. This was a one stop trip to Fiserv Forum. Based off of where you are reading this, I am sure that you know I was there to see the Golden Eagles play, not the Bucks. What I expected was a half empty lower bowl and an almost fully empty upper deck of yellow and blue in the stands. What I actually say was a fully filled lower bowl and a semi filled upper deck. This was no Saturday matinee game against Villanova, it was a Tuesday night matchup against DePaul. After every Greg Elliott three, or Oso Ighodaro dunk, there was a roar throughout the stadium similar to when the Suns were in town for the NBA Finals,
Usually the analysts will say that professional stadiums are too big for colleges to play in because it is too difficult to fill with fans. That’s why when you think of the toughest places to play in the Big East; Hinkle Fieldhouse, Gampel Pavilion, and Carnesecca Arena come to mind, not Fiserv Forum. I am here to tell you that Marquette could be playing at Lambeau Field, and the stadium would still sound full.
For a team that has never won the Big East tournament, the start to conference play this year for Marquette was not ideal. Under first year head coach Shaka Smart, the Golden Eagles lost their first three Big East games. Entering game 4, Marquette had a tough matchup ahead of itself in a Providence team that had started the season off 13-1 including wins against Wisconsin, Texas Tech, UConn, and Seton Hall. Coach Cooley’s Friars had been regarded as the hottest team in the country and this game against the skidding Golden Eagles seemed like a perfect way to wrap up their Midwest road trip.
What was soon to come, was something that no one expected. What was thought to be a lost cause in the Golden Eagles, became a team that beat up the red hot Friars by 32 points. Some people attributed this to the fact that the Big East is just a solid conference with teams that are susceptible to slipping up once in a while. In other words, people thought that this was a fluke win for Marquette. What was brewing in Milwaukee though, was anything but a fluke.
Led by redshirt freshman Justin Lewis, the Golden Eagles would proceed to win their next two games convincingly against Georgetown and DePaul. This brings us to present day, where Marquette sits at 3-3 (in conference) and 4th in the Big East standings. Lewis has kicked off his sophomore campaign with a bang. The rising star has lead Marquette in PPG (15.1) and REB/G (7.8). I believe that in the next two years he will win Big East Player of the Year. At the beginning of conference play I questioned if Marquette had a guy that could take over games, and Justin Lewis has been the answer.
Marquette is underratedly deep this year. In an 8 man rotation, it has 7 players that can go for 20+ points any given night. This list of players includes Justin Lewis, Darryl Morsell, Kam Jones, Oso Ighodaro, Tyler Kolek, OMax Prosper, and Greg Elliott. Of those 7 players, 5 have freshman eligibility. I know that I am discussing Marquette’s chances for this year, but looking ahead it is hard not to say that it will be a top 3 team in the Big East in a couple years.
For now, the Golden Eagles are a team that have flown under the radar for the most part in the Big East. That is why I have declared them my dark horse contender for this year’s Big East title. I think that their performance in their next stretch of 6 games (2 against Villanova, 2 against Seton Hall, 1 against Providence, and 1 against Xavier) will shock some fans of the Big East and college basketball in general. I will write an update of this article after that stretch. When Marquette is above .500 in conference play come February 3rd, don’t be surprised.