By Kyle Stack
As the offseason begins to fade off into a hot summer day, the Marquette men’s basketball team begins to look forward to a new season. Back to back Sweet 16 appearances has the program building a lot of momentum, but that momentum was in a way, halted, by numerous coaching changes over the past few months. Top assistant Tony Benford became the head coach at North Texas taking Bart Lundy with him to join his staff. Also, assistant coach Aki Collins moved out of Milwaukee for warmer weather at the University of Memphis. With three departures, in came highly rated and recent Illinois assistant coach Isaac Chew, who is expected to have big time recruiting ties to the Illinois and Chicago area. The second and final assistant coach on Buzz William’s staff was promoted from within as Brad Autry looks forward to sitting on the Marquette bench next season. Finally, former DePaul head coach Jerry Wainwright landed the director of basketball operations gig filling the last vacant hole. With the coaching staff rounded out, the coaches and players can now look towards the ever so daunting 2012-2013 non-conference schedule.
At first glance, it is not hard to see that this year’s men’s basketball non-conference schedule is easily the most difficult and most exciting schedule since the arrival of head coach Buzz Williams. Going through it top to bottom, it does not take long to get very excited. The Warriors will open up non-conference play against The Ohio State University on November 9th in Charleston, S.C on the USS Yorktown. Yes, the first game of the entire season is indeed on an aircraft carrier and against a very formidable opponent. Truthfully, the hardest thing to do is to decide on what to be more excited about. Playing in the second ever aircraft carrier game, last year’s North Carolina vs. Michigan State was a massive hit, or starting off the season against a top 15 team in the country. Ohio State may have lost Jared Sullinger, but Deshaun Thomas will be returning along with Aaron Craft to be the nucleus of the Buckeyes. Add that to a very stellar recruiting class and once again Thad Matta’s team will be one of the favorites in the Big Ten. While MU will have another strong side, the toughest opening game in recent memory will go a long way to telling how good this year’s team could be. Playing against a very good opponent along with the added limelight and high stakes atmosphere of the USS Yorktown will mark the start for one helluva November for the men’s basketball team.
Cupcakes Colgate and SE Louisiana separate the Ohio State game and a trip out west to the Maui Invitational. It is hard to believe that the aircraft carrier game could quite possibly be overshadowed, but the national spotlight that surrounds the Maui tournament cannot be overlooked. Joining Marquette on the big island this year are North Carolina, Texas, Illinois, Butler, USC, Mississippi State, and host Chaminade.
Matchups have yet to be announced, but early predictions suggest UNC and Texas will be in the top 25 making them the favorites in the tournament. Don’t count out an always strong and well coached Butler team as Brad Stevens will always have the Bulldogs ready to play. Illinois is entering the season with a new head coach and USC and Mississippi are solid teams that are capable of upsetting the likes of a UNC, Texas, or even Marquette.
While this year’s field does not boast the star power of years past, top to bottom the 2012 Maui Invitational may actually be one of the stronger fields in the last couple of years. In 2007, Marquette’ last visit to Maui, ended in defeat losing 77-73 to the Duke Blue Devils in the championship game. A return to the championship game against the bitter rivals of Duke would be a very welcome outcome for Marquette as it would go a long way to preparing them for the Big East grind as well as boost their strength of schedule.
Marquette returns to the mainland and the BMO Harris Bradley Center to face UMBC on November 26th. Then comes what we will call the Big Two. Back to back games against Florida in Gainesville on Nov 29th and a home matchup versus in state rival Bucky on December 8th. These two games will be crucial for momentum going into the Big East schedule as the team will have had plenty of warm-up games as well as faced stiff competition in Charleston and Maui. If the team is not ready to play by this time in the season, Florida and Wisconsin could prove to be too much for the Warriors.
First the trip to the swamp invokes memory of the Sweet 16 loss last March at the hands of the Gators. The 68-58 defeat stung deep into the heart of Marquette basketball fans as the team and Buzz Williams will be out for revenge. However, revenge won’t come easy as Florida has reached back to back elite eights and have man child Patrice Young returning. Joining him will be pure scoring guard Kenny Boynton. Both had major parts in beating Marquette last year and they will be back this year to face the Warriors in Gainesville. And while the actual month of November will end, the tough schedule for Marquette will not.
A December 8th home meeting against UW-Madison will have the BMO Harris Bradley Center packed to the rafters. Gone for the Badgers is Jordan Taylor but Brust, Ryan Evans, Bruesewitz, and Berggren return along with home grown recruit Sam Dekker. Bucky will easily be a top 25 team and the favorites to win the in-state rivalry game, but as history has shown, MU/UW games are anything but predictable. Not much more needs to be said about this game as there could be an entire preview just for this one game, but when Marquette steps off the floor after the Wisconsin game, fans should have a very good sample size as to where this year’s team lies.
A winter break rest brings Savannah State to Milwaukee and a quick road trip to UW-Green Bay. Also, LSU comes to the BMO Harris Bradley Center for a rematch of perhaps Marquette’s worst performance of last year and again, the Warriors will be looking for revenge against a SEC school. With one non-conference game yet to be announced, expected to be a cupcake, the LSU game wraps up the 2012 calendar year for the Marquette men’s basketball team. Enter the Big East schedule which, as always, will be one of the best conferences in the country, but before BE play rolls around, Marquette will have been on an aircraft carrier, on the island of Maui, and swimming with the gators in Florida, and have been rewarded a home game against a top 25 Wisconsin Badger team.
This year’s non-conference schedule is easily the hardest in Buzz William’s tenure and with DJO and Jae Crowder lost to the NBA; new leaders will have to emerge if this team is going to survive the strenuous non-conference schedule. With all that being said, it is sure to be one of the more exciting non-conference seasons for Marquette and fans everywhere should be eager to see what this year’s team can offer.