It’s going to be a daunting first 100 days for the Marquette Golden Eagles as they stare the program’s most difficult nonconference schedule in recent memory in the face.
The season begins with a rare opportunity in the Carrier Classic, as the Golden Eagles will take on No. 4 Ohio State outdoors on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C., on Nov. 9.
While the game will be against a team that made the 2012 Final Four, it will provide plenty of adversity on its own. Coach Buzz Williams said the hype and buildup surrounding it will be just as challenging.
“It’s really not the games relative to who you’re playing,” Williams said. “It’s all the things that lead up to those games and the grind that it is on you emotionally and mentally on not just players, but everybody. Our first game’s going to be at Ohio State outside. That’s a lot of stuff.”
Williams went on to lay out the rest of the schedule and the tough task of starting with such steep competition. After Ohio State, the team will play Colgate and Southeastern Louisiana at home over a span of 48 hours before heading to Hawaii for the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
There, the Golden Eagles will play Butler and, with a win, either No. 12 North Carolina or Mississippi State.
“I think a lot of our schedule this year is based on our success over the last couple of years,” Williams said. “We were invited to play in Maui this year after our first Sweet 16. If we had been bad, I don’t think (we’d be) playing in Maui or against Ohio State.”
With a matchup at No. 10 Florida on Nov. 29 and the annual rivalry game with No. 21 Wisconsin in Milwaukee on Dec. 8 also scheduled before play in the toughest conference in the country even begins, Williams still isn’t sure what impact the opening slate will have on his team.
“When you combine all of that into one year, is that the right thing? I don’t know,” Williams said. “For your coaching career record, it’s the wrong thing. For the development of who your team is, it’s probably the right thing.”
Marquette senior guard Trent Lockett is more excited than anxious about nonconference play.
“We really look forward to competing against the best,” Lockett said. “That’s what we prepare for going through all these difficult situations as individuals and pushing ourselves through boot camp.”
While Lockett and the rest of the team plan to tackle the schedule one game at a time, redshirt junior forward Jamil Wilson has one particular game in his crosshairs.
“I’m really excited about the Florida game,” Wilson said. “It’s the last game we played, and you can call it revenge if you want, but we should’ve had a better game than we did. I’m just anxious to play them again. Usually the teams that we lose against we get to play twice, but we don’t get to see Florida too often, so that should be a good game.”
Despite the excitement, Williams views the first two months of the season realistically. He doesn’t think the team’s performance in the early going will be as indicative of its identity as fans might think, however.
“We could potentially be two or three games below .500 before we even get back home for Thanksgiving,” Williams said. “I don’t think you can be under .500 and be a top 25 team. We’ll probably have a better feel at Christmas than we will at Thanksgiving.”
For a team full of question marks after losing two NBA draft picks last season, it’s going to be trial by fire for Marquette to kick off this season. The biggest question facing this squad, though, will be how much gas it will have left in the tank once Big East play begins.