On media day Oct. 11, Buzz Williams said the bottom of Marquette’s non-conference schedule is distinctly the bottom.
It would be difficult to classify Southern, the Golden Eagles’ first opponent, as part of that bottom despite its mid-major status.
For those who don’t remember, the Jaguars were a 23-win squad in the Southwest Athletic Conference and won their conference championship, receiving an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Southern’s most surprising victory of the regular season was a 53-51 road upset of Texas A&M. Its biggest statement, however, came in the postseason-ending loss to Gonzaga.
No second thoughts are often given to sixteen-seeds. They’re usually the “happy-to-be-here” stories the nation forgets about once they’re blown away in the first round by the far superior one-seed.
The Jaguars were one of the few teams that broke that mold and gave the ‘Zags much more than they could’ve wanted. As the game developed, it slowly but surely piqued the country’s interest. Many wondered if Southern might just make history as the first team in 113 tries to send a one-seed packing in the second round.
The Jags didn’t just hang around with the Bulldogs, they knocked them around, blocking eight shots and connecting on 10 three-pointers. Throughout the contest, Southern never let the Bulldogs get out of reach, but a solid second-half effort by Kelly Olynyk led Gonzaga to the 64-58 win.
“They don’t give you many easy opportunities,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after the escape. “They’re very patient on offense.”
Basketball writers questioned Gonzaga’s status as a one-seed since Selection Sunday and the narrow win amplified criticisms. Doubts were confirmed in the third round when the ‘Zags lost to nine-seeded Wichita State.
With that in mind, it’s admittedly hard to judge a team using a one-game sample size. It’s even harder to predict how Southern will respond to losing its top scorer, Derick Beltran, to the NBA.
The Jaguars do return their dynamic guard Malcolm Miller, who averaged 15.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in 2012-13. Miller was arguably the team’s best shooter, knocking down 50.5 percent of his field goals and connecting on 45.2 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
There’s still no doubt Marquette will be heavily favored in its home opener Friday, as it should be. The Golden Eagles look like Big East favorites with a seasoned, battle-tested roster.
Southern may be expected to play the traditional role of “opening night cupcake” for a much more talented Marquette squad to flex its muscles over.
But it would be unwise as a Golden Eagle fan to overlook a team that came dangerously close to defying one of the NCAA Tournament’s longest-standing winning records in the last game it played.
It’s difficult to say how the Jaguars will matchup with the Golden Eagles Friday night, but after the way Southern ended last season, its confidence has to be sky high.