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LEARY: New Big East a great fit for Marquette so far

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learycolorWEBJust two weeks into the fall sports conference season, Marquette already looks like the class of the new Big East.

Last December, when plans for the new conference structure first went into motion, Marquette was praised for making a move that made a ton of sense. The Catholic 7, Xavier, Creighton and Butler all have the athletic mentality of over-achieving mid-major programs, and their unification seemed inevitable.

With the removal of large and athletically competitive public schools like Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh and even private schools like Syracuse, the Big East has gone from an eclectic combination of universities with varying athletic goals to a homogenous group with similar interests in mind. So far, the convenient and sensible realignment also appears slanted in the Golden Eagles favor.

Marquette has played nine games this fall against Big East opponents. Women’s soccer has played four, women’s volleyball three and men’s soccer two. The three teams have combined conference records of 9-0-0. It’s definitely early in the season, but expect this trend to continue. Marquette could realistically compete for the five major conference championships (those three sports plus both basketball teams) in the 2013-14 season.

Now this sudden universal contention implies a drop off in quality opposition. That comes as a necessary evil of removing the athletically competitive state schools from the Big East. However, this decrease in quality competition can be easily counteracted by a step up in pre-conference scheduling.

As a whole, Marquette has bulked up its non-conference schedules this season. Marquette volleyball took the lead in that regard when it played a team ranked in the top five nationally three weekends in a row. Women’s soccer has also faced a demanding slate, playing at the University of Portland, UCLA on a neutral site and keeping former conference mate Louisville on the schedule for a match at Valley Fields. The men’s basketball team followed suit, and will face Ohio State at the BMO Harris Bradley Center and play a tournament in Southern California in addition to their annual game against Wisconsin, which takes place at the Kohl Center this season.

As for conference play, Marquette won’t have to feel like it’s facing a murderer’s row every week. The old Big East was too crowded and convoluted for even a good Golden Eagles team to make much headway. Now a truly elite Marquette men’s basketball team can realistically win the conference and the conference tournament in the same year. Men’s soccer won’t finish third in its division despite a 12-match winning streak as in 2012. And a steadily improving women’s basketball team won’t have to worry about demoralizing beatdowns from UConn, Notre Dame and Louisville.

The new Big East takes the pressure off of Marquette athletics and allows teams to prove they are better than realistic opposition with similar goals. All is going according to plan so far.

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