Men’s basketball over scheduled in opening slate


Buzz Williams wasn’t high on Marquette’s non-conference schedule at the start of last season. The resulting roller coaster ride on the road featured a weather-cancelled Carrier Classic against Ohio State, a heartbreaking loss to Butler in Maui and a smackdown by Florida in Gainesville.

Williams is similarly concerned with this season’s opening slate.

“I think we’ve made the same mistake again,” Williams said in his opening press conference, Oct. 11. “I think we’ve definitely overscheduled in relation to our returning players.”

The Golden Eagles welcome the Buckeyes into the Bradley Center for the first time ever in a highly anticipated early season showdown Nov. 16. Shortly after, Marquette will face its first big road test against Arizona State, a 22-win NIT squad in 2012-13.

Then it’s off to Fullerton, Calif. for the Wooden Legacy Tournament where Marquette will take on host Cal State Fullerton. If the Golden Eagles prevail they could see a Sweet Sixteen grudge match with Miami or battle George Washington.

Marquette will then shoot for its third straight win over Wisconsin and its second win in three years at the Kohl Center, before returning home for matchups against IUPUI and Ball State.

The stakes will rise again in Las Vegas in a neutral site date with Mountain West powerhouse New Mexico. A home game against Samford will serve as a breather before the Big East schedule opens with a bang at Creighton.

“I think the bottom of our non-conference schedule is distinctly the bottom,” Williams said. “But I think the mid to the upper portion of our schedule; there’s more (teams) and better (teams) than there have been.”

Williams knows firsthand that singular moments in key non-conference matchups can leave indelible affects on a team’s psyche. The last-second loss to the Bulldogs in Maui, for example, served as a recurring source of motivation and was eventually avenged in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I think if we had beat Butler, if Derrick Wilson could’ve kept Rotnei Clarke from making that shot, we may have felt completely different about Maui on the way home than we did, because of who we played in the last two games,” Williams said.

Daunting as it may seem, the non-conference gauntlet could be a great opportunity for Marquette to develop its identity under fire. Williams indeed anticipates he will have a much better handle on his team’s personality “by finals week.”

Facing top-tier competition right off the bat should give the Golden Eagles time to optimize matchups and combinations, particularly within their inexperienced backcourt, in preparation for the Big East.

While comparatively weaker than last season, the newly realigned conference will present a new challenge. Marquette will face every team twice, at home and on the road, which will increase familiarity among opponents. This could lead to close contests throughout the season as each opponent will get the opportunity to adjust for the second matchup.

To put that into perspective, Marquette went a combined 7-3 against current Big East competition last season. It benefitted from the chance to face Butler again in the NCAA Tournament, but suffered a loss the second time around to the Hoyas.

Additionally, after beating Syracuse in the regular season, the second time the Golden Eagles faced the Orange in the Elite Eight resulted in the end of Marquette’s tourney run.

It doesn’t help that the Big East still features a host of proven coaches, armed with balanced rosters, that show the ability to adapt to opponents consistently.

Despite the added difficulties of conference realignment, Williams’ plan of attack is as simple as it gets.

“When you win, regardless of the league, regardless of the day and regardless of the locale you’re putting yourself in the best position you can be in,” Williams said. “The best antidote for the league change is for Marquette to win.”