Top five non-conference men’s basketball opponents

The matchup between MU and UW is always a highlight. This year's battle between Henry Ellenson and Nigel Hayes heightens the intrigue (Photo by Matt Serafin/matthew.serafin@mu.edu).

The matchup between MU and UW is always a highlight. This year's battle between Henry Ellenson and Nigel Hayes heightens the intrigue (Photo by Matt Serafin/matthew.serafin@mu.edu).

Steve Wojciechowski has received more than a few critiques for Marquette’s 2015-’16 non-conference schedule, with games scheduled against lowly Jackson St., Grambling St., Chicago St. and Presbyterian. There are, however, a few surprisingly good teams the Golden Eagles face this winter.

1. Wisconsin Badgers

Marquette matchup: Dec. 12 (12:30 p.m. at the Kohl Center)

2014 record: 37-4

What to know: The Badgers are 47-7 at home over the last three years, but they graduated three of five starters from last season–Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser. Wisconsin will be battle-tested heading into the matchup with Marquette, with non-conference games against Georgetown, No. 8 Oklahoma and Syracuse.

Who to watch for: Bronson Koenig is a returning junior, and scored in double digits in three of Wisconsin’s six NCAA Tournament games. Paired with returning starter Nigel Hayes, the two veterans should provide a thorough attack from beyond the arc. The real question will be who steps up in the paint. Kaminsky, Dekker and Gasser combined for 17.2 rebounds per game, so the Badgers will have to rely on redshirt freshman Ethan Happ, who pulled in 10 boards in an exhibition against UW-River Falls.

2. LSU Tigers

Marquette matchup: Nov 23 (6 p.m. at Barclays Center) (Legends Classic)

2014 record: 22-11

What to know: LSU had a 2014-’15 season that was capped with a few early exits. The Tigers lost to No. 1 Kentucky 71-69, and fell to Auburn in the first round of the SEC Tournament, 73-70, in overtime. LSU advanced to their first NCAA Tournament since 2009, and lost in the Round of 64 to 8th seeded NC State, thanks to a tip-in by the Wolfpack with 0.1 seconds remaining.

Who to watch for: Ben Simmons, a 6-foot-10 big man from Australia, was named to the preseason All-American team and is the favorite to be taken first overall in next year’s NBA draft. He averaged 28 points and nearly 12 rebounds per game at his high school, Montverde Academy. When the Tigers went on a tour of Australia in August, he averaged 20 points and 9 boards in five games. Head coach Johnny Jones is tossing in his name for one of the best SEC coaches in the conference. In his first three seasons, he has 61 wins (29 SEC wins), and launched the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament last year.

3. Belmont Bruins

Marquette matchup: Nov. 11 (8 p.m. at the Bradley Center)

2014 record: 22-11

What to know: You may remember the Bruins from their dramatic Ohio Valley Conference championship, a sensational one-point victory over Murray State. The win secured the 7th NCAA tournament appearance for Belmont in the last 10 years. While the Bruins haven’t made it past the Round of 64, they averaged 74.5 points per game last year and pose a threat to a Marquette team who averaged 65 per game.

Who to watch for: The three B’s — Craig Bradshaw, Taylor Barnette and Evan Bradds. Bradshaw led the Bruins in scoring last year with just over 18 ppg. Bradds was close behind with 14 ppg, but he also averaged seven rebounds per game, and shot 68 percent from the field. Barnette hit the game-winner against Murray St., averaged 10 ppg and added 26 steals last season.

4. Iowa Hawkeyes

Marquette matchup: Nov 18 (8 p.m. at the Bradley Center)

2014 record: 22-12

What to know: The Hawkeyes made it to the Round of 32 last year with an 83-52 victory over Davidson in the first round in the NCAA Tournament, before exiting with an 87-68 loss to Gonzaga. Iowa was fairly good away from home, finishing 7-3 on the road last year, with wins at North Carolina and Ohio State.

Who to watch for: Iowa graduated two of their three leading scorers, Aaron White and Gabriel Olaseni, who combined for 24 ppg and 11 rpg. This opens the door for Mike Gesell and Jarrod Uthoff to have a bigger role. Uthoff, a transfer from Wisconsin, averaged 12 ppg and 7 rpg and added 38 steals last year. The offensive struggles continued in Iowa’s exhibition loss to Division II Augustana, missing 39 shots against and attempting just five free throws. Last season, Iowa averaged 15.8 points from free throws alone.

5. Stetson Hatters

Marquette matchup: January 27 (8 p.m. at the Bradley Center)

2014 record: 9-22

What to know: Stetson is not a good basketball team. They won only three conference games last year, and were out-gained in nearly every statistical category. The game with the Hatters comes in the middle of the BIG EAST schedule for the Golden Eagles. After games against DePaul and St. John’s, Marquette could be resting easy and not take Stetson seriously. Sure, the Golden Eagles will probably win, but with a few young players, anything is possible.

Who to watch for: Divine Myles, a junior guard, averaged 11 ppg last season and threw up 16 points seven times. Myles and fellow guard Grant Lozoya (9.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg) could give Marquette’s guards some trouble on the perimeter.