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Marquette Madness preview: Pep rally to kick off basketball season

Photo by Maggie Bean

Photo by Maggie Bean

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Women’s basketball not to be ignored coming off conference title

It is easy for the women’s basketball team to be overlooked in the pre- and post-Madness excitement every year. Dunk contest highlights and scrimmage clips from men’s basketball always trend on social media while the women are often pushed to the periphery.

That should be different this year though; they are, after all, only six months removed from the program’s first BIG EAST tournament title. The team also returns almost every starter from last season, including leading scorer Allazia Blockton.

McKayla Yentz is the only one of last year’s starters that graduated, although lightly-used bigs Meghan Mandel and Chelsey Gibson transferred.

Four newcomers will take their place: three freshmen and one notable transfer. Sophomore Tori McCoy, a former Top 10 recruit at Ohio State, will have her closest thing to game action all year during women’s basketball’s scrimmage. She left the Buckeyes primarily out of a desire to play a more versatile role, so head coach Carolyn Kieger may give her some time on the perimeter.

The scrimmage will also be the first chance for Marquette fans to see the freshmen. Guard Serena Lott and forward Myriama Smith Traore will get a few minutes of court time. It will probably be easier for Smith Traore to pick up more minutes during the season than Lott, as Marquette has almost twice as many guards as bigs.

Redshirt Lauren Van Kleunen, who came to Marquette last season but did not get any playing time, will also presumably get the chance to play.

Finally, it’s possible there will be a surprise of some kind during the women’s portion of Madness this year although nothing has been announced. The team debuted a new introduction video at last year’s event, featuring music by current players Natisha Hiedeman and Amani Wilborn.

 

Madness to serve as early barometer for frontcourt success

One year after finishing 254th in offensive rebounding percentage, Marquette will test a new frontcourt tonight. With Luke Fischer graduated, there is no clear-cut starter down low.

Junior Matt Heldt, who averaged 2.3 points in 13 minutes per game last year, will likely compete with freshman Theo John for starting minutes. John has developed a reputation as a college-ready big man that can hold up defensively, but tonight will gauge his offensive progress.

Freshman Ike Eke will be another question mark early in the season. The 6-foot-9 freshman from Lagos, Nigeria did not start playing basketball competitively until high school. However, his freakish athleticism has garnered praise from current and former coaches.

Australian sophomore Harry Froling will play tonight but cannot play until December. He had a limited role at SMU, playing 14.6 minutes in his only semester there. The 6-foot-11 Australian lost 23 pounds in his first two months on campus.

 

Plethora of recruits on campus for Madness

Per a source, seven recruits will be at Madness today – Joey Hauser, Rocket Watts, Isaiah Jackson, DJ Carton, Gabe Madsen, Jamari Sibley and Nobal Days. With only one of those recruits – Hauser – already committed, Friday’s annual pep rally will give Wojo’s staff a chance to build a rapport with several 2019 and 2020 prospects.

Jackson, a 6-foot-7 forward in the class of 2020, and Hauser, a 6-foot-8 forward in the class of 2018, are the only recruits in 247Sports’ top 50 rankings for their respective classes to be on campus.

Marquette has not historically done well converting Madness visitors into commitments. All of last year’s five visitors committed to other schools, although point guard Courtney Ramey reopened his commitment after Louisville’s recent scandal and is reportedly looking at Marquette. Days is still considering Marquette although 247Sports’ Crystal Ball favors him going to Wisconsin.

 

Pregame-festivities and guards

Marquette Madness is a holiday unto itself as it officially marks the start of basketball season. There are plenty of pregame festivities to go along with the occasion.

The block party, which starts at 3:30 p.m. across the street from the Al McGuire Center, will be the place to go in the hours leading up to Madness. Autograph sessions, live music, a mechanical bull and bungee basketball are parts of the festivities.

Fans can start lining up at the start of the block party in order to get a wristband for both the volleyball match at five p.m. against Providence and Madness itself. There will also be bed races on 12th Street in front of the Al McGuire Center starting at 4 p.m.

Looking forward to the event itself, there will be an abundance of three-point attempts from Marquette’s guards. Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey will have plenty of opportunities to wow the crowd as they attempt to show their in-season form during both the scrimmage and the three-point contest.

Newcomers to look out for include Jamal Cain and Greg Elliott. The two Detroit-area freshmen will look to attack the basket and bring in some much-needed athleticism.

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