Marquette Wire

Marquette hopes to gain valuable experience in first NIT bid since 2005

Jamal+Cain+is+one+of+Marquette%27s+three+freshmen+that+gets+regular+minutes.+Head+coach+Steve+Wojciechowski+hopes+his+younger+players+will+grow+from+this+experience.
Jamal Cain is one of Marquette's three freshmen that gets regular minutes. Head coach Steve Wojciechowski hopes his younger players will grow from this experience.

Jamal Cain is one of Marquette's three freshmen that gets regular minutes. Head coach Steve Wojciechowski hopes his younger players will grow from this experience.

Photo by Helen Dudley

Photo by Helen Dudley

Jamal Cain is one of Marquette's three freshmen that gets regular minutes. Head coach Steve Wojciechowski hopes his younger players will grow from this experience.

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Marquette’s Sunday afternoon was hardly ideal. The Golden Eagles missed their fourth NCAA Tournament in the last five years after previously appearing in eight consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

“I felt we had done enough to make it, but it didn’t happen,” sophomore guard Markus Howard said. “Today was kind of just a mix of emotions.”

Instead, Marquette will be a No. 2 seed in the National Invitation Tournament and host seventh-seeded Harvard Wednesday.

“It’s not exactly what we wanted, but great,” Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “And we need to look at the opportunity as such.”

The possibility of up to five more games against middle and upper-tier competition could be especially beneficial for one of the youngest teams in the country. Eight of nine scholarship players that received playing time this year are slated to return next season; senior Andrew Rowsey is the only planned departure.

KenPom, a prominent college basketball analytics site, ranks Marquette 312th among 351 Division I teams in experience.

“It’s incredibly beneficial,” Wojo said. “This tournament and the quality of the field, which is incredible, gives us an opportunity to test ourselves against outstanding teams and coaches and programs … Hopefully we can learn how to win in March.”

The only player to play 65 or more games in a Marquette uniform is Matt Heldt. Two players — Howard and fellow sophomore Sam Hauser — have 55 or more career starts as a Golden Eagle. Three different freshmen also earned minutes in at least 30 games this season.

“Our freshmen have really stepped up,” Howard said. “We needed them this year. For them to still be able to play in this time and get used to playing in March … it’s really going to help us down the line.”

Wojo said the team’s growth mindset entering the NIT this week will not modify the team’s rotations, especially since there is only one senior on the team.

“We’re playing to win, so the guys that I feel like are giving us the best chance to win will play the most,” Wojo said. “All of our guys will have an opportunity to play … We can gain valuable experience.”

The youngest team in the BIG EAST will have three days to scout Harvard, a team Wojo admitted he hasn’t been able to see much this year.

“I follow them as much as I can,” Wojo said. “That’s hard during the season just because you’re so engrossed into what you’re doing.”

This game will also be the first meaningful men’s basketball contest at the Al McGuire Center of the year. The only other non-exhibition was in 2015 against Alabama A&M. Marquette won the contest, 83-49.

The Al officially holds 3,900 people. Marquette’s most recent NIT appearance, a 2005 loss to Western Michigan, drew 3,181 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

“I would hope that the people who are truly fans of Marquette will come out and support us,” Wojo said.

If Marquette wins, the Golden Eagles will host the winner of Oregon and Rider at the Al McGuire Center. Marquette could host up to three NIT games before playing the semifinals and finals at Madison Square Garden in New York. All home games will be at the Al McGuire Center.

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