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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

New TBT pod provides ‘great opportunity’ for BIG EAST, Marquette

Photo by John Steppe
Derrick Wilson attempts a free throw in Golden Eagle Alumni’s 2016 win over the Hoopville Warriors in the Midwest Regional.

When Golden Eagles Alumni first played in The Basketball Tournament, a basketball tournament for groups of recent or current pros with a $2 million prize, they made the Shannon Center in Chicago feel like Marquette’s Al McGuire Center.

“When we played in Chicago the first weekend, we had a ton of Marquette fans show out for that,” Golden Eagles Alumni general manager Dan Fitzgerald said. “And that’s just being in Chicago, not even in Milwaukee.”

Two years later, partially because of that crowd, the Marquette alumni team will actually play at the Al, hosting a four-team BIG EAST pod in TBT June 30 and July 1.

“There are maybe a handful over a four-year period, there have been a handful of really shocking fan turnouts in my mind where I had no idea how strong a fan base of a particular school was,” TBT founder Jon Mugar said. “Certainly, that turnout in Chicago of Marquette fans was one of them.”

Marquette expressed interest in hosting a TBT game, but there wasn’t much progress until the BIG EAST stepped in.

“Marquette has been very active in the TBT,” BIG EAST senior associate commissioner John Paquette said. “If the other teams in the pod could be BIG EAST teams, that would make it an even stronger event with added interest and value.”

Fitzgerald, who played for Marquette from 2004-’08, said the BIG EAST’s involvement was vital in landing the home games.

“It didn’t materialize until the BIG EAST situation got involved,” Fitzgerald said. “We found a date that works, and it all kind of fell into place.”

The pod will feature three other BIG EAST alumni teams — St. John’s, Seton Hall and Georgetown. The first round will be June 30. The winners will face each other July 1 for a chance to go to TBT’s Super 16. None of the other schools previously had alumni teams in the tournament, although some St. John’s alumni have experienced success on other teams.

Aside from the opportunity to host the tournament, Marquette and the other BIG EAST teams will have two other benefits: television exposure and the chance to send more players into the pro ranks.

When Marquette first participated in 2016, ESPN did not pick up any games until the Super 16. Now, ESPN and ESPN2 will broadcast 17 games, and another 50 games will be on ESPN3.

“It’s a great summer basketball event for us,” Paquette said. “We’re always looking to find ways to be out there with our basketball during the summer, and the TBT seems like a great opportunity for people to be talking about BIG EAST as well as Marquette.”

The BIG EAST has limited opportunities to otherwise capture ESPN’s audience. BIG EAST signed a 10-year deal with FOX in 2013, so there are only two chances for teams to play on ESPN during the season: road or neutral-site non-conference games and the National Invitation Tournament.

While FOX Sports has improved its college basketball ratings dramatically this year, the network still lags behind ESPN. The BIG EAST Tournament final had its best ratings since signing with FOX in 2013 but ranked seventh among conference championships, per Sports Media Watch.

It also gives former players of each program a chance to impress NBA scouts. After last year’s tournament, Marquette alumni Dwight Buycks and Jamil Wilson landed NBA Summer League deals.

“They’re going to have to work out and stay in shape anyways,” Fitzgerald said. “This is just a great opportunity to them to stay fit and get some good games.”

And Golden Eagles Alumni is not the only team to experience this benefit. Sixteen TBT players signed NBA deals after the 2017 event.

“A lot of players see TBT as an opportunity for exposure,” Mugar said. “So we’re not only getting a lot of overseas players, but a lot that are freshly graduated from college who are really looking at TBT as a platform for exposure.”

This year’s BIG EAST pod could become a model for other conferences moving forward.

“Well this one really fell in our lap, so I’d love to say it was a mastermind of me to get all the conferences involved like this,” Mugar said. “There’s certainly potential for us to add one or more conferences to the mix.”

Paquette said the future of the BIG EAST pod beyond this year “hasn’t been decided,” but he said the conference is “very optimistic that things will go very well.”

Despite moving the event a couple of weeks earlier than previous years, Fitzgerald said there will still be a training camp a few days before the pod to draw up a couple of plays.

The deadline for roster submissions was Friday, leaving Marquette with six alumni and one Arizona State alum suiting up for the 2018 tournament. Willie Atwood, who played on the Sun Devils while Marquette associate head coach Stan Johnson was on staff, is the lone non-Marquette alum.

Lawrence “Trend” Blackledge, Maurice Acker, Jerel McNeal, Derrick Wilson and Jamil Wilson are returning. Jake Thomas, who played for Marquette from 2012-’14, is a new addition. He ranks eighth in program history for 3-pointers made in his senior season.

Travis Diener will play in the tournament for the first time after previously coaching. Joe Chapman will coach the team after retiring last year.

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