Wednesday was Big East Media Day for men’s basketball, and the league office did all sorts of fun announcements as a result. While the preseason polls are pretty big news all on their own, the conference also announced the December slate of games in men’s basketball. To go along with that, Marquette also announced their new, updated, and revised non-conference schedule. Or, rather, they announced what they have to announce right now. It’ll make sense in a minute.
Here’s the exact phrasing from the press release that lets us know that this isn’t necessarily the finalized schedule:
...the team is also holding back one play date in case it becomes necessary to postpone/cancel already existing scheduled games.
So there won’t be any new opponents added to this list, but the dates you see listed might not be the actual dates by the time we actually get around to them. Hooray for uncertainty!
Anyway, just to make sure it’s down in digital ink and can’t disappear with a simple deletion of a tweet, here’s what Marquette’s non-conference schedule now looks like:
Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Eastern Illinois, and Green Bay are all brand new games that were not on the schedule that was announced in mid-June. The Oklahoma State game remains locked in the exact same spot on the schedule where it was previously, while the Wisconsin and UCLA games have moved one day backwards from their previous positions on Saturdays.
We’ll dive into what you need to know about the new opponents in a minute, but let’s address the fact that Marquette and the Big East also announced four conference games for the Golden Eagles, bringing everything up to date through Christmas but no further.
That’s four of the expected 20 game conference schedule that we’ll get this season as the Big East expands the double round robin format to allow Connecticut a chance to play every team twice. I’m not going to dance around the issue: Playing the two teams that could easily be labeled as co-favorites in the Big East — Creighton and Villanova — just nine days apart is not going to be a picnic for Marquette. It’s a short ramp up to this point of the calendar, but rough math in my head says that 1-3 would be a very bad start to league play if head coach Steve Wojciechowski thinks he has an NCAA tournament team this year.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room here, shall we? The words “Fiserv Forum” do not appear in the university’s press release about the schedule. Also not appearing: “McGuire Center.” Quite simply, the athletic department is not taking any public position on where these games are going to be played at this time. In fact, a check of the ol’ season ticket holder email inbox shows a letter from athletic director Bill Scholl that says the following:
Once we have more information specifically related to the basketball season, we will communicate our plan, information and options to season ticket members and fans.
This schedule was announced with exactly four weeks to go until the game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and we’re still gonna keep on waiting for the athletic department to 1) make a decision, 2) convey that decision, and potentially worst of all, 3) execute the logistics of said decision. Oh, and by the way, the men’s basketball team is currently in a 14 day quarantine because of a positive COVID-19 test, but sure, we’re just gonna leave this up in the air until a future date.
I’m sure this will all go 100% okay and definitely not result in screwups of any kind.
By the way, there’s something else to note in the schedule release: There’s absolutely no mention of television broadcasts, much less start times. I’m not saying that the games aren’t going to be on TV, I’m saying that these plans are not finalized yet. That’s a little on the weird side, as the Big East and Fox Sports tend to have the television schedule completely finalized when the schedule is announced...... but then again, we don’t have a full schedule at all, either.
Onwards to talking about what we need to know about the non-conference squads on the schedule. If you want to know things about Oklahoma State or UCLA, then head over to our article from back in June when we already covered those squads. Our discussion of the Badgers popped up in early June, so go check that out, too.
2019-20 Record: 4-26, 3-15 in the SWAC
2019-20 Final KenPom.com Rank: #348
2020-21 T-Rank Preseason Rank: #218
Head Coach: George Ivory, in his 13th season at UAPB with a record of 136-248
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 1-0
We should mention right off the top that officially, this game against UAPB is part of a “multi-team event.” In this case, that just means that Marquette and Wisconsin are trading opponents for the first two games of the season. It’s not exactly the Maui Invitational, but it counts enough in the eyes of the NCAA.
Next up in the “things we have to say” department is that I’m going to be absolutely shocked if the Golden Lions come in as a top 225 team by season’s end. T-Rank tracks them back to 2008, and their best finish up til now is #246, when Ivory led them to his only NCAA tournament appearance in 2010. Over on KenPom, data goes back to 1998, and nope, no top 280 finishes going back past 2010.
So why does T-Rank like them so much right now? Well, for starters, they return three of the top four scorers that played in at least 25 games last season. Overall top scorer Shaun Doss returns after losing all but three games last year to injury. #6 scorer Nicholas Jones returns as well after missing all but 5 games. All told, that’s five of their top six back again. That kind of continuity does go a long way towards making a team pretty good, especially with an established coach like Ivory. We’ll see how much the other coaches in the SWAC like UAPB when they have their Media Days on November 2nd and 3rd.
2019-20 Record: 17-15, 9-9 in the OVC
2019-20 Final KenPom.com Rank: #238
2020-21 T-Rank Preseason Rank: #159
Head Coach: Jay Spoonhour, in his 9th season at EIU with a record of 110-139
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 2-0
Yet another case of T-Rank loving a team that has never achieved in that manner before. T-Rank’s best finish for EIU previously was a #210 ranking in the 2016-17 season. That Panthers squad went 14-15 with a 6-10 record in the OVC. It’s a low bar for quality seasons is what I’m saying.
As is the case for UAPB, Eastern Illinois’ positivity comes from a strong returning core. All of their top seven scorers from a year ago are back for 2020-21, led by Josiah Wallace who went for 15.6 points per game. In theory, that should lead to a better finish than tied for fifth in the OVC like they ended up last year. Spoonhour tends to favor a defensive strategy that forces a whole bunch of turnovers, and that could be a problem for Marquette so early to the start of the year. The Golden Eagles have struggled with turnovers on offense in the past few seasons, and with so many new faces needing to play together, that lack of familiarity could lead to more than a couple bad passes.
2019-20 Record: 17-16, 11-7 in the Horizon League
2019-20 Final KenPom.com Rank: #223
2020-21 T-Rank Preseason Rank: #279
Head Coach: Will Ryan, in his first season as a Division 1 head coach
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 9-3
In case you are wondering because this is the state of Wisconsin, yes, Will Ryan is Bo Ryan’s son. This is his first Division 1 head coaching job. He was hired to replace Linc Darner, who was let go in May with six years remaining on his contract. It’s definitely a weird situation, because by May, UWGB had to be aware of the financial stress that was headed their way as an institution of higher education..... but they still paid Darner to go away.
Ryan was hired about a month later, and it seems year 1 might be a little bit on the rocky side. Darner guided what would be his final Phoenix squad to a third place finish in the Horizon League last season, but he did that with seniors as two of the three guys averaging more than 10 points per game. In fact, three of Green Bay’s top five scorers were seniors, so Ryan is going to have to figure out how to prod points out of the roster in some other fashion.
Amari Davis (15.9 points, 4.0 rebounds) was the #2 scorer on the Phoenix roster as a freshman last season, so the 6’3” guard from Ohio is your likely bet as the go-to star this coming season. P.J. Pipes chipped in 9.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per games as a junior a year ago while knocking down 45% of his long range attempts. That’s a pretty good guard pairing for the Phoenix to build everything else around.