Marquette has put together a non-conference schedule that could put itself in position to be an NCAA tournament team after missing the field next season and will play its home games in what could be the best arena in the country.
That’s the feeling of Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski during an interview on the NCAA.com podcast March Madness 365.
“It will be the best arena in college and the NBA,’’ Wojciechowski said about the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center, set to open next month and will be the home for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and the Marquette Golden Eagles.
Marquette will host in-state rival Wisconsin, started a home-and-home series with the first game in Milwaukee with Elite Eight team Kansas State, opens the season with No. 1 seed giant killer UMBC and will get Buffalo, which knocked off Arizona in the round of 64 last March, in late December. UTEP will also come calling, too.
Wojciechowski said the Bradley Center was a great home for Marquette, but the building was originally built to lure an NHL franchise and didn’t have the same sight lines and atmosphere necessary for basketball.
“To be able to play in this type of environment is a huge win for our program,’’ said Wojciechowski. “It’s got all the newest bells and whistles and all the amenities. It will help our players feed off the fans and have that synergy with the players on the floor. The new arena lends itself to creating that environment.’’
Marquette deputy athletic director Mike Broeker, who was also on the podcast, said the new arena has more lower bowl seats and “the entire basketball experience will change for Marquette basketball fans.’’
Broeker added, “Steve has great confidence in our team in year five. He’s got a roster right now that he said, ‘let’s go out and challenge ourselves.’’’
That roster includes junior guard Markus Howard, one of the top returning players in the country and a possible Big East preseason player of the year, as well as wing Sam Hauser and big man Matt Heldt.
The Golden Eagles will play at Indiana in the Gavitt Games and Broeker said Marquette will play either Kansas or Tennessee in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn. Louisville is the fourth team in the field and could meet Marquette in the second game. But there is a chance Marquette could play both of last season’s Big 12 and SEC champs in Kansas and Tennessee in New York over Thanksgiving.
“This year’s team is the most versatile and deepest, paired with experience that I’ve had since I’ve been here,’’ said Wojciechowski. “We’ve got a lot of young guys who have learned through the fire….There will be no shortage of challenges before we get to the Big East.’’
New Rhode Island coach David Cox also joined the podcast discussed his transition from assistant to head coach after Dan Hurley left for UConn.
Cox had to deal with a few curve balls in his scheduling after Nevada canceled a return game in a home-and-home series and paid the buyout.
“The Nevada game was a bit of a blow to us, a disappointing blow but it was in the contract and they exercised the option,’’ said Cox. “There’s not much, and not anything, I could do about it. But we replaced it with a potential top 25 game with Harvard.’’
Alabama was also supposed to return game to Kingston, but Cox said the two schools mutually agreed to put the game off for a year. That allowed the Rams to play West Virginia in the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT.
The Rams will also play at Charleston, host Stony Brook, play at Brown, Holy Cross and rival Providence but did get a game at home against Middle Tennessee State. URI is also in the Diamond Head Classic, which will have potential top 25 opportunities, notably with TCU and Colorado in the field (Bucknell, Charlotte, Indiana State, UNLV and host Hawaii are the others).
Nevada coach Eric Musselman replaced the URI game with a series with USC and the Wolf Pack will start it in Los Angeles. The Wolf Pack, which should be a top 10 preseason team, will play BYU, Pacific, Arkansas Little-Rock, Tulsa and Southern Illinois/UMass on a neutral floor in the Las Vegas Holiday Invitational, Arizona State at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Grand Canyon in Phoenix, South Dakota State, Akron and at Utah. The Wolf Pack are also at Loyola-Chicago in the MWC-MVC Challenge in a rematch of the Sweet 16 game in Atlanta.
March Madness 365: @MarquetteMBB @steve_wojo @mikebroeker on new arena, schedule and season ahead; @RhodyMBB new coach David Cox on keeping momentum going in @A10MBB. https://t.co/vBSVuzx1Kk— Andy Katz (@TheAndyKatz) July 10, 2018
Unfortunately for coach Porter Moser and the Ramblers this is the only high-profile home game, despite getting to the Final Four last April.
“I’m throwing up a flare gun that I will go anywhere home and home,’’ said Moser, who said he has two more games to fill his non-conference schedule. “I can’t get teams to come back to Chicago. The only way I’m getting a quad one game is through the Mountain West-Missouri Valley challenge with Nevada.’’
Loyola was hoping to get to play Mississippi State in the Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, N.J. But Clemson was chosen instead, denying the second rematch of the historic series between those two schools since they played the Game of Change in 1963.
“We were heavily involved but we didn’t get the game,’’ said Moser. “We were left at the curb.’’
Loyola and Maryland are close to finalizing a game in Baltimore, which would be great get for the Ramblers (and Terrapins). Moser bought his way out of the Islands of the Bahamas Showcase (FAU, Georgia Southern, Incarnate Word, Miami of Ohio, North Dakota State, Pepperdine and Towson) to join the Suncoast Classic in Fort Myers with Richmond and then either Boston College or Wyoming in Florida. Loyola will play UMKC at home, Norfolk State, a Division 2 school TBD and at UIC.
Moser is hoping that the MVC will give the Ramblers quality power-rating games as well with Illinois State and Bradley returning the core of their teams, too. He is hoping that at some point Northwestern, DePaul and UIC could all agree to a Chicagoland double header like what occurs in Indianapolis with Notre Dame, Butler, Purdue and Indiana every season.
Mississippi State, which will now play Clemson instead of Loyola, is hoping to schedule itself into the NCAA tournament with a stronger slate after missing the NCAAs and making the NIT final four last season. Mississippi State will also play Arizona State in the in Las Vegas and then either Saint Mary’s or Utah State, hosts Cincinnati, plays at Dayton and hosts BYU in its marquee games. The Bulldogs are not in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge this season.