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Assessing MU’s Big East Schedule

The 2011 Marquette men’s basketball schedule was finalized and announced by the Big East Conference office Wednesday afternoon. The Golden Eagles will play 14 nationally televised games. The Villanova Wildcats, Cincinnati Bearcats and Georgetown Hoyas are Marquette’s repeat opponents.

For the third time in four seasons, the Golden Eagles will open up their conference play on New Year’s day. Two of those years their opponent was Villanova, as is the case in 2011.

The Golden Eagles took down then-No. 13 Villanova 79-72 in 2008, lost to the Wildcats in 2009 (on Jan. 2) 74-72, and defeated West Virginia a year ago, 79-74, on New Year’s Day to open Big East play.

There will be no grace period for the Golden Eagles when they open up conference play on the road against always-competitive Georgetown (Jan. 4) and Syracuse (Jan. 7), the latter of which is expected to begin the season ranked in the top five. Marquette has never won at Syracuse. Its most recent game at Georgetown ended in a 69-60 loss on Feb. 13 of this year.

If you are looking for the revenge game on the schedule, look no further than Jan. 12, when Marquette hosts the St. John’s Red Storm. A year ago the Red Storm handed coach Buzz Williams’ group its worst home loss of the season, 80-68.

St. John’s coach Steve Lavin’s team lost its top eight scorers from 2010 but brings in a top five nationally ranked recruiting class, according to ESPN and Rivals.com. Six of Lavin’s eight recruits ranked in ESPN’s Top 100 list, including No. 25 Dom Pointer, a small forward, and No. 32 Jakarr Sampson, also a small forward.

The toughest stretch of the season may come as students return to campus from winter break. Three days after the St. John’s contest, Marquette hosts Pittsburgh on Jan. 14 before squaring off against Louisville two days later in a Martin Luther King Day matinee.

Two marquee guards, Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs and Louisville’s Peyton Siva, are sure to give the Marquette backcourt problems. The matchups, however, should serve as an early measuring tool to gauge where Marquette stands in the Big East.

The Big East, which sent eleven teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, rarely provides teams moments to catch their breath in its 18-game schedule. But back-to-back contests at Providence and home against South Florida should help. Since joining the Big East in 2005, Marquette boasts an 8-1 record against Providence and a 4-1 mark against the Bulls.

Marquette will face its first repeat opponent of the season when it travels to Philadelphia to take on Villanova on Jan. 28. Marquette is 1-3 at Villanova since it joined the Big East, with its only win coming in 2007.

The graduations of guards Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes opens the door for junior guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek to step up for Villanova. Another nationally ranked recruiting class from Jay Wright means this matchup will be anything but easy.

Marquette will open its February schedule with a Midwest road trip against Notre Dame (Feb. 4) and DePaul (Feb. 6). Marquette will look to exact revenge against both schools at their places, as last year the Golden Eagles blew an 11-point second half lead against Notre Dame and, in 2009, lost to DePaul, 51-50, on a last second shot. It was the Blue Demons’ only conference win of the season.

The Fighting Irish return the majority of a roster that won 14 Big East games a year ago. DePaul’s standout sophomores Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young (a former Marquette prospect) will give the Golden Eagles’ defense all they can handle.

On Feb. 18, Marquette travels to Hartford, Conn., where it took down guard Kemba Walker and the eventual national champion Connecticut Huskies 74-67 in overtime. One of the most exciting games of the season from the 2010-2011 season should be just as good in 2012 as sophomore forward and Big East Player of the Year contender Jeremy Lamb leads the talented Huskies looking for revenge against Marquette.

Should the Golden Eagles need a quality win or a boost to their RPI down the stretch, they will certainly get it. They close the Big East season with road contests against West Virginia and Cincinnati and a Senior Night matchup versus Georgetown on March 3.

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