Ranking Marquette’s non-conference opponents

Big East foes are familiar, but what about Marquette’s non-conference schedule? Marquette will play 13 games before the Big East season begins, with 11 of those confirmed (two rounds of the Maui Invitational are not). Here’s a look at Marquette’s 13 out-of-conference opponents and which teams pose the biggest threats to the Golden Eagles.

Jamil Wilson’s versatility will come in handy in a handful of Marquette’s 13 non-conference matchups. (Photo by A. Martina Ibanez-Baldor)

1. Nov. 9: vs. No. 4 Ohio State (Carrier Classic, Charleston, S.C.)

There will be no acclimation to the 2012-13 season for Marquette, which will square off against Ohio State to open its season aboard the USS Yorktown in the Carrier Classic. Despite losing talented forwards Jared Sullinger and William Buford, the Buckeyes retain the rest of their core from a team that won 31 games and went to the Final Four a year ago.

Junior Aaron Craft has established himself as one of the best point guards and defenders in the country, Deshaun Thomas is as pure a scorer as there is in the Big Ten and shooting guard Lenzelle Smith was the team’s best 3-point shooter a year ago. That core, along with improving sophomores LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson and Trey McDonald give Thad Matta a team capable of overcoming their two major losses in Sullinger and Buford.

Ohio State will get after it defensively, and with Craft leading the way it could be tough for Junior Cadougan and Marquette to initiate offense. Trent Lockett’s arrival will help contain Thomas, and the Buckeyes lack of talent inside should make Davante Gardner a valuable piece. In what should be a low-scoring affair given the outside playing conditions, Marquette will have to contain Thomas, find a way to be successful away from Craft and receive points from the bench.

2. Nov. 29: at No. 10 Florida (SEC/Big East Challenge)

It won’t be worse than last year’s Sweet 16, when Marquette shot 30 percent from the field in a 68-58 loss to the Gators in Phoenix, but this year won’t be much easier. Billy Donovan’s group was 18-2 at home last season and returns all but two players from last year’s 26-win team. The best 3-point shooting team in the country last year won’t rely as much on the long ball without Bradley Beal and Erving Walker, but there’s plenty of talent in the backcourt to go with an experienced front court that will make this a tough one for Buzz Williams’ crew.

Junior Patric Young opted to return for another season instead of the NBA, and he’ll team with senior Eric Murphy and junior Will Yeguete to form one of the top group of forwards in the SEC. Casey Prather and Cody Larson give Donovan depth to go with a backcourt led by senior Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin. 4-star recruit Braxton Ogbueze could play significant minutes to replace Beal and Walker, but depth is a slight concern on the perimeter.

Florida lived and died by the 3-pointer last year but will be forced to become more balanced in 2012-13. Marquette’s deep frontcourt will come in handy, with Steve Taylor and Jamil Wilson seeing extended minutes down low rather than on the wing. Those viable 3-point shooters are still around, so shutting down the Gators’ efficient offense will be key. Marquette will need great guard play and a solid Davante Gardner performance (draw fouls, get to the FT line) to have a chance in Gainesville.

3. Dec. 8: vs. No. 21 Wisconsin

Jordan Taylor is gone, but everyone else remains from a 26-win, Sweet 16 team a year ago. Redshirt freshman George Marshall should take over the point for a team that will keep its identity similar to last year’s grind-it-out, highly-efficient group. Seniors Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz will lead a Wisconsin team that, if a point guard surfaces, will be in the hunt for a Big Ten championship.

The name of the game for Wisconsin will always be pace. The Badgers were the slowest team in the country last season (58.5) and, under Bo Ryan, will keep its offense to a snail’s pace. Lucky for Marquette last season, the Golden Eagles played right into Wiscsonsin’s hands and came out with a 61-54 win at the Kohl Center.

Chris Otule was a key player in Madison last year, and he’ll be back in early December to help negate the Badgers’ size inside. One new player Marquette will have to deal with is freshman forward Sam Dekker. One of the top shooters in the 2012 class, he likely will be Trent Lockett’s or Jamil Wilson’s responsibility. The keys to the game will be the same as they always are with the Badgers: low turnovers, defensive rebounding and high percentage shots. Wisconsin’s style means they’re never out of a game, but it helps that the game will be in Milwaukee this year. Marquette should take this one.

4. Nov. 20: vs. No. 11 North Carolina/Mississippi State (Maui)

It’s safe to assume the Tar Heels will win their opening round game of the Maui Invitational, and perhaps no team outside of Kentucky lost more talent and production than North Carolina. Gone are Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller from a 32-win team, and a stellar recruiting class won’t replace that. Still, North Carolina’s never-ending supply of talent will see more players step up into new roles that will have them contending for another ACC title. The biggest x-factor in this “transition year” is sophomore forward James Michael-McAdoo, who should be on a preseason All-American team and step into a leadership role for the Tar Heels.

The rest of the frontcourt is less experienced, as incoming freshmen Joel James (No. 60 recruit in 2012) and Brice Johnson (No. 34) stand to see significant minutes in their first season.

But where the Tar Heels do have experience is in the backcourt, where Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and Reggie Bullock should handle much of the scoring load. They’re excellent defenders who will need to prove they can score, but incoming freshman point guard Marcus Paige (No. 22) could be the new Marshall. Menommonee Falls forward J.P. Tokoto will serve as a defensive stopper on the wing, as well.

As is the case with any Roy Williams team, free throws will be hard to come by. Where the Tar Heels have uncertainty in the scoring department, they’ll make up for it with defensive effort. That should slow the game down some, but the Tar Heels like to run on offense. That should play into Marquette’s hands, but this is one of those games where one player will need to step up and score 20-22 points to give the Golden Eagles a chance. Shutting down Michael-McAdoo and Bullock will go a long way toward taking this one and advancing to the Maui Finals. Of course, they’ll have to get past Butler first.

5. Nov. 19: vs. Butler (Maui Invitational)

The Bulldogs were a non-existent 3-point shooting team last year, but that should change with the addition of Arkansas transfer Rotnei  Clarke, who made 274 3-pointers two years ago for the Razorbacks. That may not replace what Butler loses in senior leader Ronald Nored, but everyone else returns to a team looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament after a CBI appearance last year.

Leading the way is senior center Andrew Smith, who averaged 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds a year ago. The 6-foot-11 Smith will team up with junior guard Chrishawn Hopkins and forward Khyle Marshall to form a stingy defensive, hopefully more efficient offensive unit.

The Golden Eagles match up well with Butler, as Chris Otule should lock down Smith, Vander Blue will limit Clarke from outside and Trent Lockett will be on Hopkins. Still, it could be a slow-paced game against the defensive-minded Bulldogs. But from a pure talent standpoint, this is a game Marquette should win.

6. Dec. 19: at Green Bay

Before getting to the Green Bay personnel, it’s worth noting that the Phoenix finished 12-2 at home last season, with wins against Valparaiso, Butler and Cleveland State. This is a dangerous team at the Resch Center.

Even more dangerous is the team’s frontcourt, led by 7-foot-1 junior Alec Brown (13.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.0 blocks) and Brennan Cougil (9.2 points, 7.0 rebounds). Brown grabbed eight rebounds as a freshman against Marquette, while Cougil, an Iowa transfer, will be tough inside. Replacing guard Steve Baker will be difficult, but all key pieces are back for the Phoenix to give Valparaiso and Detroit a run for their money in the Horizon League.

Leading the way in the backcourt is point guard Keifer Sykes. The freshman improved mightily as the season went on, averaging 13.8 points and 4.5 assists per game in conference play. Junior Kam Cerroni will take on an increased role in Baker’s absence.

Marquette will need to shoot well from beyond the arc with Brown and Cougil manning the inside. Last year opponents shot better than 37 percent from beyond the arc against the Phoenix, one of the best opponent marks in the country. Expect a heavy dose of Chris Otule, Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson, and it could be one of the few instances Otule and Gardner see the court at the same time. Defensively, Marquette could press the Phoenix with a faster lineup, so Buzz Williams’ strategy will be an interesting one.

7. Dec. 22: vs. LSU

2012-13 will be a transition year for the Tigers, who have five newcomers and lose seniors Justin Hamilton, Malcolm White and Storm Warren. And luckily for Marquette, Ralston Turner transferred to North Carolina State during the offseason. Turner scored a career-high 22 points last December in their 67-59 win over the Golden Eagles. Still, there are nice building blocks in small guards Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer and former McDonald’s All-American forward Johnny O’Bryant III.

Two of those newcomers, however, will be instant contributors for the Tigers. Junior college forward Shavon Coleman, who attended Jae Crowder’s Howard College, and Memphis transfer guard Charles Carmouche will help replace two of their three leading scorers from a year ago on a team that averaged just 65.4 points per game. Defense will still be the Tigers’ calling card, as they held Marquette to their third lowest point-total and second-lowest shooting percentage last year.

Hickey and Stringer will need to take on bigger roles, which should play right into Marquette’s stellar defensive backcourt. O’Bryant should be in for a big season in a larger role, but the Tigers were just 4-9 on the road last season and Marquette surely will remember last year’s defeat.

8. Dec. 15: vs. Savannah State

There won’t be a football game-type spread in this one, as the Tigers return all 14 players from a 21-win, MEAC regular season champion team. Head coach Horace Broadnax starts four seniors, including potential player-of-the-year shooting guard Deric Rudolph and forward Rashad Hassan.

The Tigers tout a stellar defense (49th in efficiency last year) and run a slow-paced offense and defend the perimeter well. Opposing teams scored just 17.5 percent of their points off 3-pointers, the lowest mark in the country. At the same time, the Tigers are small inside (two players at 6-foot-7, one at 6-foot-8) and commit a high number of fouls, leading opponents to the free throw line.

Marquette will need to play their game against a slow-paced Tigers team and shut down senior point guard Preston Blackmon, whose assist rate last year was eighth best in the country (41.4). Four seniors with experience in the starting lineup could give the Golden Eagles trouble, but a lack of size will make it tough for the Tigers to compete for 40 minutes. But don’t sleep on this game, especially with the Marquette team coming off finals in school.

9. Nov. 21: vs. TBA (Maui)

It’s tough to project which team Marquette will face on the final day of the Maui Invitational. No. 24 Texas has a solid backcourt in Sheldon McClellan and Myck Kabongo and should get instant contribution from freshman forwards Cameron Ridley and Ioannis Papapetrou. The talent is there, but depth is a concern with a whopping eight incoming freshmen to Rick Barnes’ squad.

Illinois will miss center Meyers Leonard, but returning back court members Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson and center Nnanna Egwu should make a jump. There’s not much frontcourt experience, but Illinois will always contend and has plenty of talent returning.

USC had just six scholarship players last year but return their four leading scorers and a junior college transfer in J.T. Terrell that should make them formidable. The Trojans will slow the game down whenever possible, but there’s not much talent off the bench.

10. Dec. 29: vs. North Carolina Central

The Eagles lost seven seniors this year, including their two leading scorers from a year ago. They do have a solid core returning in Ray Willis, Jeremy Ingram and Ebuka Anyaorah but will need players to step up in bigger roles, much like Marquette’s own team. Dominique Sutton, now graduated, was a major part of the Eagles’ success on both ends and they don’t have much size to show this coming year.

North Carolina Central does not have a player taller than 6-foot-7 on this year’s roster, meaning it should be easy going inside for Marquette. Even worse, North Carolina Central committed 19.8 fouls per game, resulting in teams scoring more than 23 percent of their scoring from free throws (35th highest in the country). Offensive penetration and a big day from Davante Gardner awaits in this one.

11. Nov. 13: vs. Southeastern Louisiana

It’s a good thing shooting guard Brandon Fortenberry was granted a fifth year of eligibility following a foot injury that ended his senior year after just seven games. Without him, the Lions were the third least efficient team in the country (83.7; NCAA average was 100.8) last year. They averaged just 59.9 points per game, turned the ball over on almost 24 percent of their possessions and made 58.6 percent of their free throws as a team, fourth worst in the country.

The Lions do return 10 players from last year’s team, and Roosevelt Johnson (11.4 points, 7.9 rebounds) will form a solid backcourt tandem with Fortenberry. But this is a game Marquette should have no trouble winning. The Lions have solid depth returning (nine players averaged 17 minutes or more last year) and their defense performed well, slowing opponents down on offense while allowing just 61.9 points per game. Shutting down Fortenberry and Johnson should do the trick.

12. Nov. 26: vs. UMBC

Almost no team in the country relied more on one player than the Retrievers, as sophomore Chase Plummer used 34.5 percent of his team’s possessions (to compare, Darius Johnson-Odom used 25.4 percent of Marquette’s possessions last year). And the 6-foot-6 forward will be at the forefront of Marquette’s scouting report, as he averaged 15.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last year.

Seniors Ryan Cook and Brian Neller shore up the UMBC backcourt, but it’s slim pickings past those three. Last year the Retrievers played one of the fastest paces in the country, but their efficiency and effective field goal percentage were both near the bottom of the NCAA.

So while a win is almost a certainty for Marquette, the storyline here is the return of former signee Brett Roseboro. The 6-foot-10 center committed and signed with Marquette in 2009, but left just months later because he was in over his head at a major Division-I program. He transferred to St. Bonaventure, where he stayed for two seasons before transferring to the Retrievers. He sat out last year, and while he may not be a major contributor, it will be interesting to see how he fares in a bit of a revenge game.

13. Nov. 11: vs. Colgate

Marquette will have a quick turn-around after playing Ohio State, but luckily Colgate will give little resistance in the Golden Eagles’ home opener. The Raiders lost four seniors, all of whom were part of last year’s rotation. They do return their second and third leading scorers in Mitch Rolls and Pat Moore, but this is a decimated roster picked to finish near the bottom of the Patriot League in 2012.

Their backcourt will retain its value, but there’s little else to be excited about. The Raiders were dead last in the country in defensive turnover percentage and steal percentage last season. They allowed 73.6 points per game and struggled mightily to defend from beyond the arc. Simply put, this is a struggling defensive team that wasn’t much better on the other end of the court.

Frontcourt contributors Brandon James and John Brandenburg, both seniors, along with Maine transfer Murphy Burnatowski (6.9 points, 3.0 rebounds as a sophomore) will help, but this should be Marquette’s widest margin of victory when it’s all said and done.

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