Ranking the non-conference opponents

Marquette will meet Ohio State at the Bradley Center on Nov. 16, the Golden Eagles' toughest non-conference opponent. (USA Today)

Marquette will meet Ohio State at the Bradley Center on Nov. 16, the Golden Eagles’ toughest non-conference opponent. (USA Today)

(Most) Big East foes are familiar, but what about Marquette’s non-conference schedule? The Golden Eagles will play 14 games before the conference season begins, with 12 of those confirmed (two rounds of the Wooden Legacy are not). So here’s a look at Marquette’s 13 out-of-conference opponents and some analysis on which teams pose the biggest threat to the Golden Eagles’ record before the new year.

1. vs. Ohio State (Nov. 16)

Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross, a pair of seasoned upperclassmen, will help cushion the loss of leading scorer Deshaun Thomas. Still, there’s plenty of talent to go around to help battle Michigan State and Wisconsin for a Big Ten title. Watch out for freshman Kam Williams, ranked No. 79 by Rivals.com who will score in a variety of ways for a Buckeyes team that will need more than Ross to pick up their point totals.

2. vs. New Mexico (Dec. 21, in Las Vegas)

The Lobos return four of five starters, and the fifth spot (Tony Snell was selected by the Bulls) goes to junior-college All-American Deshawn Delaney. The big name here is point guard Kendall Williams, who averaged 13.3 points and 4.9 assists to go with 1.1 steals in 34.4 minutes per game. 7-footer Alex Kirk is also in line for a big season after averaging 12.1 points and 8.1 rebounds as a sophomore. And don’t sleep on senior forward Cameron Bairstow, who is in line for an increased role after going for 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in just 24 minutes.

3. at Wisconsin (Dec. 7)

Though they lose three key seniors, Bo Ryan’s Badgers bring back a heap of talent that will dominate in the team’s unique offense. Sam Dekker is poised to make a major leap after a solid freshman season, and the backcourt trio of Ben Brust, Josh Gasser (who missed last year with a torn ACL) and Traevon Jackson is one of the best in the country. Also look for center Frank Kaminsky to see an increased role after the graduation of Jared Berggren.

4. at Arizona State (Nov. 25)

There’s really only one player to mention when previewing the Sun Devils: sophomore guard Jahii Carson. Last year the freshman averaged 18.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists while willing Arizona State to 22 wins. Herb Sendek will again rely on the small-statured yet lightning quick point guard, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The scouting report is simple: Stop Carson and win the game; let him go off and this becomes a tough one.

5. vs. Miami (Nov. 29, Wooden Legacy)

We’re assuming here that Miami defeats George Washington in the opening round of the Wooden Legacy, and that Marquette beats Cal State Fullerton. But this is hardly the team Marquette saw in the Sweet 16 last year. The Hurricanes have lost their six leading scorers from last year’s 29-win team. Senior Rion Brown will be called upon to replace what sophomore Shane Larkin gave last year, and junior-college transfer James Kelly becomes a must-have for the Hurricanes. There’s talent, but the Golden Eagles should roll in this game.

6. vs. IUPUI (Dec. 14)

The Jaguars did lose their leading scorer, John Hart, but they do return their next four top scorers and three leading rebounders. The question they’ll face is whether or not their depth can hang with Marquette. They won just six games a year ago and are projected to finish in the bottom half of the Summit  League. Senior Mitchell Patton is a solid center who averaged 13.7 points on 58 percent shooting last year.

7. vs. Ball State (Dec. 17)

While Marquette should roll in the Mo Acker Classic, the Cardinals do have some players of note the Golden Eagles must watch out for. The first is senior Jesse Berry, who averaged 12.8 points and 2.5 assists a year ago. 6-foot-8 senior Majok Majok nearly averaged a double-double last season (10.7 points, 9.8 rebounds) and could become an all-Mid-American performer. Also keep an eye on Quinten Payne, a freshman who averaged 19.8 points for St. Charles North H.S. last year and could make a mark on the Cardinals’ offense.

8. vs. Southern (Nov. 8)

Buzz Williams made comments Wednesday about the Jaguars that may have been laughable to some, but he’s right in saying that Southern will give Marquette a contest tomorrow evening. Though they lose all-SWAC member Derick Beltran, 6-foot-6 wing Malcolm Miller will be a real test for the Golden Eagles’ defense. Last year the Jaguars, a No. 16 seed, were tied with No. 1 seed Gonzaga with four minutes to play in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Marquette should win on talent and depth, but it won’t be an easy one. Watch for the Jaguars to make life difficult for the Golden Eagles offense.

9. at Cal State Fullerton (Nov. 28, Wooden Legacy)

The Titans were a respectable 14-18 last season, but they lose their three leading scorers who averaged 18.4, 17.9 and 15.8 points, respectively, all while playing 30+ minutes per game. They’re projected to finish in the basement of the Big West this season, meaning Marquette should roll in the opening round of the DIRECTV Wooden Legacy. It’s worth noting that the game will be played in Fullerton, Calif., so the Titans have that going for them.

10. vs. Samford (Dec. 28)

Per USA Today, the Bulldogs were 5-9 in games decided by five points or fewer last year, making their 11-21 record last year a bit misleading. And in 2013 they’ll return their two leading scorers, junior Raijon Kelly — who averaged a whopping 37 minutes per game last year — and sophomore Tim Williams. Kelly is a phenomenal player who could fight for player of the year honors in the Southern.

11. vs. New Hampshire (Nov. 21)

Another gimme game for the Golden Eagles, who will face a Wildcats team that lost two of its top three leading scorers (Ferg Myrick, Chandler Rhoads) to graduation. With those two players, New Hampshire only managed nine wins a year ago. Players to watch include senior Patrick Konan and Chris Pelcher, who averaged 9.1 points and 6.3 rebounds last year after transferring from Iona.

12. vs. Grambling State (Nov. 12)

If Marquette has problems in its opener against Southern, its next SWAC opponent will be a walk in the park. The Tigers went 0-28 last season, though reigning freshman of the year Terry Rose is a real talent, averaging a team-high 14.1 points in 34.9 minutes per game last year. Still, this should be Marquette’s biggest win of the non-conference season. The back-ups will play plenty on Tuesday.

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