It’s 1977. You’re the Marquette Warriors, your coach is Al McGuire, your players are Butch Lee, Bo Ellis, and Jerome Whitehead, and you’re playing UNC for the national title, and your team photo looks like this:
Now it’s 2016. You’ve changed your name to the Marquette Golden Eagles, your coach is a former Duke assistant whose name is long and unpronounceable (what, do you think if people can’t pronounce the guy’s name that automatically makes him a good coach?), you haven’t even made the tournament in three years, and you actually have players named Sandy and Traci and Katin on your team... we’re facing the men’s team, right?
Marquette, what happened to you?
Anyway, Vanderbilt opens its 2016-17 season and kicks off the Bryce Drew era tonight with a game against Marquette in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, Maryland, and there is absolutely zero chance that we will make any references to anchors or battleships. We sat down with Brewtown Andy from SBN blog Anonymous Eagle to talk bouncyhoops and, also, Marquette University alumnus Chris Farley.
1. Marquette lost Henry Ellenson to the NBA, yet the Eagles are projected to move up 50 spots in KenPom from last year. Who does Marquette have coming back that would lead to such an optimistic projection?
Well, let's ease back on the "projected to move up 50 spots" aspect of that. Yes, they finished last year at #97 and they're starting this year at #47. But Marquette also started last year at #54, which means that KenPom kind of thinks about the same about Marquette this year as the system did last year, at least as as a projection.
Four of Marquette's five double-digit scorers from last season are back, with Ellenson being the only departure. The two biggest reasons for optimism from that group are Haanif Cheatham (11.8 ppg) and Jajuan Johnson (10.2 ppg). Cheatham was a freshman last year that didn't get enough credit for how good he was due to Ellenson drawing most of the headlines, while Johnson wrapped up his junior campaign by scoring more than 15 points in seven of Marquette's final 11 games.
2. Marquette made the NCAA Tournament eight straight times from 2006-13, but hasn't made the tournament since 2013. Do you think that drought ends this season?
The general consensus on Marquette's outlook this season seems to be that they're going to be right on the edge of the tournament bubble when March rolls around. I think that's a fair assessment.
I also think that Marquette is going to make the tournament this year. They were pretty close to the tournament last season, but ultimately a non-conference schedule that was heavy on bottom 50 cupcakes in the non-conference ended up crippling MU's RPI and thus their chances. That schedule was assembled with the knowledge that the Golden Eagles would be freshman heavy, and now those freshmen are sophomores. The non-con is much more difficult and I believe they can snag enough important wins and make it to at least .500 in the Big East to get in with an at-large bid.
3. Vanderbilt's Luke Kornet is 7'1" and skilled. Does Marquette have anybody who can compete with him on the low block?
Absolutely. Luke Fischer will be the guy drawing the interior assignments for Marquette this season, and he starts off the year as a preseason All-Big East Second Team honoree. Fischer's a talented low post scorer, who shot just a shade over 60% for the second straight season last year on his way to averaging just over 12 points a game. He's a strong defender as well, averaging 1.8 blocks per game.
His biggest test this season will be seeing if he can stay out of foul trouble. I think a little too much has been made about his foul trouble a year ago considering that he averaged just over 28 minutes a game. But he did foul out six times and had another six games where he finished with four fouls, and since he's the only experienced player over 6'7" on the team, Marquette is going to need him on the floor as much as possible.
4. Marquette doesn't have a football team. As fans of an SEC school, we find this to be a foreign concept. Why don't you have a football team? Do you think the lack of a football team works in the favor of Marquette's basketball program?
Marquette used to have a football team. In fact, MU was the first team to ever lose in the Cotton Bowl Classic, falling 16-6 to TCU back in 1937. The team was relatively successful for most of its existence, going 349-280-39 before being shuttered after the 1960 season. Ultimately, the team was bad over the final few seasons, winning just 10 games in the final seven seasons. Combine that with athletic department losses in the neighborhood of $50,000 (remember, this was in 1960), they cut football, cross country, and track.
Ultimately, I think not having a football team has benefitted the basketball program. Sure, schools like Vanderbilt are racking up paydays from ESPN much bigger than what Marquette and its Big East brethren are getting from Fox. But basketball is the clear cut number one focus on campus when it comes to athletics. The basketball team is probably the most important marketing device that the university has and it gets the attention and benefits that it deserves as a result. Let me put it this way: Dr. Michael Lovell, Marquette's president, regularly meets with recruits making official visits to campus.
Side note from Tom: When Marquette did have a football team, Art Guepe, later Vanderbilt’s head football coach and the guy who infamously said that you can’t be Harvard from Monday through Friday and try to be Alabama on Saturday, played there. The more you know.
5. Chris Farley graduated from Marquette. Are the opening scenes in Tommy Boy an accurate depiction of student life at Marquette, and is it possible to think Herbie Hancock was one of the framers of the Constitution and graduate from Marquette?
I think that Farley's depiction of student life does, at the very least, represent a facet of student life that exists not only at Marquette, but at every university. It'd be a lie to say that kind of guy doesn't exist at Marquette, and it'd be a lie to say that it's the prevalent behavior, too. I want to say you'd have to know the answer was John Hancock and not Herbie Hancock in order to be able to make it out of Marquette with a degree. Tommy Callahan still passed that test though, so maybe that's just a weird blind spot in his knowledge?
Fun Fact: That's not Marquette's campus in the movie. As an urban Jesuit university, Marquette doesn't have nearly as much green space as seen in the flick.
Ed. note: Mind. Blown.
6. What's your pick for this game?
I'm riding pretty high on the optimism train for Marquette right now, so I think MU's returning core is enough to fend off Vanderbilt in Bryce Drew's first game as head coach. I'll say Marquette wins, 77-71.