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Marquette Basketball: Golden Eagles tune up for Big East play against Providence

Marquette has played well against a rigorous non-conference schedule, but the true test awaits when conference play begins on Tuesday.

Notre Dame v Marquette
Notre Dame v Marquette / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages
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Marquette has played well against a rigorous non-conference schedule, but the true test awaits when conference play begins on Tuesday against Providence.

After taking down St. Thomas 84-79 at Fiserv Forum on Thursday night, Marquette tied a bow on their tough non-conference schedule, heading into Big East conference play with a record of 9-2. Shaka Smart and his staff guided the Golden Eagles through one of the most top-heavy opening schedules in the nation, with both successes and opportunities along the way, preparing them for what will surely be an extremely competitive Big East Conference

Through the team’s first eleven games, Marquette has had its usual “tune-up” games, but they would also face four ranked opponents, not to mention an always-tough rivalry game on the road against Wisconsin. The Golden Eagles would go 3-1 against those ranked opponents, beginning with a road win at #23 Illinois at the Gavitt Tip-Off Games. They would then travel to Hawaii to pull off an upset of then #1 Kansas at the Maui Invitational, followed by a tough 3-point loss to #2 Purdue in the final the following night.

They would go on to drop the annual rivalry game in the disruptive environment in Madison to the Badgers, only to bounce back and thrash #13 Texas at home by 21. Tested for sure, Marquette heads into Big East play having shown that they can bounce back from tough losses with big wins while continuing to build towards consistent championship-level play on an every-game basis. 

Leading that championship-level play early in the season is All-American senior point guard Tyler Kolek. Kolek is averaging 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists per game so far this season and has shown the capability and leadership to lead the Golden Eagles to another Big East title. Finding more of the lane this season, Kolek has penetrated defenses and displayed his tremendous court vision in finding open teammates. 

One of those teammates is Marquette’s leading scorer, junior guard Kam Jones. Jones leads the team at 15.6 points per game and has lived up to coach Smart’s tag for Kam as a “scoring savant,” not only hitting shots from deep but finding ways into the lane to create baskets for himself. Alongside Kolek, Kam Jones rounds out one of the best backcourts in the country heading into conference play. 

Rounding out Marquette’s “big 3” is  6'11" senior Oso Ighodaro (14/6/2). Continuing to show improvement each year on the court, Oso has been mostly a force to be reckoned with on the inside. Outside of a couple down games (one due to early foul trouble), Oso has capitalized on his multiple skills that big-men display in today’s game. Maybe as good of a passer as Tyler Kolek, Ighodaro is a pivotal piece to the offense and impacts the game in multiple ways with his ability to pick and roll, score on his own, or find the open man with his vision and passing. He will undeniably impact opponent gameplans throughout Big East play. 

Coming into the season, it was known that Marquette’s depth would be a key contributor to their success, and those that surround the core are one of the most complete and tight-knit groups in the nation. David Joplin, Stevie Mitchell, Chase Ross, Ben Gold, Sean Jones, and even freshmen Tre Norman and Zaide Lowery have all made valuable contributions thus far in Shaka Smart’s tempo offense and swarming pressure defense. Gaining even more experience and chemistry together, the Golden Eagles look primed and ready to make a run through the Big East with a roster that complements each other and plays extremely well into coach Shaka Smart’s vision. 

Big East Conference play begins for Marquette on Tuesday night when they head to Tyler Kolek’s home state of Rhode Island to take on Providence. The Friars, always a pesky opponent, will test Marquette in league play right off the bat. Providence also enters Tuesday at 9-2 in non-conference play, with their two losses coming via a 3-point overtime loss to Kansas St. at the Bahamas Championship and a 21-point road loss to undefeated #7 Oklahoma. The Friars and their Big East Player of the Year candidate Bryce Hopkins (17 points/8 rebounds per game) will be waiting for Marquette in their home gym on Tuesday night to kick off the Big East season. 

The rest of the Big East schedule will continue to test Marquette, with ten of the eleven teams in the conference finishing non-conference play with a winning record and two teams besides Marquette ranked inside the top-12 in #5 UCONN and #12 Creighton. Teams like Butler, St. John’s, Villanova, and Xavier all figure to have their programs in the mix and are also never an easy out through a long conference season. Star players in the conference, such as UCONN’s Tristen Newton, St. John’s Joel Soriano, and Creighton’s Trey Alexander and Ryan Kalkbrenner, will all present challenges for Marquette as they battle through the Big East. 

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Marquette has played a difficult non-conference schedule and has looked pretty good doing it. They’ve been able to bounce back from their “off” games and show that they can learn and grow from their mistakes in Shaka’s system. Their talent at the top, partnered with their depth surrounding their great playmakers, can eat teams alive with pace and pressure. All of this does nothing but present an excellent case for Marquette to meet and exceed the expectations and bring home another Big East Championship. 

Marquette tips off Big East play on Tuesday night in Providence at 8:30pm ET on FS1