Last season was extremely successful for the Golden Eagles. The squad went 27-8 (14-4), tying their record for most Big East conference wins, and wracking up the second highest total win total in school history. They also reached their second consecutive Sweet 16, clobbering 14 seed BYU in the opening round, then knocking off 6 seed mid-major darling Murray State before falling to Florida 68-58. The Golden Eagles' successful season was paced by talented duo, Big East player of the year Jae Crowder, and All-Big East guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who have both since departed for the NBA. Marquette may not have the same star power they had last season, but their cupboard certainly isn't bare, as most preseason predictions have them somewhere between 4 and 7 in the Big East, good enough for another shot at the Big Dance.
Coach Buzz Williams has talked about raising the expectations for the Golden Eagle program, beyond being a middle of the pack Big East team and the occasional visit to the NCAA's second weekend. A statement victory against a highly regarded Buckeye squad to start the season would go a long way towards realizing those gaudier goals. It'll be an uphill battle for the Golden Eagles though.
Marquette's frontcourt was hit hard by injuries last season, but everybody should be healthy now. Senior big man Chris Otule (6-11), provides a formidable defensive presence, but he missed all but 8 games last season. The next tallest guy on the roster is only 6'8, so having him healthy and productive will be critical for Marquette this year. The big man to watch for Marquette is probably going 6-8 Junior Davante Gardner. Gardner took a big leap forward in his sophomore season, and is the Golden Eagles' leading returning scorer at 9.5 ppg. He's efficient and can get to the free throw line, which is critical for a smallish team. Gardner is also coming back from injury though, so he's somewhat of an unknown.
Jamil Wilson played big minutes last season when Gardner and Otule were injured, and was able to do a little bit of everything, averaging 7.1 points and 4.1 boards. His role may be a little more muddled this season with Gardner and Otule back in the rotation, but Wilson brings an athleticism that the other two guys in the rotation lack. He'll need to be productive for Marquette to have a good season. Freshman Steven Taylor, out of Chicago's famous Simeon High, is highly regarded and may play a role this season coming off the bench should anybody get in foul trouble or struggle.
Marquette's backcourt took a big hit when Todd Mayo was ruled academically ineligible. He averaged close to 8 points a game last year, and most importantly brought 3 point shooting to a squad that badly needed it. He'll be missed against the Buckeyes, and certainly this season. They do add Trent Lockett, a transfer from Arizona State who may end up being one of Marquette's leading scorers by seasons end. He averaged 13 points and 5.8 boards a game, and brings a little size and athleticism to a small guard contingent.
Junior guard Vander Blue provides a strong defensive presence in the backcourt, while averaging 8.4 points and 4.5 boards. He wasn't an exceptional shooter last season, and Marquette will likely need him to provide a little more offensive production. Point guard Junior Cadougan has the keys to the Golden Eagle offense. He's a solid distributor and ballhandler (5.4 assists per game), but his poor shooting and propensity to foul cost Marquette a few games last year. He's a good supporting player, but not somebody Marquette wants to necessarily count on during crunch time. Alaskan Derrick Wilson will spell Cadougan at the point. He's also a tenacious defender (albeit also foul-happy), and has a high upside, although he's also not a great shooter, and may not get a ton of minutes.
Marquette is going to be a good team this season. They have a great coach, have plenty of chances to boost their RPI, and have several intriguing pieces. I feel like Marquette seems to do better when expectations are a little lower, so maybe starting the season outside of the top 25 is good for the big picture of this team. I'm not sure I like their matchup with Ohio State though. OSU showed some real shotblocking potential in their scrimmage, and their size and athleticism could be a mismatch against the relative smallness of the Golden Eagle roster. Aaron Craft should be able to force turnovers and cut off some passing lanes with Marquette's point guards as well.
I can see this as being a somewhat low scoring game. Neither team is loaded with excellent shooters, it's the first game of the season, and weird things can happen on boats. Ohio State should boast a size advantage and should also sport the two best players on the court. Look for Sam Thompson and Amir Williams to get their block party on, DeShaun Thomas to get 20 points, and for the Buckeyes to pull away for a 67-54 early season victory.