WHO’S EXCITED? YOU’RE EXCITED!
And now, we know when the Shaka Smart era of Marquette men’s basketball will start.
On Monday afternoon, the MU athletic department officially released the full and complete non-conference schedule for the 2021-22 men’s basketball season. Seven of the games were already known to be existing, while four games — all home games, all against mid-major opponents — are brand new reveals.
Here’s what it all looks like on a table for you:
We’ve already talked about the other seven opponents in the Charleston Classic, and that tournament announced that Marquette will open against Ole Miss before taking on either West Virginia or Elon in the second round. Click the first link in that sentence if you want a quick look at what you need to know about those teams.
We also knew that Marquette would be playing Illinois in the Gavitt Tipoff Games, so you can read about the Illini here. The only thing about that is at the time it seemed that Kofi Cockburn would not be returning to Champaign, but that has changed. As a result, T-Rank sees the Illini as a top five team heading into next season.
The Kansas State game in the Big East/Big 12 Challenge was also already announced, and our conversation about that can be found here. I can summarize the main point here: It was very lazy to schedule the Golden Eagles against K-State.
That leaves us with Wisconsin and UCLA in terms of games that we knew were happening but we just didn’t know when they would be scheduled, along with the four brand newly announced buy games as games that we have not even briefly previewed yet. Let’s go in chronological order on the schedule, shall we?
Tuesday, November 9: vs Southern Illinois – Edwardsville
2020-21 Record: 9-17, 7-12 Ohio Valley
2020-21 KenPom.com Final Ranking: #323
2020-21 T-Rank Final Ranking: #323
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Ranking: #308
Head Coach: Brian Barone, in his third season at SIUE and overall with a record of 17-40.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 1-0
I don’t know exactly what’s in the water down in the St. Louis area, but Brian Barone is the second straight SIUE head coach with a Marquette degree. He took over after the Cougars let Jon Harris go, but the weird part about it is that Barone was one of Harris’ assistants. Sure, it was for only the final two years of of Harris’ 31-88 tenure, but generally speaking you don’t see an assistant get promoted when the head coach gets let go.
Anyway, as you can see from SIUE’s record and rankings from last year and their projection for next year, they’re not expected to be particularly great at basketball next season. On one hand, that’s not great for Marquette relative to building an NCAA tournament profile. On the other hand, this is exactly the team you bring in to be the opening game for a new head coach, especially with one of your basketball alumni in the top chair.
The Cougars haven’t officially updated their roster page to 2021-22 status yet, so I’m leaning on T-Rank to figure out what their deal is. Shamar Wright (6’7”, 9.0 points, 4.6 rebounds) appears to be their leading returning scorer and rebounder, while Courtney Carter (6’1”, 3.7 assists/game) is back after leading the team in assists last season. In a weird bit of coincidence, Shaun Doss will be facing Marquette in the first game of the season in consecutive years. The transfer from Arkansas Pine Bluff went for 27 points on 9-for-25 shooting in MU’s 99-57 victory back on November 25, 2020.
Friday, November 12: vs New Hampshire
2020-21 Record: 10-9, 9-6 America East
2020-21 KenPom.com Final Ranking: #268
2020-21 T-Rank Final Ranking: #282
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Ranking: #222
Head Coach: Bill Herrion, in his 30th season overall (434-444) and 16th at UNH (197-275)
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 1-0
The Marquette oldheads out there might recognize Bill Herrion’s name. He was the head coach at East Carolina from 1999-2005, which means he was the guy running the show when the Pirates beat the Dwyane Wade-led Golden Eagles not once, but twice, once in 2002 and once in 2003. In fact, the loss to East Carolina had the future Final Four team starting off Conference USA play 0-1. Wild, huh?
He’s up in New Hampshire now, and he’s been in Durham since 2006. The 2021 campaign was his first winning season since 2017 and just the fourth since he took over as head coach of the Wildcats. Aside: I feel like New Hampshire could do something a lot more interesting than “Wildcats” for their nickname. Even Vermont went with Catamounts to have what amounts to the exact same nickname, just more fun.
It appears that T-Rank expects them to be a little bit better than they were last season. That probably has a lot to do with bringing back all of their top five scorers. Nick Guadarrama (6’5”) led the team with 14.0 per game, but Jayden Martinez (6’7”) was right behind him at 13.6 a night. Those two guys were also the top two rebounders on the squad last year, while Blondeau Tchoukuiengo is back after leading the team with 3.3 assists per game.
Saturday, November 27: vs Northern Illinois
2020-21 Record: 3-16, 2-12 MAC
2020-21 KenPom.com Final Ranking: #337
2020-21 T-Rank Final Ranking: #327
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Ranking: #298
Head Coach: Rashon Burno, in his first season at NIU and overall
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 6-2
It’s no surprise that Northern Illinois has a brand new head coach for 2021-22, as NIU let Mark Montgomery go after a 1-7 start last season. That dropped his overall record to 124-170, although they had finished with at least a .500 record in each of the two previous seasons and they actually won their MAC division in 2020. In any case, Rashon Burno is now in charge, stepping up for his first head coaching job after stints as an assistant at Towson, Manhattan, Florida, and Arizona State.
The Huskies currently have literally no players — or assistant coaches if we’re being honest — listed on their roster page for 2021-22, so we’re going to have to trust T-Rank’s projections as to what’s going on with them heading into Burno’s first campaign. Trendon Hankerson (6’2”) is the leading returning scorer after finishing second on the team last year at 13.9 per game. He was one of just two players to play in all 19 of their games and the only one to start all 19 as well. Hankerson is also the leading returning rebounder at 4.4 per game, and we’re going to say that’s good news for NIU, as that means they have a 6’2” guard that rebounds his position very well. Kaleb Thornton (6’0”) returns as well after leading the team in assists at 2.9 per game, and Hankerson gave them 2.2 per contest as well.
Wednesday, December 1: vs Jackson State
2020-21 Record: 12-6, 11-0 SWAC
2020-21 KenPom.com Final Ranking: #265
2020-21 T-Rank Final Ranking: #262
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Ranking: #190
Head Coach: Wayne Brent in his ninth season at JSU and overall with a record of 107-136
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 1-0
It’s a common refrain on this website that we humbly request that Marquette never schedule a game against a SWAC opponent. The fact of the matter is that while the teams in the league are working really hard, it’s traditionally one of the lowest ranked conferences and as such, it’s not exactly a huge boost to the non-conference strength of schedule. With that said…. amongst the four buy games on MU’s slate this season? Jackson State appears to be the best one. They were the best of the four a year ago, and they project as a top 200 team for this coming season, and that’s something that the other three can’t say.
Jayveous McKinnis (6’7”) is the top returning scorer and rebounder for the Tigers after averaging a double-double on 12.5 points and 13.2 rebounds last season. Yeah, that’ll go a long way towards helping you be a little bit better the next year. The Tigers actually don’t return much else that’s extremely notable, but they have a pair of transfers that T-Rank seems to really like. Gabe Watson (6’2”) has averaged 8.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game in two seasons at Southern Miss and another at Tulane, while Terence Lewis II (6’7”) chipped in 4.1 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10 minutes a game for North Texas last season after spending two years in junior college before that. Both Watson and Lewis project as double-digit scorers for JSU, so if that comes together and the returning role guys keep being good role guys, they could challenge Prairie View for the SWAC title.
Saturday, December 4: at Wisconsin
2020-21 Record: 18-13, 10-10 Big Ten
2020-21 KenPom.com Final Ranking: #14
2020-21 T-Rank Final Ranking: #12
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Ranking: #57
Head Coach: Greg Gard in his sixth full season at Wisconsin and overall with a record of 119-70
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads, 68-59
Let’s explain the Badgers’ upcoming season this way: Last year’s team had seven seniors and no juniors. Five of those seniors were UW’s top five scorers, and only one — all 6’4” of Brad Davison — elected to use their COVID-bonus season at Wisconsin. That’s how you end up with T-Rank projecting this to be the second worst Badgers team since 2008, trailing only the 2018 team that went 15-18 and snapped Wisconsin’s NCAA tournament streak at 19 straight years.
Davison is the leading returning scorer at 10.0 per game, and his 2.4 assists per game are tops amongst returners as well. This is probably the right spot to mention that Davison was the #2 scorer as a freshman on that 2018 team that was the worst Wisconsin team in nearly two decades, so that might bode poorly for them. Tyler Wahl (6’9”) is the leading returning rebounder after grabbing up 4.3 per game last season. We should probably mention Jonathan Davis (6’5”) here just because. He averaged 7.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.1 steals per game last season as a freshman and was on the FIBA U19 World Cup championship team this summer. He’s going to have to carry a heavier load for the Badgers by default as a sophomore because Greg Gard’s recruiting class — both incoming freshman and transfers — just doesn’t have anyone in it that screams “immediate major impact player.”
Saturday, December 11: vs UCLA
2020-21 Record: 22-10, 13-6 Pac-12
2020-21 KenPom.com Final Ranking: #13
2020-21 T-Rank Final Ranking: #18
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Ranking: #2
Head Coach: Mick Cronin in his third season at UCLA (41-22) and 19th season overall (406-193)
All-Time Series: UCLA leads, 3-0
Okay, I want to start with this: I 100% understand why everyone is so high on UCLA for next season. They bring back all five starters from a team that went to overtime in the Final Four, especially Johnny Juzang (6’6”), who flirted with entering the NBA Draft after averaging a team high 16.0 points per game along with 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Generally speaking, if you roll out the exact same team with all of that built in experience playing together while lots of other teams have to undergo some level of change, you have an advantage over everyone else right off the bat.
With that said, this is the same UCLA team that struggled to beat a not-good Marquette team at home, and actually it’s not even the same team. UCLA still had senior big man Chris Smith before his season ending knee injury at that point. He would play in just two more games, only one of which was a Pac-12 game, before the Bruins had to figure things out without him.
And they kind of did! On February 25, even after a bit of a stumble in some away games, UCLA was sitting at 17-5 over all and 13-3 in conference play. That was good enough for a top 40 KenPom ranking and a shot at the Pac-12 regular season title, and they sure looked like an NCAA tournament team.
And then they lost their next four games, including an absolutely ridiculous overtime loss to a barely .500 Oregon State team, and as a result, the Bruins snuck into the NCAA tournament as a First Four team. That’s what this team was right before they caught fire and went to the Final Four: A bubble team. This is the same starting five that started the Oregon State game. I get why everyone thinks they’re going to be good in 2021-22, I’m just asking if we’re looking too much at a coinflip of a win over Alabama and an ugly slog of a win over Michigan and saying “yep, very good team next year, no notes” as a result. Remember: They started the NCAA tournament at #45 in the KenPom rankings, and the run to the Final Four jacked them all the way up to #13 when the season ended.
The same five starters coming back doesn’t automatically make them a better team after all, just a more experienced one.
Mick Cronin is adding two top 60 freshman, including 6’8” forward Peyton Watson who is ranked #8 in the country by 247 Sports. That seems pretty notable. There’s also 6’11” big man Myles Johnson, who is transferring back home from Rutgers after averaging 8.0 points and 8.5 rebounds in 25 minutes a game last year for the Scarlet Knights.
This is what the Marquette non-conference schedule looks like in terms of dates on the calendar, if you like that sort of thing. If you’re wondering why the schedule stops at December 11th, I have to remind you of two things. First, the Big East is a 20 game league schedule, just like it was last year. Second, Big East play began on December 14th last year with that 20 game plan in place, so this is pretty much exactly the same time frame. In fact, last year’s UCLA game was on December 11th as the last non-conference game, just on a Friday instead.