The 2015-2016 season was a roller coaster ride of ups and downs for the Marquette Golden Eagles, finishing with a solid 20-13 record. There were many problems that contributed to Marquette not winning the National Championship, or even making the tourney at all. The main three reasons for not dancing this year were an extremely tough Big East schedule, a very youthful team, and great inconsistency on a nightly basis. This Marquette team was not even considered on the bubble come March, but I believe that Steve Wojciechowski (Wojo) and his Golden Eagles deserved much more credit than they were given. This was a very young team, led by freshman big man Henry Ellenson, who turned a 13-19 record in 2014-2015 into a 20-13 mark this past year. Although Marquette suffered some difficult losses, they surprised many with big road wins and an overall successful season.
Tough Big East Schedule
Besides the ACC, the Big East is the most competitive collegiate basketball conference in the nation. The Big East was represented by five of its ten teams in this year’s March Madness tourney, including the champion, Villanova, so it is safe to say that Marquette had a challenging conference schedule. The conference opener was played against Seton Hall, this year’s Big East tournament champs, and this game set the tone for the rest of conference play. Marquette finished 8-10 in conference, and never really found their rhythm as the season wore on. Right up until conference play, the Golden Eagles had a run that lasted for more than a month in which they were undefeated. This run began with a huge win against SEC powerhouse LSU, who boasted a young freshman by the name of Ben Simmons. I think that because of Marquette’s youth, the team was not truly ready for the grueling Big East schedule that they had in store. The first two conference games were at home against a crafty Seton Hall team and on the road against a traditionally good Georgetown team. These two tough losses made it difficult for Marquette to truly make a dent within the conference. In the Big East, there is no game in which a team can “take a break.” Every team is a tough matchup and I think that this young team learned that this year and will benefit from the experience in the future.
The most challenging aspect of this year’s Marquette team was its youth. Although Henry Ellenson shined on the nation’s top stage, he was still only a freshman. The other standout freshman for the Golden Eagles was Haanif Cheatham. I believe Cheatham, because of Ellenson’s outstanding play, was strongly overlooked. Those two freshmen were two of three players on the Marquette roster that started all thirty-three games. On top of that, out of the 8 players with legitimate playing time, four of them were either freshmen or sophomores. The lack of experience within the program was a major dilemma come conference play. Wojo blamed the team’s immaturity on many of the losses in the duration of the season. In his postgame interviews he cited different moments throughout the game in which an experienced player would have made a better decision than the freshmen that he had on the floor. For example, Wojo specifically talked about his team rushing to get their shots up instead of working the ball to find a higher percentage shot. Although this Marquette team is young, they have a bright future ahead of them. The experience on the team will grow and the veteran players can assist the younger guys in assimilating into the system that is collegiate hoops.
The final topic of discussion and reason for not having a Marquette national championship is because of inconsistency throughout the season. This reasoning factors in both of the first two, because of a difficult conference schedule and because of youth. There were flares of what this Marquette team could be at different times throughout the season. Marquette basketball was at its best after a month long winning streak in the nonconference schedule, a season sweep of a ranked Providence team, and an appearance in the semi-finals of the Big East tourney. However, these highs were overshadowed by the lows of losses against Belmont, Creighton, and DePaul at home. On top of that, other than Providence, Marquette did not compete with an of the other Big East powerhouses. The top three teams in the conference, Villanova, Xavier, and Seton Hall all swept the Golden Eagles this year. I think that this bad conference experience is necessary for success in the future. Marquette had a decent season, but you can expect more out of the Golden Eagles in years to come, thanks to Wojo’s expert recruiting. The loss of Henry Ellenson to the draft will sting, but recruits like Markus Howard, Sam Hauser, and Brendan Bailey will look to help boost this team to a national championship run in 2017.
Marquette University ‘20