Hopes And Expectations Abound For Year Two Of Steve Wojciechowski Era
Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports

Hopes And Expectations Abound For Year Two Of Steve Wojciechowski Era

Four weeks out from the start of the 2015-16 college basketball season, there is a real sense of optimism around the Marquette Golden Eagles basketball program.

Liam McMahon

While the majority of the country spends their Saturday mornings, afternoons and evenings focused on the developments of the college football world, students at Marquette University have no such vice to distract them from their studies. Instead, their minds must turn either to hatred of the Wisconsin Badgers, or, far more regularly, discussing the potential of the upcoming college basketball season.

Last season was the most difficult one which Golden Eagles fans have seen for quite some time. Just two years removed from going to the Elite Eight, Marquette managed a record of just 13-19 (4-14 conference) last season as a new era began. 

However, there were plenty of positive signs for the new regime. Nine of the 19 losses were by 10 points or fewer, and the Golden Eagles played with the fire and passion which their head coach used to during his days as a Duke Blue Devil. In spite of only having eight scholarship players for the majority of the season, Marquette played gritty, hard-nosed defense and stayed in a lot of games they had no right to be in.

The victories rarely came-the stretch from mid-January to early March when they lost 12 of 13 conference games was particularly brutal-but the mentality of the team endeared them to fans. Even more endearing than the attitude on court was Wojciechowski's recruiting ability off the court.

According to ESPN, Wojciechowski brought in the #10 recruiting class in the country. In addition to the seven freshmen which the team boasts, redshirt junior Wally Ellenson will be eligible to suit up for the team after sitting out last season following his transfer from Minnesota. Ellenson's athleticism has dazzled college track and field for the last three years, and he finished third in the high jump at the NCAA indoor championships and fifth in the outdoor championships.

Ellenson's younger brother, Henry Ellenson, is the center piece of Wojciechowski's recruiting class. The five-star recruit from Rice Lake High School is the sort of player that rarely commits to Marquette. As such, he will have the weight of expectations on his shoulders from the moment he sets foot on the court at the Bradley Center. Yet, if the opinions of the Big East coaches who voted him to the pre-season Second Team All-Big East Team, Ellenson could prove to be one of the conference's biggest storylines this season.

Ellenson is not the only player who garnered a mention on the All-Big East teams; redshirt junior Luke Fischer was named to the Honorable Mention team. The 6'11" center flashed hot and cold over the course of the season, alternating between terrific scoring efforts and moments of anonymity when he ws dominated by bigger, stronger players. If he can continue to develop, he could provide a genuine interior threat, something which this team rarely has.

Although they boast talented, athletic players, this will be one of the most inexperienced squads in the Big East. Not including walk-on Michael Mache, Marquette boast only five eligible players with Division-I playing experience (Sandy Cohen III, Fischer, Jajuan Johnson, Duane Wilson, W. Ellenson). There will be plenty of silly mistakes made early on, but Wojciechowski and his staff have devised a schedule which will put the players under pressure early, forcing them to grow up quickly.

After wetting their feet early on against Belmont and IUPUI, the Golden Eagles will host Iowa on November 19th. The Hawkeyes, although not ranked in the AP preseason poll, have been a solid program for the last several years. Several days after that, they will head to New York City for the Legends Classic where they will do battle with #19 ranked LSU. Depending on other results during the Legends Classic, the Golden Eagles will then take on either North Carolina State or Arizona State.

If those early season tests won't be enough to help these fledging Golden Eagles to grow up before Big East conference play begins, then the December 12th showdown at the Kohl Center in Madison against the #17 ranked Wisconsin Badgers will. 

It's hard to project just how Marquette will fare this season; the talent they have speaks for itself, but so does the inexperience. In the pre-season coaches poll, they were picked to finish sixth by the Big East coaches. It feels almost as if that's charting a middle path-they could well finish in the top four of the conference just as they could finish in the bottom quarter. 

Predicted record: 19-12 (9-9 conference)

Marquette's young players will thrill and infuriate in equal parts. For every terrific piece of play there will be a freshman mistake made. For every fantastic, unexpected victory there will be a frustrating, disappointing loss. However, one thing is certain: they should be fun to watch.