Belmont Bruins at Marquette Golden Eagles
When: Nov. 13, 2015, 9 p.m. Eastern
Where: Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wis.
Watch: FS Wisconsin, FS Southeast
Last Time They Met: First meeting
Players to watch (Belmont): G-Craig Bradshaw
Players to watch (Marquette): F-Henry Ellenson
2014-15 records: Belmont (22-11, 11-5 OVC East T/1st); Marquette (13-19, 4-14 Big East T/Last)
A Look at the Marquette
All wasn't peachy in coach Steve Wojciechowski's first year as the leader of the Marquette Golden Eagles. A last place finish (yes, even behind the likes of DePaul), wasn't what Eagle fans have come to expect in recent years. With experienced players like guard Duane Wilson and center Luke Fischer back and healthy after being plagued by a shoulder injury, the Eagles don't necessarily have any more stability heading into this season compared to last, but the outlook is brighter. Jajuan Johnson, a guard with good size (6-5), made nine starts a year ago and has the opportunity to cement his role as an integral part of the lineup with a strong performance in a matchup like this. Johnson posted point totals of 20 and 22 against UT-Martin and Arizona State in play outside the Big East last season before trailing off in conference play.
This Golden Eagles didn't blow anyone away with its scoring abilities in the 2014-15 season, and with Matt Carlino gone as a staple on this team, a primary scoring option will have to develop elsewhere.
Incoming freshmen like Henry Ellenson, Traci Carter, and Hanif Cheatham will look to make an impact immediately for a team doesn't return much in terms of experience. The emphasis will be on Ellenson. The guy has all kinds of hype surrounding him. Just watch his highlight tape:
The plan will likely be for the Eagles to speed things up and utilize the skills of their returning guards and the young, talented freshmen to rush opposing teams.
The Big East's coaches have higher expectations for Marquette this season, as they were picked to finish sixth in the conference after a last place finish in 2014-15. Don't be down on Marquette if you're a Belmont fan. Woj will have these guys in better shape for game one than they were last year.
High Expectations for Bruins Early
Of course people should expect a lot of the Belmont Bruins. Back is almost the entire team that made an NCAA tournament appearance after knocking off one of the better mid-majors in the country in Murray State for the OVC tournament title. It's Rick Byrd's 30th season as coach of Belmont, and he should feel just as high on this team as any he has coached.
Back is the preseason OVC Player of the Year in Craig Bradshaw. The guy just knows how to score. It's uncanny. He'll score against your athletic defenders, he'll score if you switch on him, he'll score if you throw a zone at him. He'll just score. End of story. Then there are guys like Evan Bradds and Taylor Barnette. Bradds returns as the nation's leading field goal percentage leader from a season ago (69%). Barnette has a clutch stroke and led the team in 3-point buckets while averaging 10.6 points per game. A steady rotation of big guys like Amanze Egekege, and Nick Smith will battle for consistent minutes as each demonstrated the capability to perform when needed.
Matchup to Watch
Everybody wants to know how preseason second-team All-Big East performer Henry Ellenson is going to look early on his college career. The Belmont defense will be just as intrigued. I noted the whole Bruin defense, because for a 6-10, 245-pound forward, the frosh sure knows how to step out and stroke and handle. (BAH GAWD LOOK AT THAT MAN'S WINGSPAN.) A trio of players are likely to be run at Ellenson though Evan Bradds should shoulder most of the load given his versatility and size. Others like Smith and Egekeze could be thrown at him as well.
From the opening tip of the season, Belmont has to be of the mindset that it is on a mission. It won't get much time for rest with several big-time contests awaiting on the schedule, and to underestimate this talented Golden Eagles team would be a fool's folly, especially on the road. But this is the type of game that gets a team like Belmont ready for tournament play, even at the beginning of the season. The Bruins figure to speed the game up, and run this one into the 80's. Don't be surprised if Belmont comes out a bit anxious and bricks a couple of long balls from the beginning, but like with any Rick Byrd team, they'll find their stroke. They should win this game, and there's no way around that fact.
Final score prediction: Belmont wins 83-77.