Per a report from The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, Iowa hoops will be playing Marquette as part of the first annual Gavitt Tipoff Games this fall. The Gavitt Tipoff Games are essentially an annual Big Ten-Big East Challenge series, much like the league has with the ACC. The biggest difference is that there are far fewer games since the Big East has just 10 teams, while the sprawling Big Ten now houses 14 teams. As a result, nearly half of the Big Ten will sit out this year's iteration of the Gavitt Tipoff Games and Big Ten teams will rotate through the series during its eight-year contract. (There's no way around the fact that some Big Ten teams will end up playing in the series more frequently than others -- there will be 64 total games in the series, as planned, and there's no way to evenly divide those games among 14 Big Ten squads.)
Most important to our own interests, though, is the fact that Iowa will be taking part in the first iteration of the Tipoff Classic and that they'll be playing Marquette. Per the same Journal Sentinel report, the game will be on November 19 and played in Milwaukee at the BMO Harris Bradley Center (Marquette's home court). No time or TV information has been announced yet, but it's safe bet that the game will be televised by Fox Sports 1 if the game is on Marquette's court because FS1 has a contract with the Big Teast.
Unlike the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, which is played annually in early December, the intent of the Gavitt Tipoff games is to provide some splashy inter-conference match-ups at the very beginning of the college basketball season.
What separates this pairing from the others like it, though, is the timing. The games, which will begin in 2015-16, will be played in the first full week of the regular season, giving a splash to the tipoff for a sport that long has struggled to forge a path out of the gate.
College basketball can use all the help it can get to make a little noise in a very crowded November sports landscape. As Pat said when the series was initially announced, this series should be a nice positive for Iowa as well, with potential games against neighboring schools like Marquette or Creighton, as well as the possibility of high-profile match-ups with the likes of Villanova or Georgetown, too. It should also serve as another nice boost for Iowa's strength of schedule and RPI, which is always welcome. And for the Iowa ticket-buyer, the possibility of seeing the likes of Creighton, Villanova, Xavier, or Marquette visit Carver-Hawkeye Arena would be a nice break from the usual parade of paycheck games Iowa hosts in the non-conference slate. (That said, it's worth tempering your expectations on that front a bit -- Iowa will probably play around four games in the Gavitt series, which probably means two home games. Two more decent home games over an 8-year span is nice, but it's not a huge improvement, either.)
So what do we know about the 2014-15 Marquette Golden Eagles? Barring an unexpected coaching change in the next few months (and Buzz Williams did unexpectedly bounce from Marquette to Virginia Tech last spring, so... you never know?), Steve Wojciechowski will be Marquette's head man. Wojo is most famous for his Duke ties, where he was renowned for slapping the floor as a player and serving as Coach K's right-hand man as a coach for several years. Wojo's first year at Marquette was rough: the Golden Eagles went 13-19 overall and 4-14 in Big East play, good for a tie for last place in the league. They finished 110th in the final KenPom rankings of the year and were especially bad on offense (183rd in offensive efficiency). The transfer but hit Marquette fairly hard in Wojo's first year: forward Deonte Burton bounced from Marquette to Iowa State in December and another forward, Steve Taylor Jr., announced plans to transfer in March.
The cupboard isn't entirely bare in Milwaukee, though. The Golden Eagles return their top three scorers from last year, SG Matt Carlino (15.0 ppg on 40% FG, 42% 3FG), SF Duane Wilson (11.9 ppg on 39% FG, 35% 3FG), and C Luke Fischer (11.0 ppg on 61% FG). Fisher was also one of Marquette's top rebounders (4.8 rpg) and their leading shot-blocker (2.2 bpg). That core of returning talent is being supplemented by a standout recruiting class -- #10 in the nation, per ESPN's Recruiting Nation. The star of the class is 5* PF Henry Ellenson, ranked #5 in ESPN's 2015 Top 100 recruits and projected to be an immediate difference-maker. The rest of the class isn't chopped liver, either -- it includes four 4* talents, include SG Haanif Cheatham (#83 in ESPN's Top 100) and 4* C Matt Heldt. There should be talent in Brew City next year, so it's not much of a shock to see one ESPN writer tabbing them for the nation's biggest turnaround.
[EDIT: Carlino was a senior in 2014-15, actually, so Iowa won't have to worry about him next fall. -- RB]
The good news for Iowa? This looks like a team that will be much scarier in January, February, and possibly March (if they do indeed get to go dancing) than they will be in November. Those recruits will need time to bed in and get acclimated to college hoops, while Iowa will have the advantage of sending an experience-rich, senior-laden team fresh off an appearance in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 to Milwaukee for this game. On paper, Marquette could have a talent advantage on Iowa; hopefully Iowa can make use of its experience advantage and pick up a non-conference win in the season's early days. A win over Marquette could pay tremendous dividends for Iowa come March if the Golden Eagles progress as expected.
Iowa and Marquette have actually met 17 times in the past (with Iowa leading the series, 10-7), but as our blog compadres at Anonymous Eagle, SBN's fine blog for all things Marquette, pointed out in their profile of Iowa, the vast majority of those meetings occurred when shorts were short and scoring was low -- like, really low.
The way that kind of thing happens is when two teams play eight times by March of 1930. To give you an idea of how far back in the history of basketball those games were, five of those eight games featured one team failing to reach 20 points. Had I tricked you into riding a time machine to witness the January 2, 1926 game between Marquette and Iowa, you would have promptly run out the door to punch my great-grandfather in the face, as that game ended with Iowa taking a 19-16 win. I am not making this up.
The most recent game between Iowa and Marquette happened way back in December of 1982. Iowa, ranked #7 (!) at the time, stomped a Marquette team featuring Doc Rivers, 87-66. Despite their proximity (Milwaukee is just four hours away from Iowa City), the schools have never scheduled each other since, nor have they met in a pre- or post-season tournament during that stretch. Which is a shame: Marquette has been a perennially strong mid-major team for years and they would have been a fine opponent for Iowa to play in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Plus, Milwaukee is a pretty fun city to visit, so an Iowa game at Marquette would've been an enjoyable road trip.
The full match-ups for the Gavitt Tipoff Games haven't been officially released (though that's expected later this week), but here's what they're expected to be:
- Xavier at Michigan
- Creighton at Indiana
- Rutgers at St. John's (Battle for the Big Apple!)
- Illinois at Providence
- Nebraska at Villanova
- Penn State at DePaul
- Iowa at Marquette
- Georgetown at Maryland
Georgetown-Maryland is the marquee match-up of that slate, featuring two local rivals who almost never play one another -- and who could be quite good next year. (Well, Maryland is definitely projected to be a top team in 2015-16; not sure about Georgetown.) Xavier-Michigan should be a strong match-up as well and Iowa-Marquette and Illinois-Providence round out the rest of the better-looking showdowns. The less said about Penn State-DePaul the better. The Nebraska-Villanova match-up is quite a curiosity, considering the match-ups were allegedly going to be based on "competitive parity." Perhaps someone in the comments can explain how a match-up of the Big East's defending champion and the Big Ten's 12th place finisher is based on "competitive parity."
In the meantime, though: Iowa-Marquette. November 19. Bring it on.