Marquette has the nucleus to contend for a Big East title this season, but needs support from everyone as it continues the maturation process with a game against VCU in the first round of the Maui Invitational on Monday. The Golden Eagles, who are coming off an 87-71 loss at No. 21 Purdue on Tuesday, took their first step by reaching the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in four years, but face an uphill climb in the competitive Big East Conference.
“We’re very much evolving as a team,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski told reporters. “With Sam (Hauser), Markus (Howard) and Andrew (Rowsey), those guys have been key contributors to a good team. Those other guys are figuring out how to do that. That’s not a knock - we’re just in an evolution as a group.” Rowsey, a senior guard, is off to a quick start with 48 points in two games, including 25 versus Purdue - his most with the Golden Eagles. The Rams, who were voted to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10 Conference preseason poll, are coming off a 76-67 loss to Virginia on Friday in which they trailed by four with 2:08 remaining. “I thought this was the best our guys were prepared for the game,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades told reporters. “We had two good days of practice, and it really carried over and it gave us an opportunity to win the game.”
TV: 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT MARQUETTE (1-1): Howard, a sophomore guard, has 35 points this season after scoring 24 versus Purdue and is 11-for-21 from the field this season. Hauser, a 6-8 sophomore guard, has 16 points and a team-high 14 rebounds in two games. Rowsey, who scored a career-high 41 points while with UNC Asheville in 2013-14, also has a team-most 11 assists this season.
ABOUT VCU (2-1): Senior forward Justin Tillman, an all-Atlantic 10 first-team and defensive team preseason selection, is averaging 15.0 points and 8.7 rebounds this season, and hasn’t committed a turnover. Sophomore forward Issac Vann (14.3 points, 6.0 rebounds) and senior forward Khris Lane (13.3, 5.7) are the second- and third-leading scorers and rebounders. Senior guard Jonathan Williams (team-high 7.0 assists), an all-A-10 defensive team preseason selection, is the fourth Ram to average double figures in points at 13 per game, and tied a career high with eight assists versus Virginia.
1. Wojciechowski was the 1997 Maui Invitational MVP while playing for Duke.
2. VCU, which has won 24 or more games in the last 11 seasons, is one of eight schools to appear in the last seven NCAA tournaments, joining Cincinnati, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina and Duke.
3. No. 8 Wichita State and California are the next opponents in Tuesday’s semifinals or losers’ bracket.
PREDICTION: VCU 70, Marquette 68