Hoping to avoid arepeat of last season's swoon, when the Golden Eagles dropped six of theirfinal nine games and lost to Michigan State in the first round of the NCAAtournament, coach Tom Crean introduced a twist during preseason training:taekwondo workouts. "I wanted to do something that would make practiceschallenging," he says. His players were incredulous at first--"Ithought he was playing with us," says junior guard Wesley Matthews, one offive returning starters--and then in pain. "There were definitely a coupleof days when I woke up and said, 'My hips are killing me,' " junior guardJerel McNeal says.
Once a week blackbelts lead the Golden Eagles through a series of exercises designed to increaseflexibility, strengthen the core and quicken reflexes. Crean hopes faster handsmake fewer miscues--Matthews and McNeal combined to average more turnovers(3.21) than assists (2.92) last season--and more steals. Junior playmakerDominic James already sees an increase in deflections: "We're turning upour pressure on defense and creating a lot of offense off our D."
The athleticJames, who declared for the NBA draft last spring but withdrew his name afterreceiving a lukewarm reception at predraft workouts, will again be the focalpoint on offense despite hitting only 27.2% of his threes and 65.1% of his freethrows. Marquette's depth up front, however, significantly thinned when 6'7" freshman Trevor Mbakwe, who was expected to support center OusmaneBarro, sprained a ligament in his left knee, sidelining him for the season.Power forwards Lazar Hayward and Dan Fitzgerald will have to not only providepost defense but also use their quicker hands to snatch more rebounds;opponents outrebounded the size-challenged Golden Eagles by 2.1 per game intheir 10 losses in 2006-07.
Dressed in whiterobes and yellow belts, the players unveiled their new martial arts skills tofans at Midnight Madness, when they took turns punching through wooden boardsbearing Big East school logos. It was an impressive show, but the real questionis, Can they grab boards as well as they break them?
6'‚Äà10"Sr.8.1 ppg6.9 rpgKEY RESERVE PF Dan Fitzgerald 6'‚Äà9" Sr. 7.4 ppg 3.9 rpg
Nov. 10 IUPUI (W 76-68)
Nov. 12 UtahValley State
Nov. 19-21 MauiInvitational (vs. Chaminade; plus Oklahoma State, LSU, Duke, Princeton,Illinois, Arizona State)
Dec. 8 atWisconsin
Dec. 15 SacramentoState
Dec. 17 IPFW
Dec. 21 CoppinState
Dec. 29 SavannahState
March 4 FloridaGulf Coast
Enough cupcakes to line a bakery window--a potential matchup against Duke atthe Maui Invitational is the only unsavory early-season morsel. Wisconsininduced a bit of heartburn last year, beating the Golden Eagles 70-66, but theBadgers' leading scorer in '06-07, Alando Tucker, has moved on. What's more,all but one of Marquette's nonconference, non-Maui games are in Milwaukee.
Coach Tom Crean(9th year)
Big East record10-6 (T-5th)
NCAA tournament1st round
Instant access tothe latest and best Golden Eagles stories, stats and fan blogs from across theWeb, selected by SI's editors.
'NICKNACK An iffy shooter but gifted penetrator, James leads an excellent backcourttrio.