Searching for the program's first winning season since 2012-13, Arkansas-Pine Bluff figures to face an uphill endeavor by playing its first nine games on the road, including contests against foes from the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, and Atlantic 10 conferences.
To veteran coach George Ivory, whoseGolden Lions were just 4-26 last season, the strategy allows the program to build itself not just fiscally, but mentally. Wednesday's season opener at retooling Marquette begins the mission.
"We talk about that a lot as a team," Ivory said. "We talk about playing this schedule and what we want to be. Why we play these schools. We know it's tough competition. I tell them all the time. You got to keep grinding and grinding and grinding."
Marquette earned 18 victories last season despite losing six of its final seven games to fall into the middle of the Big East pack. Guard Markus Howard, who became the program's all-time leading scorer and a consensus All-American while topping the nation with 27.8 points a game last season, has graduated, leaving a void not just in the Golden Eagles' scoring column, but in their fabric.
Howard accounted for 34.5 percent of his team's scoring last season.
"We'll look different on both ends of the floor than we did with Markus, and time will tell if that's better," Golden Eagles coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "We can score in a lot of different ways, and we have defensive versatility. I'm hoping those things translate to a lot of wins."
After averaging 9.5 points a game in his first season at Marquette following a transfer from Utah State, senior guard Koby McEwen looks to provide a scoring spark while recovering from a late-season lull in which he didn't register in double figures for the final five games.
Fellow seniors and forward Theo John and Jamal Cain also will look to take accelerated roles as Marquette welcomes a handful of newcomers, including Ohio State transfer guard D.J. Carton, who averaged 10.4 points in 20 games last season.
Conference preseason freshman of the year Dawson Garcia, a 6-foot-11 forward, should see minutes in the frontcourt as he makes the leap from a standout prep career in Minnesota.
UAPB revolves around 6-8 senior forward Markedric Bell, who led the team with 10.8 points a game last season. He scored 26 straight points as part of a 33-point outing in a win at Mississippi Valley State.
The game marks a homecoming of sorts for Golden Lions senior forward Terrance Banyard, a product of Milwaukee Destiny High School who averaged 7.9 points and 4.4 rebounds a game last season.
--Field Level Media