Nearly one month into its inaugural basketball campaign, the sparkling Fiserv Forum is emanating nothing but good vibes and happy thoughts thus far.
The food is incredible. The seats are comfortable. The crowds have been great, the sightlines are ideal and the scoreboard is sensational. And yet, as is the case with most sporting venues, the on-court performance ranks well above any arena feature. Luckily, the Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette Golden Eagles have been up to the task.
The Bucks are 6-0 at home since opening the new arena on Oct. 19 against Indiana. On Tuesday, Marquette tipped off their 2018-19 season with an easy home win over UMBC. In fact, the two Milwaukee hoops teams have combined for a remarkable plus-20 point differential across the seven victories on top of the three Ws they chalked up in their home exhibition games as well.
We’re 10 games in, and the fans have been treated to 10 stress-free wins ... so when will Fiserv Forum finally enter the losing column? Let’s run through the upcoming schedules for both teams through the rest of the month. (Odds the Bucks or Marquette win each game are listed in parentheses, per ESPN’s Basketball Power Index.)
Nov. 10: Bethune-Cookman at MU (97.3 percent)
Nov. 14: Memphis at Bucks (83.6 percent)
Nov. 16: Chicago at Bucks (89.7 percent)
Nov. 17: Presbyterian at MU (97.9 percent)
Nov. 19: Denver at Bucks (68.2 percent)
Nov. 21: Portland at Bucks (69.8 percent)
Nov. 23: Phoenix at Bucks (91.4 percent)
Nov. 24: San Antonio at Bucks (77.1 percent)
Nov. 27: Charleston Southern at MU (96.5 percent)
Nov. 28: Chicago at Bucks (89.7 percent)
Marquette should cruise to three easy home wins through the rest of November. The road tests will be much tougher – at Indiana and neutral floor matchups against no. 1 Kansas and either no. 6 Tennessee or Louisville – but the Golden Eagles have several fatty cupcakes upcoming in Fiserv Forum.
The Bucks obviously have a tougher slate, though it’s not totally unmanageable by NBA standards. Denver is off to a hot start with its own talented young unicorn in Nikola Jokic, but the Nuggets haven’t posted a winning record on the road since 2011-12. They are a different team away from altitude. Portland and San Antonio are also quality teams, but the Bucks will be favored at home. Losing to Memphis, Chicago or Phoenix would be incredibly disappointing.
The problem here is that, while the Bucks and the Golden Eagles will be favorites in each of these games, it’s tough to collectively string together nine straight wins. Using ESPN’s BPI predictor, the two teams have a 20.7 percent chance to get through the rest of November unscathed at home. A one-in-five chance is still pretty reasonable, though those odds will certainly change with injuries and potential rest dates.
I do not expect the Bucks to survive the final seven November home games, but the schedule gods have done Milwaukee a massive favor. Milwaukee should move past Memphis and Chicago – the Jabari Parker reunion matchup! – and Giannis and Co. will have extra motivation against Denver on Nov. 19, as the Nuggets will likely defeat the Bucks on Nov. 11 in Denver as Milwaukee finishes up a four-game road trip and is on the second night of a back-to-back.
The two other squads who could quash the Bucks – Portland and San Antonio – have brutal schedules heading into the matchups with Milwaukee. The Bucks are the fifth game of a six-game road trip for the Blazers, who then head out to Golden State to wrap up the cross country travel; the Spurs get Milwaukee in the midst of a Midwest roadie while also playing their fifth game in seven days. One of the Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Spurs will likely trip up the Bucks, but Milwaukee is still set up fairly well to run the table.
Shifting down to the college level, Marquette could potentially ride the Forum wave into Big East play. The Golden Eagles should be 4-0 at home on Dec. 1, when they will host no. 12 Kansas State. MU and K-State field similar rosters, and seem destined to play one of the more tightly contested games of college basketball’s non-conference season. Still, several projection systems list Marquette as slight favorites right now, and if the Golden Eagles’ defense is as real as they showed in the opener, there is no reason Marquette can’t knock off the Wildcats.
Marquette also has home games against Wisconsin and Buffalo in December, two teams with realistic NCAA tournament dreams. But if MU is as good as expected, it should be able to handle two slightly inferior teams at home. If Marquette can power through those top three games and take care of business against the mid-major bottom feeders, there’s no telling how long an unbeaten home streak could last.
The only visiting team who will likely be clearly better than Marquette are the Villanova Wildcats, who come to town for National Marquette Day on Feb. 9. A host of solid Big East teams will visit Fiserv Forum before that date – all of whom are capable of beating MU on any given night – but Marquette should still be favored in all of those pre-Nova contests.
Marquette rattled off 81 straight home victories under Al McGuire at the old Marquette Gym from 1967 to '73, and then strung together another 27 consecutive wins from 2011 to '13 in the Bradley Center. The Bucks ran off their own 26-gamer across two seasons in 1973 at the MECCA. If there’s an arena in Milwaukee, these two teams have defended it – so it’s only fitting for them to open up Fiserv Forum with similar gusto. Let’s see how long this unbeaten streak can last.