By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Nov 14, 2014 at 1:05 PM Photography: David Bernacchi

On Wednesday, the Marquette University Golden Eagles welcomed in – officially – its next recruiting class and first for new head coach Steve Wojciechowski, a nationally lauded crop which featured Rice Lake forward Henry Ellenson (ESPN’s No. 4 recruit) Sun Prairie point guard Nick Noskowiak (No. 70), Florida shooting guard Haanif Cheatham (No. 80) and Neenah center Matt Heldt (ESPN’s 20th-ranked center).

The group will join Wally Ellenson on the court next year, a 6-foot, 6-inch athletic off guard who transferred in from Minnesota and cannot play due to NCAA transfer rules.

It sets the table for the future of Marquette basketball, but tonight is the first game of the 2014-15 regular season as the program’s nine eligible players tip off against the University of Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

"Everybody just fell in love with coach, the coaching staff and what their goal was, and that's to win now," senior guard Derrick Wilson said. "Everybody wants to say it's a rebuilding (year), but everybody wants to win now. I think everybody got with that, got with the program, and that's what we're working to."

To win now, this version of the Golden Eagles will be perimeter based, with six guards and three forwards who aren’t typical power post players.

"It’s a spaced out offense, and our guards, whoever gets the rebound, just push it up and get the corners, get to the wings, get to open spots, pick and roll, pop, set down screens, up screens – it’s a simple offense," redshirt freshman Duane Wilson said. "It’s just playing the game of basketball."

Junior Steve Taylor, at 6-7, will be the team’s big man until 6-11 Indiana transfer Luke Fischer is eligible to play on Dec. 14. But, underclassmen Duane Wilson, Deonte Burton, Jajuan Johnson, John Dawson and Sandy Cohen will get significant opportunities to grow alongside seniors Derrick Wilson, Matt Carlino and Juan Anderson.

"I feel like we have a lot of talent, so if we get a lot better with the talent that we have, we can be really god," said Carlino, a transfer from BYU. "Those are my goals for the team. We can be good. I don’t want to put any predictions on the season, but if we get a lot better, it could be a very good year for us."

With a short bench, relatively unproven players and a new coach Marquette isn’t expected to do much, at least according to preseason prognosticators.

Unlike last year, in which they were picked to win the reshaped Big East, Marquette has been picked to finish tied for seventh with Butler. And, not a single player was named to any of the preseason all-Big East teams.

"It puts a chip on your shoulder," Derrick Wilson admitted. "You want to prove those people wrong."

"These guys don’t live in a bubble," Wojciechowski added. "But it’s not something we’re talking about every day. They know. They see it. There will be times where we may have to remind them of it, but I think our guys are competitors. They have pride. That’s something that they hope to prove wrong."

As the team, and Wojciechowski, try to figure each other out – and how to make things work with such a short roster – parts of the early season non-conference schedule will definitely quicken the learning curve.

The Golden Eagles play at No. 20 Ohio State on Nov. 18, Georgia Tech in the Orlando Classic in Florida on Nov. 27, have a potential date with No. 18 Michigan State the next day and host No. 3 Wisconsin on Dec. 6.

Fischer’s first game will be Dec. 16 against an Arizona State squad that won 21 games and reached the NCAA Tournament last year.

Big East play then begins on New Year’s Eve at DePaul.

"Our team is going to take a lot of shapes and forms this year," Wojciechowski said. "We don’t have Luke, then we have Luke – we’re going to be in a constant evolution of how to put the best group out there."

It’s nearly impossible to project this season out, with a new player joining the team a month in, and with so many unknowns, so many questions.

A few: How will Wojciechowski and his staff have to adjust their style, once they see how things work (or don’t work)? How will rotations, if there can be any, be managed? Which of these role players can step into a bigger role? Can Carlino score when his is the primary focus of a defense? Can the young players manage their intensity when it comes to avoiding foul trouble? What will Cohen be able to do as a true freshman? Will Fischer make an immediate impact?

But one thing this group can guarantee is effort, and the desire to be remembered as something more than just the team that bridged one era to the next.

"We don’t get caught up too much on external expectations," Wojciechowski said. "Obviously this is a program with great tradition and history that’s made some serious noise in March Madness and obviously that’s our goal. That’s our goal to be able to play in the NCAA Tournament. Every kid and every coach’s goal is to get there and have a chance to win.

"We’re going to be very process-oriented this year. We have a number of young guys who have yet to do it at the college level. So our primary focus needs to be on getting better every day and growing as a team and figuring how do you make the people around you better? If we’re able to do that on a day to day basis during the course of the regular season, the byproduct of that, in my opinion, could be something that is up to the standards of Marquette."

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.