By Brian Foley, Special to OnMilwaukee   Published Feb 07, 2019 at 12:16 PM

America’s Dairyland has quickly turned into the hoops capital of the world, behind wildly successful seasons from the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks, no. 10 Marquette men’s basketball team, no. 19 Wisconsin men’s basketball team and no. 8 Marquette women’s basketball team.

This Saturday, the Golden Eagles men's team will take center stage when no. 14 Villanova rolls into town on National Marquette Day for MU’s first top-15 regular-season game since March 3, 2012.

Here are three things to know ahead of Marquette’s biggest home game in the Steve Wojciechowski era.

1. Big East stakes

Tuesday’s 70-69 home loss to St. John’s not only put a blemish on Marquette’s home mystique at Fiserv Forum; it also put a serious dent in MU’s Big East championship hopes. The Golden Eagles (19-4, 8-2) have now fallen two games behind Villanova (19-4, 10-0) in the standings, making Saturday a must-win in the conference title race. Both Marquette and Villanova are undefeated in non-St. John’s league games; unfortunately the difference between first and second in the Big East right now is MU’s 0-2 record against the Red Storm compared to the Wildcats' 1-0 ledger.

The Golden Eagles still must navigate a return trip to Philadelphia on Feb. 27, but Marquette probably has an easier remaining schedule over the second half of conference play. While both teams have road trips to Seton Hall in early March, Marquette’s only other road games (again, besides the trip to Nova) are at DePaul and at Providence. Villanova will have to make it through a three-game road trip at St. John’s, Georgetown and Xavier. The disappointing losses to the Johnnies have given Marquette very little wiggle room, but a championship path still exists for the Golden Eagles, should they defend home court on Saturday.

Marquette has won three regular season conference titles in its history – the Great Midwest in 1994, Conference USA in 2003 and the Big East in 2013 – but they have not finished better than fourth in the first five years of the Big East’s new iteration.

2. Stripe out

Marquette is visually synonymous with stripes, from the beautiful (and banned) bumblebee unis in 1969-70 to the glorious return of the stripes on MU’s current "championship blue" alternates to the various piping detailing the side of nearly every MU uniform in the decades between.

So it’s only fitting that MU will decorate Fiserv Forum with its traditional blue and gold striping for National Marquette Day for the third consecutive year.

Marquette will provide shirts for every fan, but make sure you arrive in your section’s shirt color in case you do not like the fit of the provided tee.

3. National Marquette Day history

Using an athletic event to highlight a university’s values is certainly not unique to MU, nor is it even unique to National Marquette Day. Marquette celebrated Spirit Day every year dating back to the 1960s, before the merriment officially morphed into National Marquette Day in 1992.

The NMD game is typically the most anticipated contest on the calendar before the season – as exhibited by the sky-high ticket prices for this Saturday’s matchup – and the team typically follows through. Marquette is 6-3 since 2010 on National Marquette Day with two of the losses coming against top-six Villanova teams while MU was in the throes of a rebuilding period. (Last season’s two-point defeat against Providence was the only truly disappointing NMD result this decade – and ultimately proved costly to the Golden Eagles’ NCAA tournament hopes.)

Of course, returning to winning ways on National Marquette Day will be easier said than done, even against a Villanova squad that is not as strong as recent editions. The Golden Eagles are just 1-12 against the Wildcats in the last six years, though that one victory is still imprinted upon the mind of every MU fan.

If the crowd provides the atmosphere as expected on Saturday and Marquette shakes off its shooting rust from Tuesday’s loss, the Golden Eagles could tally a long awaited second win over Villanova and push their way back into the Big East title race.