Each player pointed out a different aspect of the game as a focal point for improvement leading into the regular season. McNeal called for better defense, Matthews for improved toughness, and James, most sagely, for an emphasis on defensive rebounding.
"That's going to compliment our running game, and [running is] what we want to do more than anything."
James has recently been the focus of national attention, earning first-team All American honors from Collegehoops.net and Rivals.com and being named a top 50 candidate for this year's John Wooden Award. While downplaying the recent accolades, the sophomore guard admitted that the resulting increased attention from opposing benches is probably a good thing.
"The more attention that's on me from opponents, the more that's going to open things up for my teammates. And as a point guard, that's exactly what you want."
All three saw the upcoming exhibition game as a chance for the team's new players to pick up their first experience playing in a Division I arena. When the Golden Eagles take the court against Cardinal Stritch, it will mark the much anticipated game debut of freshman Lazar Hayward. But the big three are leaving all side-plots out of the equation.
McNeal cited the recent rash of preseason games in which high-caliber basketball programs have either suffered losses or eked out narrow victories as a reason to take this Sunday's contest versus the small Milwaukee-area college seriously.
"We don't look at it as an exhibition game. We don't look over anybody." Matthews continued, "They've got a good group of guys and they're going to play hard. And that's what we're going to have to match."
Stritch opens the season ranked #16 in the NAIA Division II Men's pre-season poll. Before taking on Marquette, they will play their first league game Saturday against East West University. Last season, head coach and school athletic director Denny Fox led the Wolves to a 25-9 record and a sweet 16 berth in the league's post-season tournament.
In its history, Stritch has played five other NCAA Division I opponents, including the University of Utah, Western Illinois University, and the University of Texas-El Paso.
Marquette will meet Cardinal Stritch this Sunday, November 5 at 7:00 PM at the Bradley Center.