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Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski expects walking through the tunnel onto the Dean E. Smith Center floor will feel much different on Wednesday when the Golden Eagles face North Carolina. And frankly, he was looking forward to being treated like a villain.
With attendance limited by the COVID-19 pandemic, he won’t get to hear the boos that normally waited to greet him, first as a player at Duke from 1994-98, then as an assistant coach on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff from 1999-2014.
“Obviously, the atmosphere will be much different than what I’m accustomed to in the Dean Dome,” Wojciechowski said. “I’m kind of disappointed I won’t get any boos because that’s what I’m used to when I go over there.”
Both Wojciechowski and UNC coach Roy Williams have the pandemic to thank for setting up Wednesday’s game on the schedule. Carolina was looking for a replacement after its game with Boston College scheduled for Tuesday was postponed due to COVID-19.
Williams said communication with Marquette began last week when the Tar Heels were looking for a game that eventually led to playing Northeastern.
“I’m not going to do anybody a favor, period, unless it’s going to be something good for my team,” Williams said. “And I got to think it that’s the way that Steve operates his team. We had discussions last week and then when it became official that Boston College was out we had several conversations over the weekend.”
How Tar Heels, Golden Eagles paired up
Marquette was staring at 10 days off between games after having its originally scheduled game against St. John’s on Feb. 20 moved up to Jan. 31. Playing in Chapel Hill is the fourth of six straight road games. The Golden Eagles (10-12) are trying to play their way into NCAA tournament conversation and the only way to do that is with Quad I wins.
“My preference when we were looking for games was to play as good a game as we could find,” Wojciechowski said. “For a number of reasons, one of them was to give ourselves an opportunity against an outstanding team and we’ve done that with North Carolina. Then when we go up to Connecticut, that will be another opportunity for our guys.”
Marquette has seemingly been making adjustments since the players first arrived on campus this summer. They couldn’t access their basketball facilities as usual because preparations for the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee forced them out. Wojciechowski said not having much of a summer or a preseason to get players acclimated slowed the progress of his team, not to mention injuries to key players.
“There’s a lot of challenges that COVID brings along and the most obvious ones and the ones that are oftentimes discussed the most are the pauses,” Wojciechowski said. “You’re not limited to those challenges, there’s more to it, whether it’s the isolation or all the things you have to do on a daily basis.”
Wojo’s team will practice at Duke’s Cameron Indoor
It will be Wojciechowski’s first trip back to the Triangle since becoming the head coach at Marquette the 2014-15 season.
The Eagles were in the same bracket as Duke in the 2017 NCAA tournament and could have faced them in the second round. But they lost to South Carolina in the first round and the Gamecocks eventually beat the Blue Devils.
Wojciechowski will take his new school to see the old while they’re so close. He said the team will stay in Chapel Hill Wednesday night and practice in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday before leaving for UConn.
“I’m sure, while I’m down there, there will be different things that I see that will spark memories of the times that I had in that area -- and it’s a great area,” Wojciechowski said. “I appreciated my time at Duke and Durham and as a part of that community and so I cherish that area. But more than anything, I’m excited about the opportunity for our program and our kids to play in the Dean Dome against a really talented team that’s obviously tremendously well coached.”
Marquette at UNC
When: 7 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill