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St. Norbert Men’s Basketball faces Division I teams in two straight exhibition games this season: the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, followed the next day by Marquette University.

Green Knights Set Sights on Back-to-Back Division I Matchups

It’s been seven years since St. Norbert Men’s Basketball last played a Division I team in an exhibition game. This season, the Green Knights will play two back to back.

St. Norbert will tip off Oct. 28 against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay at the Kress Events Center before traveling Oct. 29 to Milwaukee to face Marquette University at Fiserv Forum.

“It’s a great opportunity for our kids,” says Coach Gary Grzesk, who begins his 14th season at St. Norbert.

So how do the Division III Green Knights prepare for back-to-back matchups with Division I teams?

“There are a couple of thought processes about the game,” Grzesk says. “You can go in there and try to evaluate everyone on your team and play the game out, or you can try to play who you think are your top players and compete as long as you can.”

“Realistically, we want to control what we can control; our effort, our preparation, how we execute,” he adds. “They are keeping score, so you do play to win. If you have a chance to be competitive and in the game, I think that’s a good thing.”

If Grzesk could change anything, he would like the games a few days apart to give the team some practice time and a chance to review film before taking on the next opponent. “Back to back isn’t ideal,” he says. “We do play some [back-to-back games] in conference, so in some respects that prepares us. … But we’re excited about it.”

A chance to play on the big court
The seniors on the current squad, including 2019 all-Midwest Conference selections Connor Curtis (first team) and Joe Ciriacks (second team), have experience playing at the Kress Events Center, home to the UW-Green Bay Phoenix. The facility also served as the home court for the Green Knights during the 2016-17 season when the Schuldes Sports Center was undergoing its transformation to the Mulva Family Fitness & Sports Center.

“The Kress is not as intimidating as Fiserv Forum,” says Grzesk, the 2019 Midwest Conference Coach of the Year. “It’s a little bit more intimate, a little smaller, but still bigger than our home gym.”

Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks in addition to the Marquette Golden Eagles, seats 17,500 for basketball. The Golden Eagles are led by 2019 Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard who averaged 25 points per game last season.

“Somebody asked me, ‘What kind of defense are you going to play?’” Grzesk says. His response: “‘We are going to play a triangle and two and put the two guys on Markus Howard,’” acknowledges the coach with a laugh. “For our guys to compete there and test ourselves at that level will be a great experience and something those guys can remember for the rest of their lives. How many Division III kids can say they played against Marquette at Fiserv Forum where the Bucks play?”

The Marquette game also will be special for the coach’s family. Grzesk’s dad, Gary Grzesk Sr., is a Marquette alumnus who played in the 1970s under Al McGuire.

Ready for the season
The regular season for the Green Knights starts with a pair of road trips to Illinois to play Benedictine University and Elmhurst College. The nonconference schedule also includes a home matchup against the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, the defending national champions.

“We are definitely not ducking anyone with our schedule between Green Bay, Marquette, Oshkosh. … It’s a very competitive nonconference schedule,” says Grzesk. “We want to use those games to prepare us for the conference, which is the most important thing.”

Oct. 22, 2019