Picked to finish ninth in the Big East in 2015-16 with the youngest roster in all of Division 1, Marquette surprised people in the second season under the guidance of head coach Carolyn Kieger. The Golden Eagles went 9-9 in league play which earned them a tie for fifth place in the Big East.
There were no seniors on last year’s team, so Marquette returns every single significant contributor from that squad and are picked to finish third in the Big East. Last year, Villanova missed the NCAA tournament after being tied for second place, but fourth place St. John’s made it in. To put it another way: The Big East’s coaches think that Marquette is capable of returning to the Big Dance for the first time since 2011.
We’ll dive into the reinforcements that they’re getting in a different article, but for now, we’re going to focus on what MU brings to the table as they look to improve on last year’s outing and push towards the future.
The All-Big East Duo
Marquette will be led this season by Allazia Blockton and Natisha Hiedeman. The Wisconsin natives were both All-Freshman team honorees a year ago, with Blockton earning an all-Big East Second Team spot after finishing third in the conference in scoring. Blockton broke the Big East’s 21 year old freshman scoring record last year, and both Blockton and Hiedeman surpassed Marquette’s record for points by a freshman.
This year, Blockton was one of four unanimous choices for the 11 player preseason all-Big East team that did not include DePaul’s Jessica January, the preseason Player of the Year. The way I see it, Blockton was a strong candidate for the award that January ended up with, and not just because of that unanimous selection. She’s the leading returning scorer in the league AND the leading returning rebounder at 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds respectively.
Hiedeman made it onto the preseason all-league team by doing a little bit of everything. Her only category where she was top 10 in the Big East last year was steals, where she finished third with 2.2 per contest. However, in addition to being the second Marquette freshman to ever score 400 points in a season, Hiedeman averaged 13.7 points per game, while adding 4.2 rebounds and just short of three assists per game. She shot 34% on triples, which was just enough to make defenses respect both the shot and the drive of the 5’8” guard. After breaking Marquette’s freshman records for both three point attempts and makes, Hiedeman will assuredly be looking to make another historical impact this season.
Holy crap, who stuck a quarter in McKayla Yentz last year?
The Sun Prairie native went from averaging less than seven minutes a game in 37 appearances during her first two seasons to starting every single game as a junior and playing nearly 30 minutes a night. Yentz shot just 26% overall in her first two seasons and a woeful 21% on three-pointers, but turned into a 35% long range shooter last season while tying Hiedeman for the most three point attempts on the team.
Somehow, she went from “can’t get on the floor” under Terri Mitchell to “can’t be trusted to shoot” in Carolyn Kieger’s first season to “let it fly, McKayla!” It’s an impressive revamp for a career, and that’s without even getting into the five rebounds per game that she adds to the team. Merely duplicating her junior season will be a boon for the Golden Eagles, and if she can improve on what she did last year, all the better.
The Supporting Cast
It almost seems unfair to Erika Davenport to slot her into a group with the rest of Marquette’s returning players. All she did as a freshman was take a run at Marquette’s all-time single season field goal percentage record, score more points than all but three previous freshmen to ever play for Marquette, cash in more made field goals than any first year player except for Blockton, and finish sixth in the Big East in rebounding. The 5’11” forward has the physical presence to play under the rim, but it’s clear that she’s comfortable handling the ball anywhere on the court even if she’s not a shooter.
It was a surprise to see Danielle King get the starting nod over Amani Wilborn for a majority of the season purely based on the recruiting rankings for the pair of point guards. The 5’9” Wilborn was a top 100 prospect coming out of Riverside University High School in Milwaukee, but it was the 5’5” King that started 25 games for Kieger last year. Both women were important contributors, playing more than 26 minutes a night, and each had their own way of chipping in. Wilborn is clearly the more athletic player, using her agility to hesitate at the rim and score, while King made her mark as a shooter, hitting on 34% of long range attempts. The pair were about even on rebounds (3.5 for Wilborn, 3.4 for King), while it was Wilborn who dished more assists and came up with more steals, finishing 7th in the Big East in helpers and fifth in take aways.
Shantelle Valentine provided a veteran inside presence for Marquette last year as a sophomore. She got the starting nod in 19 games and appeared in all 30 contests. She wasn’t asked to score for the Golden Eagles (4.7 points/game), but she pulled in her share of rebounds, finishing fourth on the team with 4.7 in 21 minutes a night. If Kieger’s intention for this roster holds up to what we saw in the exhibition game (aka only five minutes for the newcomers) then Valentine is going to need to provide more than the four points and one rebound in 19 minutes that she had against Minnesota State.
Of the two European players on the roster, it would seem that Olivia Moskari has more of Kieger’s confidence than Sandra Dahling. Both women only appeared in 20 contests last year with Moskari getting 69 more minutes of run by the time the season was over. Between the two of them, they went 13-for-67 (19.4%) from three point range, with those 67 attempts amounting to all but one of the shots attempted by the pair. Both of them are going to need to show the coaching staff that they can give the team something more than missed triples and five fouls apiece to get significant playing time going forward.
It would be really great if Moskari and Dahling could chip in a bit because it seems that at least for right now, Kieger doesn’t seem to have a lot of confidence in the three freshmen or redshirt junior Chelsey Gibson. That’s a topic for a different article, though.....