Welcome to the third and final part of Marquette Golden Eagles women’s basketball preseason questions. We have already talked about the freshmen and the returning players on this Golden Eagle squad. If you haven’t had a chance to read those, definitely go back and check them out. It will get you very excited about our women’s basketball team this year. Here, we’re going to try to ask and answer my three questions that I have for Marquette this year. I love stating the obvious but there are many reason to be absolutely ecstatic about the Golden Eagles this season.
Question #1: Both individual and team preseason awards are being handed out to Marquette so just how much better will they be this year?
What do Natisha Hiedeman, Allazia Blockton, and Erika Davenport all have in common? Other than being Marquette’s three best players, they have all earned national recognition with preseason awards. Davenport was named to the Cheryl Miller Award Watch List. This is given to the top 20 small forwards in the country and it’s the first year this award is going to be handed out. Hiedeman and Blockton were both named to the Meyers Drysdale Award Watch List, which is given to the top shooting guards in the country. I’ll tell you this much: Marquette sure picked a good year to be very good at basketball, as this is the first year that both of these awards will be handed out. Davenport and Hiedeman are both picked on the preseason All-Big East team, with Davenport being a unanimous choice, while Blockton has been tabbed as the unanimous preseason pick for the Big East Player of the Year. Yes, it’s weird that Blockton’s not on the preseason all-league team. It’s safe to say the voters of these awards expect MU to be a powerhouse in the Big East this year. Am I forgetting something? Oh, that’s right, MU is also picked as the unanimous Big East conference champion.
Last year, the Golden Eagles were a team that surprised most people by roaring on to the scene and upsetting DePaul in the Big East championship game. Well, kind of upsetting the Blue Demons. MU swept the season series from DePaul, but the Golden Eagles ended up in third place in the league. I think they will be a better team this year because their star players are a little older now and have tournament experience. They are also deeper this year than they were last year with many role players that can come off the bench and provide quality minutes. Isabelle Spingola and Lauren Van Kleunen are two players that are likely to be among the first group of players to relieve the power starting five. Van Kleunen red-shirted her first year and Spingola got limited playing time last season. However, both have the ability to shoot from distance and I’m interested to see how Coach Carolyn Kieger will use them this season. The Golden Eagles are a bit deeper and they are more experienced than they were last year so I fully expect them to ramp it up a notch with all five of their returning starters returning this season.
Question #2: With all the hype surrounding the Golden Eagles, are there any teams that can realistically challenge them for the Big east title?
The only team that has a chance to challenge the Golden Eagles for the Big East championship is DePaul. The Blue Demons led almost the entire way last year before falling to the Golden Eagles in the Big East title game. MU actually had DePaul’s number beating them in all three meetings last season. Both teams ended up making the NCAA Tournament and were joined by Creighton to rep the Big East in March Madness. In both the AP and USA Today preseason polls the Golden Eagles and the Blue Demons are in the top 25. MU has the slight edge in both polls and as mentioned earlier are the unanimous preseason pick to win the Big East.
So what separates the two squads? Experience. More than half of DePaul’s team is underclassmen. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing except that they only have five returning players from last season. Even though the preseason polls has them more or less neck-and-neck with Marquette, it’s really uncertain how well the Blue Demons will play this season now that a bunch of their key players have either graduated or left. And let’s be honest, preseason polls don’t mean much anyway. Not to mention DePaul has already dropped their first game of the year against Northern Colorado 94-88. Yeah! That’s a thing! The Blue Demons gave up 37 free throws of which 33 of them were converted by the Bears. Not a good start for a DePaul team that only lost twice to un-ranked teams all last season (not including Marquette). Both of those losses came to teams that eventually made the Tournament.
My point here is I think DePaul will not be as good as they were last year when they went 16-2 in conference play. Although they realistically have a chance to challenge the Golden Eagles for the Big East title, I don’t think there will be a question who will be holding the Big East championship trophy at the end of the season.
Question #3: How far can this team go in THE Tournament?
I know the season hasn’t started yet...but it’s never too early to make NCAA Tournament predictions! I think this team is good enough to get into the Elite Eight. The key for them will be how good they can play their extremely difficult non-conference schedule. They are playing three teams that are currently in the top 25 including a #6 ranked Notre Dame in their last game before the start of Big East play. If they can get the momentum going early, I think an Elite Eight trip isn’t out of the question for an MU side that has a wealth of returning talent from last year. I believe this is the year that the Golden Eagles put it all together, which is scary as hell, considering nearly this entire team will be back again in 2018-19. They are building off an incredible year where they not only won a Big East title, but also had four players finish the season averaging double-digit points. MU finished the year on an eight game win streak before losing a heart-breaker to Quinnipiac in the first round of the Tournament. That experience will help them have that extra motivation to get back to the NCAA tournament and go on a deeper run. I see this team being more consistent this season with definite potential to make the Elite Eight.