There are lots of story lines for this Marquette squad as they start off the 2017-18 season. The biggest one is that the Golden Eagles are returning their top five leading scorers from last season who all averaged double-digit points. This has earned them a top 25 spot in both the AP and USA Today preseason polls for the first time in program history. This is well deserved for an MU team that made it to the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in six years. Having said that, what can we expect from their opening game against New Mexico?
The Golden Eagles will get right down to business and we’ll see very similar play from them as we saw last year. They will move the ball around exceptionally well and first look to get their 3-point shooters open from behind the arc. If that’s not open, they’ll get the ball inside to Erika Davenport or Shantelle Valentine and have them bully the opposing defenses. Then if the paint isn’t open, Natisha Hiedeman can always find a way to create for herself or for her teammates. Worst case scenario, give it to Allazia Blockton and let the best player in the Big East do her thing. This team is coming off a year where they had the highest field goal percentage rate at .460 and were the second highest scoring offense with 78.8 points per game in the Big East. We can expect a similar trend in the season opener from an MU side that is very experienced and very dangerous.
No worries for fourth year head coach Carolyn Kieger on offense. Her focus in the offseason was definitely improving the defensive side of the ball. MU ranked second to last in the Big East in points per game against giving up 70.2 per game. Part of this is merely the fact that Marquette is trying to play faster than everyone else, which is going to lead to the opponent scoring more purely because of the number of possessions. But if Kieger says they have to be better defensively, then that will have to be better this year if they want remain a top 25 team the entire season. I still think their offense will out-score most teams but it would be nice for the Golden Eagles to be more balanced this year and not have to count on incredible offensive performances in big games. I think an improved defense will make the difference when the Big East tournament rolls around. I expect the Golden Eagles to really stress playing sound defense against New Mexico.
Game #1: at New Mexico Lobos (1-0)
Date: Monday, November 13, 2017
Time: 8pm Central
Location: Dreamstyle Arena, Albuquerque, NM
Video Streaming: Mountain West Network
Radio Streaming: GoLobos.com
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB
The New Mexico Lobos finished the year last season at an even .500 going 15-15. They lost their last four games of the season and were knocked out in the quarterfinal round of the Mountain West Tournament by Boise State. Marquette beat New Mexico 62-52 in last year’s match-up, which was in Milwaukee. The Lobos have started this season by beating Western Michigan 88-76 at home. They are returning their four of their top five scorers from last season. Who are the players to watch for the Golden Eagles?
New Mexico’s leading scorer from last year was Cherise Beynon who averaged 15.8 points per game. The MU defense should definitely hone in on her considering she’s already started this year hot dropping 24 points against Western Michigan. Jaisa Nunn is another top scorer from last season that played well in the opener with 18 points. A newcomer that performed well for the Lobos was Tesha Buck. She had 22 points and five assists while hitting 5 of 8 from behind the arc. Marquette will have to limit these three players’ scoring chances if they want to win comfortably.
Nothing really stood out to me about New Mexico’s season last year. They had an average point differential at +5. They didn’t have any big wins last season, unless you count beating the eventual conference champion during the regular season who they lost to in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament anyway. Something that can be exploited is the Lobos 3-point defense. They struggled in this department giving up an average of 7.2 threes per game. This is good news for players like Natisha Hiedeman that will look to pick up where they left off last year. The Golden Eagles should have no problem with New Mexico as long as they are alert defensively, and there’s no doubt about their attacking capabilities. You can basically expect Erika Davenport to record a double-double as she nearly averaged one last season with 13.2 points and 9.2 rebounds and Allazia Blockton is likely going to lead MU in scoring with a 20+ game.
The season opener should be smooth sailing for a Golden Eagle team that has big plans for this year.