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2017 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Preview: #5 Marquette Golden Eagles vs #12 Quinnipiac Bobcats

The Golden Eagles get a chance to cap off their stellar season with at least one NCAA tournament victory.

Yale v Quinnipiac Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

2017 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament First Round

#5 Marquette Golden Eagles (25-7) vs #12 Quinnipiac Bobcats (27-6)

When: Saturday, March 18, 2017, at 12:30pm Central
Where: Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Florida
Television: ESPN2
Streaming: WatchESPN
Live Stats: GameTracker
All Time Series: This is the first ever meeting between Marquette and Quinnipiac.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB & @QU_WBB

For the first time since 2011 and for the 10th time in program history, Marquette women’s basketball is in the NCAA tournament.

It’s a significant accomplishment for the program in just the third season under the guidance of head coach Carolyn Kieger. After going 9-22 in her first season, Kieger essentially had to restart the program from scratch in her second year. Between graduations and transfers, MU was left with just two returning players and neither one had played anything resembling a significant role to that point for the Golden Eagles. However, Kieger’s first recruiting class has been a resounding success with five women playing significant roles since Day 1, pushing Marquette to a 9-9 record in Big East play last season after a 5-6 record in non-conference action in their freshman season. That had Marquette regarded as the third best team in the conference for the 2016-17 season, and while they finished third in the standings, Kieger guided her team to three wins in three days last week to win the Big East tournament and pick up the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

On the other side of the court on Saturday will be the Quinnipiac Bobcats, and they have pretty much the exact opposite story as Marquette. Head coach Tricia Fabbri is the winningest coach in QU women’s hoops history and is in her 22nd season coaching the team. 2016-17 is their sixth straight 20 win season, fifth straight appearance in the MAAC championship game, and sixth straight postseason appearance including three NCAA tournaments. While Marquette is something of an upstart squad still figuring out what the hell they’re doing, Quinnipiac under the guidance of Fabbri is a team that very much knows who they are and what they’re doing night in and night out.

We’re going to see two teams that want to get up and down the court on Saturday afternoon. The Bobcats zip around at nearly 72 possessions per game, while the Golden Eagles, known for their high octane style, are nearly hitting 73 possessions each time out. The major difference between the squads is that Kieger runs essentially with just a six player rotation with a smidge of Shantelle Valentine and Isabelle Spingola, while Fabbri’s Bobcats have no one playing even 26 minutes per game and eight regulars playing at least 17 minutes a night. Quinnipiac is going to sub constantly and run, while Marquette is mostly going to stick with their rotation of five sophomores and McKayla Yentz while going at the same speed.

While that might bring a little bit of nervousness out of you, don’t worry. Marquette holds two significant advantages on QU. First: Quinnipiac can’t shoot. They are shooting 39% from the floor for the year, just 30% from the arc, and they have an effective field goal percentage of just 43.9%. Marquette, on the other hand? 46%/34%/51.4%. Don’t get me wrong, the Golden Eagles have been prone to bad shooting games and that has led to losses this season. If they play like they did in the Big East tournament, namely with a selfless style that led to their super-sub Amani Wilborn being named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, MU will be just fine.

The other advantage for the Golden Eagles comes in the ball control department. Quinnipiac is turning the ball over 14 times a game, which gives them a turnover rate over 20%. Marquette might play an almost out of control style and they might be willing to throw a risky pass here and there, but generally speaking, the Golden Eagles are in control. Their turnover rate is merely 16%, and that disparity leads to more shots for Marquette and we’ve already established MU’s advantage in the shooting department. MU will have to watch out for Quinnipiac’s defense though, as they force turnovers on nearly 30% of opponents’ possessions.

Erika Davenport will be a key contributor to Marquette’s success on Saturday. She’s going to need to rebound well against the Bobcats, who balance out their rough shooting by tracking down more than 34% of their missed shots and turning them into second chances. The Golden Eagles will need to keep Paula Strautmane (2.5 OR/game) and Sarah Shewan (2.2 OR/game) under wraps on the glass. Quinnipiac is an excellent offensive rebounding team, but they struggle on the defensive glass, allowing opponents to get to 30% of their misses. That sounds like a fantastic opportunity for Davenport and Allazia Blockton to carve up the Bobcats on putbacks.

Allazia Blockton Watch: Blockton scored 12 points in the Big East championship game to get her to 551 on the season and 1,112 for her career. That has the sophomore (yes, sophomore) in 21st place all time in Marquette scoring, and up next is Lori Goerlitz at 1,133. Blockton now has the third most points by a sophomore, passing Lisa Oldenburg's 535. Krystal Ellis in second place at 593 is still a bit off, though. With 218 made field goals on the season, Blockton has the second most by a sophomore and the second most by any Golden Eagle ever, but Kristen Maskala's record of 242 is still a ways off.

Natisha Hiedeman Watch: The sophomore from Green Bay has passed Courtney Weibel for the 10th most three pointers in a career with 142. Hiedeman had 68 a year ago and 74 so far this season has driven her that far up that chart as only a sophomore. Her six threes against DePaul sent her flying past Kristen Maskala's sophomore record of 69, set in 1991-92. Hiedeman also has the third most threes in any season by a Golden Eagle and another bananas game against QU (or merely extending the season with a win) could give her a chance to catch Tatiyiana McMorris at 80 threes for the second best season. Her 200 long range attempts this season are the most ever by a Marquette sophomore and two away from tying herself and McKayla Yentz from last season for the 4th most in any season. Hiedeman’s 402 career attempts from long range are the 12th most in program history.

McKayla Yentz Watch: The reason why Hiedeman is 10th in made threes is because Yentz has the 9th most made three-pointers in program history. Yentz’s 69 made threes this season moved her to 151 in her career. Courtney Romeiser and Tatiyiana McMorris are tied for seventh at 152 triples, so that's in range. She’s also one away from Kelly Schwerman’s third most makes for a senior at 70. Yentz’s evolution as a shooter for this team in her 4 year career is quite impressive, as her 180 attempts from long range this season have given her the 7th most in program history at 444. Yentz now has her sights set on Kelly Schwerman’s sixth highest total of 454, but she’ll probably need a Marquette win over Quinnipiac to get a chance to get there.

Erika Davenport Watch: The Michigan native is up to 297 rebounds on the season, which is tied with Abbie Willenborg for the second most by a Marquette sophomore. The record is 325 by Julie Sievers in 1980-81, and barring a ridiculous run by the Golden Eagles, it looks like that record may survive this season.

Team Watch: Marquette made nine three-pointers against DePaul to move them to 220 made triples this season, extending the new team record. The Golden Eagles are also in range for the team record for assists in a season. The eight assists against the Blue Demons moved MU to 534 helpers on the year, and the record is 537, set in 1994-95. It seems like a guarantee that the record will fall on Saturday afternoon.