After Wednesday night’s action in the Big East, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles find themselves still undefeated at 5-0, and still out in front of the rest of the league. They have a one game lead on 4-1 DePaul, and a two game lead on both Villanova and Butler. There’s a lot of basketball left to be played, obviously, but things are starting to fall into place for MU already. When you have a two game lead against two teams that you still have to play twice, you have to start feeling pretty good about your ability to maintain your lead in the standings.
Head coach Carolyn Kieger and her staff will be tasked with the job of maintaining Marquette’s edge over the next six weeks. The lead that the Golden Eagles have in the standings doesn’t mean that their opponents aren’t capable of jumping up and catching them if they’re not ready for action night in and night out. At the same time, the coaches have to be prepared to eventually handle getting this team straightened back out if they were to lose a game, but at the same time prepare them for the mental fortitude necessary for running the table.
Yeah, that’s right. I just opened the door, five games in to conference play, to the idea of Marquette winning out until March. I mean, how can you not? The Golden Eagles are riding a 13 game home winning streak, so they may be able to lean on the McGuire Center being a fortress for them. On top of that, they’ve already gone to Omaha and emerged victorious, and with four straight wins in the series in their back pocket, the upcoming visit to DePaul can not be that foreboding.
It’s going to take a hell of a lot of work, and probably a lot of contributions from Marquette’s bench, but it’s possible. I know that Besay discussed that the team was capable of pulling it off in his mid-year reset article, but with relatively easy wins over DePaul and Creighton in the rear view already, you have to actually think it’s possible.
One game at a time, though, and Marquette can focus on the advantages of each individual game. In Friday night’s case, they get to expand their margin over third place in the league.
Allazia Blockton Watch: After collecting 18 points against Providence, the junior guard is up to 1,439 career points. That gives her the 11th highest point total in program history, surpassing Clare Barnard’s 1,356. It’s going to be a while before she gets to #10 all time, as Katherine Plouffe is at 1,551.
Natisha Hiedeman Watch: The junior guard added five points in MU’s last outing to move to 1,071 career points to pass Kiesha Oliver (1,061) at #24 all-time. Up next is Sarina Simmons at #23 with 1,073 points, and Danielle Kamm’s 1,079 isn’t that far past that.
Erika Davenport Watch: With 10 points against the Friars, the junior forward is up to 976 career points, and she remains on track to become the 27th 1,000 point scorer in program history. I feel safe in predicting that she’ll get there sometime during Sunday’s game.
Big East Game #6: vs Butler Bulldogs (11-6, 3-2 Big East)
Marquette has a 9-7 all time record against the Bulldogs. The Golden Eagles have won each of the last five meetings, and have won eight of the last 10 as well.
Well, credit where credit is due, and we have to credit BU head coach Kurt Godlevske for what is a pretty solid turnaround from last season by the Bulldogs. With their next win of the season, Butler will have won twice as many games as they did all of last season. The big difference is the addition of 5’5” guard Whitney Jennings. She sat out last season after a transfer from Iowa, and she’s making a major impact already. Jennings leads the team in scoring at just over 18 per game, and in assists at three per contest. The other major change is the return of Kristen Spolyar. In her first season in Indianapolis, the 5’10” sophomore missed the final 15 games of the season with a right knee injury. She had started 15 of Butler’s first 16 games, so that was a significant loss. She’s essentially recreating her freshman year this time around, scoring just a wee bit less (12.4 ppg), but rebounding (3.9 rpg) just as much.
Still, even with those two wrecking shop, Marquette’s biggest concern will be Tori Schickel. She’s one of just three players in the conference averaging a double-double, and Schickel’s the most dangerous of the trio. Her 10.2 rebounds per game is the second best mark in the league, but the 6’1” Evansville native is the best scorer, averaging 17.1 points. Her game is entirely located inside the arc, and Marquette has been repeatedly frustrated this season (and last) by the bigs on the opposing rosters. Last year MU was able to hone in on Schickel to shut her down because BU had so little else going on, but that won’t be the case this time around.
Marquette is going to need to focus on their rebounding in order to beat the Bulldogs. Butler cleans the glass effectively on both ends of the floor, and their excellent offensive rebounding helps boost the efficiency of an offense (just inside the top 100, per Her Hoop Stats) that struggles to connect from long distance. Spolyar is their only reliable shooter at 38% on the season, but Marquette can’t let Jennings (34%) get hot. She’s just as capable of going 5-of-10 like she did against Ball State as she is of going 2-of-10 like she did against USF.
Big East Game #7: vs Xavier Musketeers (8-8, 1-4 Big East)
Marquette is 9-7 all time against Xavier. MU holds the advantage recently, winning each of the last three, but Xavier had been on a three game streak before that.
Goal #1 for Marquette against Xavier: Speed them up. They’re one of the 40 slowest teams in the country per Her Hoop Stats, and it’s that lack of speed that helps them rank in the top 90 in effective field goal percentage. They also turn the ball over a ton, well over 21% of their possessions, which ranks in the bottom quarter of the country. That’s at their slow speed. Imagine how many times they’re going to cough it up if MU accelerates them from their 67 possession comfort zone up towards 80 where the Golden Eagles would like to play?
You can look at Xavier’s scoring leaders chart in two different ways. The first is massively depressing, the second is pretty optimistic. The first way: Their leading scorer is Imani Partlow, who averages 10.6 points per game and is the only player averaging in double digits. While that sounds like a nightmare to watch at face value, it technically gets worse. Partlow has only played in nine games this season, so just think about how offensively bankrupt the Musketeers were for their first seven contests.
The second way: Eight different Musketeers average at least five points per game. That still doesn’t sound that terrifically impressive, but remember: They play incredibly slowly and average only 52 shots per game. There just aren’t that many shots in the game for them, so when you take that into consideration, head coach (and possible Chris Mack clone) Brian Neal is running a very egalitarian system.
Xavier comes into the weekend having lost four straight, with their lone win in Big East play coming, oddly, against travel partner Butler. Go figure. They’ll be in Chicago on Friday evening to tangle with DePaul first, so odds are they’ll be sitting on five straight losses by the time Sunday afternoon rolls around.