I tell you what, sports fans: I was a lot more excited about this Marquette women’s basketball season before last Thursday night’s exhibition game against Grand Valley State.
Marquette starts the year ranked #19 in the country in the Associated Press poll, and officially, the poll voters can’t take into account the fact that MU lost that exhibition game, 77-75. Quite honestly, the loss doesn’t bother me as much as the process of how they got there. Amani Wilborn was not in uniform for an as-yet undisclosed reason, Marquette committed 15 fouls in the first half and thus set themselves up for having Erika Davenport foul out in just 20 minutes of action and another three players get handcuffed with four fouls, and GVSU’s 6’4” center wrecked the Golden Eagles, shooting 11-for-15 from the field.
It was like a greatest hits version of “here’s all of the problems that can rear their head for Marquette all at the same time.”
Maybe everything will get all straightened out in between Friday and Tuesday morning. Maybe Wilborn will be back in the lineup and her skills bring a balance back to the lineup that benefits Marquette more than we realize. Maybe Amanda Maqueia shakes off her four fouls in four minutes performance and gives Carolyn Kieger solid minutes defending the rim. Maybe Natisha Hiedeman doesn’t shoot just 2-for-11 with five misses in the fourth quarter as the Golden Eagles tried to rally from a four point deficit when the period started. Maybe they can get the regular season off on the right foot as they take a run at a second straight Big East regular season championship and set their sights on reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.
Game #1: vs South Dakota State Jackrabbits (0-0)
Marquette is 4-2 all time against South Dakota State. All six meetings between the two teams have come since the turn of the century, and four of them have been this decade. SDSU won each of the last two meetings, which came in November of 2014 and November of 2015.
SDSU went 26-7 last season and won the Summit League conference tournament, which earned them a #8 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Jackrabbits return their top three scorers and five of their top six, so this shapes up to be a fairly solid test for Marquette straight out of the gate. Macy Miller is the star of the show, and she’s the star of the Summit League, too. She is the reigning Summit League Player of the Year, a two-time Summit League tournament MVP, and a two-time Summit League Preseason Player of the Year after picking up that last honor heading into this season. Miller’s 18.3 points led the team and the entire conference last season, and Marquette is going to have to keep someone with her at all times. She shot 45% from long range last season and led the team in rebounds and assists, too.
Miller was joined on the preseason all-conference First Team by Madison Geubert, who averaged 15 points and 2.2 rebounds last season while shooting 38% from long range on nearly seven attempts a game. Myah Selland and Tagyn Larson earned all-league Second Team honors on the preseason balloting, and at this point, it should not surprise you to find out that the Jackrabbits are the preseason favorite to win the conference.
Last season, South Dakota State was a middle of the road team in terms of tempo, but they had the #13 most efficient offense in the country according to Her Hoop Stats and they were a top 100 team in defensive efficiency, too. Since they return most of their key contributors, I think it’s safe to expect mostly the same kind of performances from SDSU in this game, and the game may come down to whether or not Marquette can force turnovers to speed up the game. South Dakota State was one of the 50 best teams in the country when it came to taking care of the ball last year, so forcing it free from them might be difficult.