Ok, here we go then.
The big time fancy part of the Marquette women’s basketball season starts on Sunday afternoon. From here on out, with one teensy exception, it’s either teams with NCAA tournament aspirations or Big East league foes on the docket. 11 road games, 13 home games. With a 5-1 record so far on the season, MU’s quest to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history begins in earnest with Sunday’s home game against Michigan.
The good news is that Marquette already has two top 25 opponents to set a basis for their postseason profile in South Dakota State and Miami. Yeah, it’s early, and yeah, things can move. But that’s a good place to start. There’s two more top 25 teams coming up in the next six contests, and three more top 100 squads. The goal for women’s basketball has to be the same it was for women’s volleyball: Get a top 16 seed so they can host the NCAA tournament’s first two rounds. There is so much of an advantage to playing home games in those first two games, especially in the second round where you’re tangling with a team that’s proven at that point to be a top 35 team. You can see that #22 ranking in the AP poll next to Marquette’s name up at the top of the page, so it’s obvious that MU is close to that top 16. They’re going to need to put up the wins to prove that they belong there. That might get hard when you’re talking about playing the two teams that were in the national championship game last season as the Golden Eagles will be doing over the next six games, but that ratchets up the value of a win in the other ones, which includes Sunday against Michigan.
There’s a lot of balls in the air, and it’s probably good news that Marquette didn’t absolutely wreck UWM on Wednesday night. Four of their five wins have been by more than 40 points. The Panthers keeping it inside 30 for the entire game and fighting back to single digits late can, hopefully, theoretically, potentially, give the Golden Eagles an idea of what they’re going to get as the competition ramps up. Combine that with what head coach Carolyn Kieger said was a first half performance that didn’t match what MU is capable of in the loss against Miami, and her staff has a basket full of things to work on with the team. Can they turn that into wins against the toughest opponents of the season? We’ll have to wait and see, but we won’t have to wait that long.
Game #7: vs Michigan Wolverines (5-2)
Date: Sunday, December 2, 2018
Time: 4pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, WI
Video Streaming: GoMarquette.com
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Special Promotion: It’s Ugly Christmas Sweater Day at the McGuire Center. 1st 500 fans get a Marquette ugly Christmas sweater T-shirt; the fan wearing the best/worst Ugly Christmas Sweater to the game gets $100; and ANYONE wearing holiday gear of any kind gets in for FREE.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB
Marquette is 3-5 all time against Michigan. The series first started in December of 1993, but most of the meetings have taken place since the turn of the century. Michigan has won the last two, including last year’s 82-76 contest in Ann Arbor, as well as four of the last five. MU is 2-1 all time at home against the Wolverines.
The last four games of the season have been very interesting for Michigan. On Thanksgiving Friday, they knocked off then-#21 Missouri in resounding fashion, 70-54. They followed that up the very next day with a 69-52 loss to then-#10 Texas. The very next day after that, UM squared off with Washington and picked up a seven point win. All of these games were part o the Gulf Coast Showcase down in Estero, Florida, which, as you can guess, is on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida, way down on the southern end. That’s how they swung through all those games so quickly.
The result of those games were Missouri dropping out of the poll, Texas staying at #10, and Washington staying nowhere near the poll. Oh, also Michigan picked up 10 points. Their road swing continued on Thursday as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge as they visited #13 NC State. The Wolverines had a lead on Wolfpack at halftime and were up as many as seven in the third quarter before the bottom dropped out. NC State was up six at the end of the third and ended up with a double digit victory. Not a super great four game stretch for Michigan against some strong competition, particularly for a Wolverines squad that was picked to finish third in the Big Ten this season.
Hallie Thome was included in the Big Ten’s preseason all-league team, and she’s holding up her end of the deal through seven contests. She leads UM in scoring at 14.6 points per game, and she leads in rebounding at 6.9 per game. At 6’5”, Thome is the kind of player that can give Marquette’s defense fits. She has attempted just four attempts from the three-point arc this season, and she’s missed all four. Meanwhile, Thome is shooting 60% inside the arc, and the Golden Eagles have struggled to defend dominant post presences over the past three seasons. Thome is the leader of a group that rebounds the hell out of the ball, which could be a problem for the Golden Eagles as well. Per HerHoopStats.com, Michigan ranks #23 in the country in Offensive Rebounding Rate and #9 in the country in Defensive Rebounding Rate. That’s not totals, that’s the percentages of available rebounds that they control. Marquette is a decent rebounding squad (#133 and #141 respectively in those two categories), so they’re going to need to work perhaps harder than they have all season to counter the Wolverine glass cleaning or rely on being the #21 team in the country when it comes to Effective Field Goal Percentage. You don’t need to rebound if your shots are going in, y’know?
Marquette may be able to use their size disadvantage to their advantage. UM’s top three players in terms of minutes are 6’0”, 5’11”, and 6’4”. Marquette can’t really match up with that. However, Michigan does play a slower style of hoops, and if the Golden Eagles can turn this into a high tempo game like they prefer, then the smaller size but greater agility of players like Amani Wilborn and Natisha Hiedeman can be used against the Wolverines.