I think we could safely say that this season has gone about as well as we could possibly expect for Marquette women’s basketball up to this point.
They’re 7-2 on the year, with both losses coming to ranked teams on the road. Can’t really argue with that, especially with both games being decided by fewer than 10 points. Marquette is a perfect 5-0 at home, with a margin of victory of 40.6 points. All but one of MU’s seven victories have been by more than 10 points, and the one outlier was a nine point win at UW-Milwaukee after the Panthers made a furious but futile rally in the fourth quarter.
If you want to take the long term view of things a little bit, through nine games, Marquette currently possesses the #7 RPI rank in the country. Yes, that’s right, seven. That’s what happens when you play two top RPI 25 opponents on the road this early in the season, even if both ended up being losses. It’s hard to project what will happen down the road in terms of RPI once you start adding more games into the mix, but it’s probably a good sign that there are five more Big East squads in the top 100.
The goal for Marquette is to be playing those first two rounds of the NCAA tournament at home as one of the top 16 seeds in the field. So far, everything is going in MU’s direction on that. Things will continue to move in that direction over the next week, as there are two quality foes coming into the McGuire Center on back-to-back Saturdays. We’ll dig into Notre Dame next week when the time comes, but for now, all that matters for Carolyn Kieger and her team is to take care of business against a UW-Green Bay team that figures to be sitting atop the Horizon League standings when March rolls around. One game at a time, just keep stacking up those wins....
Game #10: vs Green Bay Phoenix (4-4)
Marquette is — and this is serious here — 8-35 all time against Green Bay. MU lost the first 15 games in the series and 23 of the first 24. Not great! Things went in MU’s direction between 1993 and 2010 as they had a 7-6 advantage.... but Green Bay has taken each of the last six in a row.
I want to say this out loud because it’s bonkers: Green Bay was the preseason polling favorite to win the Horizon League for the 11th consecutive season this year. Part of that is because the Phoenix have won 20 straight Horizon League titles. At some point, you have to just put them in the top spot and forget about it until someone else comes along and knocks them off the perch.
This is totally bonkers. It’s bonkers that Kansas men’s basketball has won 14 straight Big 12 titles, and over here there’s Green Bay knocking out TWENTY straight. The wild part about this? THEY’VE CHANGED COACHES TWICE DURING THE STREAK. Well, technically. Kevin Borseth started the streak in his first season at the helm back in 1998-99. Borseth ended his tenure in 2007 when he took the Michigan job, and he was replaced by Matt Bollant. He won five straight titles before taking the Illinois job in 2012.... and UWGB hired Borseth to replace Bollant. Wild, huh? Borseth has won fewer than 21 games just once, in his first season, and he’s only won fewer than 27 games once since returning to Green Bay, when the Phoenix went 22-10 in 2013-14. That’s the only time that GB has not made it to the NCAA tournament since Borseth returned to the top spot.
Anyway, that brings us to this year, and things have been kind of wild for the Phoenix already. They lost their season opener at home to the Northwestern team that Marquette handled relatively easily on Sunday as the Wildcats scored the final 10 points of the game to win by two. They followed that up with a road loss to fellow Big East squad DePaul, but then went to then-#16 Missouri and came away with a 56-49 win. That was the first of three straight wins before a road trip to South Dakota and South Dakota State that resulted in two losses before GB hosted and beat Wisconsin in their most recent contest. In another turn of opponents in common, Green Bay got smoked by SDSU by thirty, and yes, that’s the same SDSU team that Marquette beat by 39. I know, I know, the transitive property doesn’t work straight up in college hoops, but that has to be something of a good sign for Marquette.
It’s going to be a fascinating contrast in styles on Saturday afternoon. Green Bay is currently marked as the eighth slowest team in the country according to the calculations on HerHoopStats.com. They’re averaging just 64.8 possessions per game. If you’re a regular reader of our discussions of Marquette women’s basketball, then you’re already mentally saying “well, that’s probably bad for them.” Yep. HHS has MU at #38 in tempo this season, speeding around at 76.5 possessions per game. Whichever team ends up managing to dictate their pace in the game is probably going to be able to win. Green Bay ranks 60th in the country in points allowed per 100 possessions, so part of their speed is related to offenses struggling to unlock the weak spots in their defense. However, Marquette is #14 in the country with over 111 points per 100 possessions, and believe it or not, MU is actually a better defensive team than Green Bay, ranking #41 in the country. If the Golden Eagles can force turnovers (#28 in the country!) and get out on the break, things are probably not going to go well for the Phoenix.
As you would expect for a team that’s not trying to go particularly fast, Green Bay has just one double-digit scorer in 5’8” guard Frankie Wurtz. The Kimberly native goes for just a shade over 11 points per game, and she’s pretty strong on the glass at 4.9 rebounds as well. Behind Wurtz, the Phoenix have five players averaging at least five points per game, and I’m digging that deep because when you’re trying to be the slowest team in the country, five points per game is a lot. That’s a pretty deep roster full of options. The interesting part of this will be seeing if Marquette can defend Green Bay inside, and yes, that’s a chorus that we’ll be hearing all year long. Less than 30% of their attempts come from behind the three-point arc, and that’s probably a good plan for Borseth, as there are only two quality shooters on the team in Lyndsey Robson (35%) and Hailey Oskey (53%). I’m actually surprised that Oskey doesn’t shoot more (less than twice a game on average), but she is a freshman, so she’s working her way into the lineup for a perennial contender.