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#18 Marquette Women’s Basketball Preview: at #6 Mississippi State Bulldogs

The Golden Eagles head down south with a chance to make a major statement.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Kansas City Regional-Mississippi State vs North Carolina State Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Part one of a five part exam passed with flying colors.

Following Sunday’s (mostly) dominating victory over Michigan, Marquette sits at 6-1 overall with only a road loss against a very good Miami team tarnishing their record. That’s good enough to be ranked #18 in the country in the Associated Press poll, and through the end of action on Tuesday, December 4th, the Golden Eagles are set up as the #8 team in the NCAA’s RPI calculation. They have a 2-1 record against top 25 teams already, which is very good news already at this part of the year.

But the schedule doesn’t slow down at all. Thursday sends Marquette on the road against the RPI’s #45 team, and then Sunday means a road trip against #63. Then #45 comes to the McGuire Center, and after a respite with Binghamton, the #1 RPI team in the country has a date scheduled in Milwaukee.

Like I said, part one of five.

The way things have gone so far this season for Marquette bodes very well. It’s a four month long excursion dedicated to one goal, the same goal that already paid dividends for MU’s volleyball team: Hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. The past two seasons have seen Marquette’s first back-to-back trips to the NCAA tournament in nearly two decades, and 2018 brought MU’s first second round appearance since 2011. With the NCAA organizing the tournament with the 16 best teams hosting the first two rounds, there’s a heavy, heavy, heavy advantage for those 16 teams when it comes to advancing to the second weekend.

Marquette doesn’t need to ace this five part exam. But if they want to get a crack at those home games in March, it probably means a 3-2 record at the least. There’s no shame in going down to Mississippi and losing on Thursday night. It’s a road game against a team that’s used to 1) winning non-con games (44 straight) and 2) getting to the NCAA championship game after getting there the past two seasons. It’s a huge opportunity for the Golden Eagles, and thankfully, MU is already playing with house money. No drawback if they lose, only benefits if they win.

May as well go ahead and win, huh?

Game #8: at #6 Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-0)

Date: Thursday, December 6, 2018
Time: 7pm Central
Location: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, MS
Video Streaming: SEC Network+/WatchESPN, which I think is available as long as your cable package gets SEC Network
Radio Streaming: HailState.com/TuneIn
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

This is Marquette’s first ever meeting with Mississippi State. That’s fun.

Ok, let’s talk about two unavoidable truths regarding MSU women’s hoops. Truth #1: Mississippi State returns eight women from a team that lost just twice last year: Once in the SEC Championship Game and once in the National Championship game. That group includes Teaira McCowan, who was an All-American last year as well as the national Defensive Player of the Year and opened 2018-19 as the SEC Preseason Player of the Year as well as the nation’s leading returning rebounder. Truth #2: MSU has played eight games and hasn’t even remotely been tested by any of their opponents, and that includes going on the road against then-#10 Texas in their most recent game. They went into Austin, led by nine at the end of the first quarter, and then spent the rest of the game just casually walking away to an 18 point win. All due respect to the Coppin States of the world, but MSU has just been ripping through teams by an average margin of over 46 points per game.

Last time out we talked about Marquette’s need to mitigate Michigan’s ability to rebound the ball. Thankfully, MU passed that test with flying colors, but that was merely the midterm to prepare for the final exam that they’ll see in this game. Mississippi State is the #1 offensive rebounding team in the country per HerHoopStats.com, reeling in an absolutely ridiculous 51.7% of their missed shots. That ain’t right. How are they doing this? Well, technically speaking, they’re doing it by way of something that is straight up banned in the Big East. Yes, Teaira McCowan is the biggest target, both in terms of size (she’s 6’7”!) and in terms of stats. She ranks sixth in the country in individual offensive rebounding rate and snatches up over five offensive rebounds per game. The so-to-speakin cheatin’ aspect comes in with the graduate transfer of 5’11” Anriel Howard. She set the Texas A&M career record for rebounds by becoming the first ever Aggie with over 1,000 to her credit, and she did it in just three years..... and then transferred to MSU, another SEC school. This would be straight up verboten in the Big East, but the SEC is all “whatever, lol, have fun.” Howard is second in the SEC’s active players in rebounds trailing only (and obviously) McCowan. Have fun with that, MU!

At least the Bulldogs are “only” ranked #104 in defensive rebounding rate, per HHS. They’re not as elite as Michigan is on both ends, so yay, I guess. Marquette was able to use speed, athleticism, and elusiveness not to mention really great shooting to counter Michigan’s rebounding advantages this past Sunday afternoon. Can they do that for a second straight game? It would stand to reason that the same game plan would work to a certain extent, except now Mississippi State has gotten a look at the tape.

As much as MU will have to deal with McCowan on the interior (she’s scoring nearly 19 points a game and shooting 70%), she’s not the only offensive threat, and no, I don’t just mean Howard. Sophomore Chloe Bibby is shooting 58% from behind the arc so far this season, and she’s doing it on nearly five attempts per game. It goes without saying that at least some of her ability to knock it down is derived from McCowan’s size creating a massive mismatch for nearly everyone on the inside, so it’s going to take some creativity on Marquette’s part to figure out how to at least slow down both ends of the Bulldog offense.