With a record of 4-3, Marquette heads into their final non-conference game on Saturday afternoon. As you can guess from the headline on the page, Marquette is not going to be favored to win this game, nor will they be favored to snap the program’s oh-fer streak against ranked opponents.
I want to talk about what Saturday’s game means in a bigger picture.
As mentioned, Marquette is 4-3 this season. Four wins against teams they absolutely should have beaten, two losses against teams that they were not favored to beat and one loss — the road trip to Louisville — that was a question mark heading in based on the tumult around the UL program this school year. It’s not surprising that Marquette lost to the Cardinals, given the kind of coach that Louisville brought in on short notice to boost the energy in their program, so we can chalk that one up next to the losses to Johns Hopkins and Notre Dame as “well, that makes sense” at the very least.
The point I’m slowly circling around to is that Marquette starts Big East play next week, and the Golden Eagles are probably going to need to beat a team that they may not be favored to beat if they want to finish in the top four in the league and qualify for the conference tournament for the first time ever.
Florida is ranked #4 in the country in the Cascade media poll. Denver is #16. Georgetown is getting votes. That would qualify as “not favored to win,” especially with the Gators and the Hoyas on the schedule as road trips. That’s three potential obvious losses right there, and last season, three losses meant finishing fourth in the Big East and grabbing that final conference tournament spot. If we take Hero Sports as a credible version of assessing team strength, and we kind of have to with the NCAA not releasing an official RPI quite yet, Marquette sits in fifth in the Big East right now, trailing those three squads and Vanderbilt as well. Weirdly, Hero Sports doesn’t have the Louisville game factored in, although they have the record correct, so things may be worse than they appear right now.
What I’m trying to say is this: Marquette kind of needs to prove to themselves that they can hang with a quality team right now. I’m not saying “season on the line” or anything like that for Saturday. Without an upset (or maybe two or three?) in league play, though, Marquette is going to be sitting at home when the Big East tournament starts. They need a strong showing against Northwestern on Saturday to show it to themselves that they can go out and win the tough games to get that postseason spot.
I think they can do it. Let’s see what happens.
Game #8: at #12 Northwestern Wildcats (4-2)
Date: Saturday, March 10, 2018
Time: Noon Central
Location: Martin Stadium, Evanston, IL
Streaming: BTN2Go Plus has the stream, but it will cost you $10 for a month of Northwestern access.
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWLax
Marquette is currently 0-4 all time against Northwestern. The two teams have hooked it up in each of the last four seasons, with the Wildcats sitting somewhere in the top 20 rankings each and every time. The Wildcats have never won by fewer than six goals. That 17-11 game came in 2016, and the Golden Eagles trailed by just two, 12-10 after a Taylor Smith goal with 8:42 remaining. And then the Wildcats scored five straight.
To give you an idea of how rough things are for Northwestern in their league this season, let’s put this way: The currently #12 ranked Wildcats aren’t even picked as the runner up in the Big Ten this season. That honor goes to Penn State, currently ranked #20. Both squads have to fall in line behind reigning national champions Maryland, currently ranked #5. They’ll also have to play the same Johns Hopkins squad that dropped Marquette 14-7 earlier this season. Seems like not a super fun time, unless you suddenly start pulling upsets out of the woodwork.
That’s something that Northwestern hasn’t done yet this season, falling on the road, 9-5, to then-#19 Duke and then dropping a home date, 15-10, to #1 Stony Brook. No one’s going to fault any one on the NU sideline for any of this, of course, but it’s just not winning in a slightly unexpected manner. Worse yet for Marquette, this just means that the Wildcats are hungry for a win, with those losses coming in their last three contests. What was the third? Oh, a home 9-5 win over #6 USC. Before that? A home 15-8 win over #17 Colorado. It could be a long afternoon for the Golden Eagles.
If Marquette wants to shock the world, they’re going to have to stop or at the very least disrupt the trio of Selena Lasota, Danita Stroup, and Sheila Nesselbush. All three have double digit goals on the season through six games, led by Lasota with 15, and all have at least two assists, again with Lasota pacing the group at six. Unsurprisingly, with the team lead in both categories, Lasota has 21 points to lead NU in that department as well. Marquette is going to have to contend with Shelby Fredericks as well, who earned a spot on the Big Ten’s Players To Watch list in the preseason. She’s only played in Northwestern’s last two games, but she has a goal, an assist, and 19 draw controls after setting a program record for draws last season.
Mallory Weisse set a Northwestern record for saves last season, but she’s been relegated to backup duties behind Julie Krupnick. The freshman from New Jersey has started every game this season for head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, and she’s played every minute of Northwestern’s four games against ranked foes. With a goals-against average of 8.20 and a save percentage of .438, you can see why Krupnick has earned the favor of the coaching staff.