Okay, so, the road game against Florida didn’t exactly go as we might have hoped.
It did, however, go somewhat what we might have expected given Marquette‘s past few encounters with the Gators. As a result, MU’s Big East tournament hopes were never really pinned on coming away from Gainesville with a win, especially not with three games left to be played.
To that end, let’s reset the deck heading into Wednesday afternoon’s clash. Florida maintains their lead in the Big East at 6-0. Georgetown and Marquette are tied for second at 5-1, and Denver holds the fourth and final conference tournament berth at 4-2. With three games left to go, Marquette can not finish any lower than seventh. Given that there’s a three-way tie for fifth and that MU already holds wins over two of those teams and closes the regular season with the third, things are looking pretty solid for Marquette. With all 10 teams in the league in action on Wednesday afternoon, there’s a chance that the Golden Eagles could be teetering on the edge of clinching a tournament spot if they take care of business at home.
It’s not going to be easy, though. It was quietly crucial for Marquette to get out to a 5-0 start in Big East play. Wednesday’s game against the Pioneers is the second of three straight league games against teams that are receiving votes in the media top 20 poll. Given that Marquette is still chasing their first ever win against a ranked team, the outlook for beating a team that’s receiving votes in the polls isn’t particularly rosy. Thus, with the odds slightly against them in this three game string, it was kind of a big deal that MU stacked those five wins in the front of the league schedule. It puts them in a position to benefit greatly from pulling off a win as well as having a bit of wiggle room to absorb a loss.
Short version? Six wins was good enough for a conference tournament berth last year. That might be the case this year, too. Marquette has three cracks left to get that sixth victory. It’s always better to get it sooner rather than later.
Grace Gabriel Watch: The way the first half against Florida unfolded was a pretty big bummer across the board. It was actually a bigger bummer than it looks on the surface, though. Grace Gabriel picked up her second yellow card of the game with 7:02 left in the first half, and thus, she was disqualified for the remaining 37 minutes of action. She left the game with just two shots and nary a point scored. As a result, she’s still at 51 goals on the season and 111 in her two-plus year career. That’s still four goals away from Julianna Shearer’s single season record of 55 and Shearer’s career record of 115. After the goose egg in Gainesville, Gabriel is averaging 3.64 goals per game, so she’s absolutely capable of throwing in all four on Wednesday afternoon. In fact, it might even be a requirement for Marquette to secure the victory.
Big East Game #7: vs Denver Pioneers (9-4, 3-2)
Marquette is 0-2 all time against Denver. Both meetings came in the last two regular seasons, but only last year’s encounter was a conference meeting, as 2017 was the first year in the Big East for the Pioneers. In both meetings, Marquette lost by six goals, but this will be the first meeting between the two teams in Milwaukee.
Denver has been flirting with a national ranking in the Cascade media poll for most of this season. In fact, they had risen to #16 in the poll in Week 4, and that came immediately after losing to #1 Stony Brook. They stayed in the top 20 after losing to Virginia Tech in the very next game, but what cost them a spot in the rankings was their Big East opening loss to Temple. Denver has only lost one other time since then, an 8-7 loss to Georgetown at home, but they’re still earning votes in the poll.
The Pioneers’ offense presents an interesting riddle for the Marquette defense. Denver is A-OK with shooting, averaging just a fraction few shots per game than the Golden Eagles. Where they get into a problem is their accuracy. Denver is the worst shooting team in the conference, putting just 38.3% of their shots into the back of the net. That’s how you end up ranking 8th in the league in goals and points per game. That accuracy issue is an even bigger problem for the Pioneers when you consider that they have the fourth highest turnovers per game in the Big East. Missing the net, but not coughing it up? That’s fine. Hitting the net, but coughing it up? Also fine. Both? Big problem.
So how are they 9-4? Defense, pure and simple. Denver is the only team in the Big East allowing fewer than 10 goals per game, and they’re all the way down at 8.77 per contest. As much as Denver turns the ball over, their defense creates even more turnovers. It’s not by much, of course, but when you’re ending up on the positive side of the equation, you’re doing okay. They’re also starting things off with the ball more than their opponents. Denver wins the draw control battle by nearly two draws per game on average, and a large part of that is due to Maddie Baum. She’s averaging over 5.5 draw controls per game, and usually gives DU the advantage. I say usually, because she’s only second in the Big East to MU’s Grace Gabriel.
Denver is barely represented in the top 10 scorers in the league, with Julia Feiss popping in a tie for 10th at 2.62 goals per game. Her 34 goals on the season are nine more than the next best scorer on the roster. However, Quintin Hoch-Bullen, a freshman from Canada, is just two points behind Feiss for the team lead in that department thanks to her 13 assists. Kendra Lanuza is the most prolific passer on the team, leading the way with 16 helpers, which ranks her with the 9th best average in the Big East.
Sophomore Carson Gregg has taken over the net for DU after making just four appearances last season. Her goals-against average of 9.22 leads the Big East amongst regular starters, which shouldn’t be a surprise given how big of a lead they have as a team in that department. Her save percentage is only third best in the league, so if Marquette can generate shots against the Pioneers, they may be able to overcome Denver’s overall defensive prowess.