Question #1: Will Marquette win the Big East regular season title?
Well, a majority of Big East coaches seem to think so, as five of the eight coaches that don’t lead Creighton or Marquette voted for the Golden Eagles when given the option of either team.
Last year, Marquette finished 15-3 in Big East action, one game behind Creighton’s 16-2 record. MU didn’t suffer any surprising losses, dropping road contests against Villanova and Creighton as well as a home date with Butler. All three of those squads made it to the Big East tournament alongside the Golden Eagles, so we can just file that under “well, it happens,” especially since the Nova and BU losses were in five set matches.
The Jays are going to be great again this season, earning an AVCA preseason ranking as the #13 team in the country. With that being the case, I would wager that someone is winning the Big East with a record no worse than 15-3. That means if MU wants to unseat Creighton from their spot as perennial champs, they’re going to have to be better than last year. They have the pieces to do it, as nearly every major contributor returns. But Marquette can’t afford to have slipups. They can’t afford to let Villanova win sets four and five to snag a win, nor can they do the same thing against Butler just one week later. They have to be able to slam the door on wins when given the opportunity. It’s probably going to take at least a split against Creighton as well, and that issue might get settled very quickly. Marquette plays Creighton in Omaha in the first weekend of conference action this season. Swiping a win at Sokol Arena off the top of the slate would be a major statement for the Golden Eagles.
Question #2: Can Marquette advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament?
This question is going to continue to loom over the Golden Eagles until they make it there. This decade has been incredibly kind to Marquette, as they have qualified for the national championship tourney in every season since 2011. MU has advanced to the second round in three of their seven appearances, but that’s as far as they’ve gotten each time. Logic dictates that Marquette is going to break through and reach a Sweet 16 at some point, the question is only a matter of when.
With Marquette picked to win the Big East for the first time in program history, it stands to reason that this season projects to be one where Allie Barber and crew have a better chance than most to reach the second weekend of the tournament. Here’s the catch, at least as I see it: Each time Marquette has reached the second round, they’ve been put out of the tournament by one of the 16 national seeds in the field. The way the NCAA tournament works is the top 16 seeds host the first two rounds, which means, more often than not, you get a top 16 seed playing a home game in the second round. That’s how you get things like Marquette losing 3-0 to #3 Illinois, losing 3-1 to #13 Illinois, and 3-0 to #2 Minnesota.
MU has shown the ability to knock off ranked teams in the past, so it’s not impossible. But there’s going to be a very good team standing in front of the Golden Eagles in the second round if they head into the tournament at a top 25-ish team like they are to start the season. Of course.... if Marquette were to pick up a few big wins here and there this season and mow through the Big East.... well, if Marquette was the top 16 team hosting other squads at the McGuire Center, that would raise their chances of winning their second round match, wouldn’t it?
Question #3: When will Jenna Rosenthal break Meghan Niemann’s blocks records?
It was impressive as hell when Meghan Niemann overtook Martha Meyer’s career blocks records during the 2016 campaign. Meyer’s records had stood for nearly 20 years, and Niemann cemented her place as one of MU volleyball’s all time greats when she surpassed those numbers.
However, even when Niemann broke those records, the writing was on the wall that her marks would not stand for long. She finished her Marquette career with 412 assisted blocks, the only MU player to ever reach 400 in her career, and 454 total blocks. Jenna Rosenthal closed her sophomore season in 2016 with 261 assisted blocks and 295 total blocks. Y’all can do the quick math on what two more years like that would do to Niemann’s records.
As it turns out, Rosenthal’s attacking stats went way up in 2017, as she posted career bests in attacks and kills.... as well as a career low in assisted blocks. Heading into 2018, Rosenthal has 370 assisted blocks in her career and 419 total blocks. She’s still on pace to zip past Niemann, it’s just that she’s probably not going to be MU’s first ever player to post 500 assisted blocks any more. It’s possible, since she had 133 as a freshman, but that was a career high and thus I can’t quite call it likely.
In any case, Rosenthal needs 43 assisted blocks to pass Niemann on that list and 35 total blocks for the top spot over there. It’s going to happen this year, it’s just a matter of figuring out when. Over her career, Rosenthal has averaged 3.78 assisted blocks per match and 4.28 total blocks per match. If she maintains that average, she’s going to get the assisted block record sometime during match #12, at home against Illinois State on September 15th. The total blocks record is much closer, but also at home. She’s on pace to get there during the 9th match of the year against Syracuse on September 9th. If Rosenthal stays more towards last year’s slower pace, then we might be waiting until the early stages of Big East action to see the records fall.
She’s had at least 100 assisted blocks in every season so far as a Golden Eagle. The records will fall. Keep your eyes open.