Through two weekend of Big East basketball, the landscape seems to have shifted for Marquette, at least a little bit.
It’s not a surprise that Marquette is 3-0 in conference play, although their 30 point average margin of victory is a shock. The league dealt MU three straight home games to start Big East play, and given what the Golden Eagles have been doing to everyone else this year, winning big isn’t a surprise. It is, however, surprising that the average margin is 30 after throwing up a 33 point win on then-#24 DePaul. The Blue Demons were the preseason co-favorite to win the league alongside Marquette, and even without All-American Allazia Blockton in the lineup thanks to an ankle injury a few minutes into their first Big East game of the year, the Golden Eagles still ran their Chicago based rivals off the road.
What is a surprise is who Marquette is technically looking up at in the standings. Butler, they of the 15-17 record overall last year and a 6-12 mark in the Big East, has a minor advantage on MU at 4-0 thanks to the travel partner system giving Marquette just one game last weekend. As luck would have it, the Golden Eagles close out their first pass through the league this year with a road game against the Bulldogs, so that just became the most important game of the year all of a sudden, especially with everyone else already racking up at least two losses.
All of that sends us into the third weekend of action in the conference, and that gives us Marquette’s first road trip since visiting Northwestern in early December. At the end of the weekend, Marquette and Butler will be back on the same page in terms of games played, as BU takes their 14-1 overall record on the road against Xavier, their travel partner, on Friday night. Will both teams still be unbeaten when Sunday night rolls around? Will Blockton return to action for the Golden Eagles and take a crack at becoming Marquette’s first ever 2,000 point scorer? Can Marquette continue to rack up double digit wins while going on the road even if Blockton doesn’t return to the lineup? We’re building a mystery here, and only two 40 minute contests broadcast on the Big East Digital Network can provide us with solutions.
Big East Game #4: at Villanova Wildcats (10-4, 2-2 Big East)
Date: Friday, January 11, 2019
Time: 10:30am Central
Location: Finneran Pavilion, Villanova, PA
Streaming: Big East Digital Network on Fox Sports Go
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB
Marquette is 12-9 all time against Villanova, including picking up the win in each of the last four encounters. That flipped the all-time series back towards MU after the Wildcats had taken control after four straight W’s and victories in six of seven meetings.
After a perfectly acceptable non-conference slate that didn’t result in any particularly notable victories for the Wildcats, conference play has not exactly gone as they might have liked. They started off with a home loss to Butler, and while in the past few years that might have been a red flag, the Bulldogs are undefeated through four games. After squeaking out wins at home against Xavier and on the road against Creighton, VU found themselves on the business end of a 67-61 loss at Providence on Sunday afternoon, giving the Friars their first win in Big East play of the season. That’s not a good start for a team coming off an NCAA tournament appearance and one with an eye on making a trip back again this year.
The Providence loss does require a bit of explanation, particularly since it may impact Marquette’s visit to The Finn. Two Wildcat starters essentially missed the entire game, as Jannah Tucker (8.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.6 apg) sat with an illness and Grace Stant (3.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.3 apg) played seven minutes before suffering an injury that kept her out of the rest of the game. I will give the Wildcats the benefit of the doubt and say, yeah, maybe that does explain losing the game, even though VU’s top three scorers were still in the lineup. What it does not excuse, however, is allowing a 7-0 run in the final two minutes to let the game get away from them. Only a triple essentially at the buzzer prevents us from saying that PC closed the game on that run. That’s a bigger issue than merely “two starters sat out.”
As always, this game will be a massive contrast in styles. Carolyn Kieger wants the Golden Eagles to get out and run at all possible opportunities, while Harry Perretta coaches his Wildcats team to think they’re Drax in Infinity War: They’re moving so slowly that they’re invisible to the naked eye. HerHoopStats.com marks VU has the sixth slowest team in Division 1, while Marquette is topping out the speedometer as the 45th fastest team in the country.
While Marquette rates better on offense and defense than the Wildcats per HHS, defending Villanova this season is a particularly interesting trick. They launch over half their shots from behind the three-point line, the highest rate in the entire country. VU knocks down 34% of their triples, ranking “only” 83rd in that regard. Kelly Jekot and Adrianna Hahn are the primary weapons that MU will need to worry about here, as both shoot over 37% behind the arc and both attempt over five threes per game. Hahn shoots more than Jekot, but Jekot is the more accurate shooter. Pick your poison, and if Tucker is back from her illness, that just adds a dimension to the attack. She’s shooting more than Jekot, but only hits 31%. While the average is actively damaging to Villanova at that point, the fact that you do have to account for Tucker shooting it leaves Jekot and Hahn a little bit more open every time down the court.
Villanova can still get it done inside, shooting over 51% on twos to rank in the top 30 in the country. That task largely falls to Mary Gedaka, a 6’1” junior forward from New Jersey. She can shoot from the outside a little bit (5-for-10 on the year), but she’s shooting 65% on twos. While VU is an effective scoring team inside, they’re not improving their efficiency through rebounding. They’re a bottom 20 offensive rebounding rate team, which likely has a lot to do with slightly more random caroms from the barrage of triples they’re throwing up. They are a passable defensive rebounding team, which will give the Golden Eagles a massive advantage on the glass on both ends.
The key to the game seems simple: Speed Villanova up one way or another. Either play so fast that they can’t handle the speed or get out to an 8-to-10 point lead to get them to start rushing their long range attempts.
Big East Game #5: at Georgetown Hoyas (8-7, 2-2 Big East)
Marquette is 15-4 all time against Georgetown. During the series, Marquette has never won fewer than two games in a row, and their current streak sits at just one after last year’s loss in Washington, D.C. Three of Marquette’s four losses to the Hoyas have taken place in D.C. as well.
We may as well talk about MU’s last trip to D.C. Last season, Marquette came into McDonough Arena with seven straight wins to open Big East play, including a home W against DePaul, and wins in nine of their last 10 games. 13-5 on the year, everything looking good. Then, after a competitive first quarter (whatever, that’s fine, it’s a road game), the Hoyas outscore Marquette 47-15 over the next 20 minutes on their way to an 85-58 victory. It’s important to note at this juncture that the win moved GU’s record on the year to 8-10. This was not a good Georgetown team on any level, and they spent the middle half of the game resurfacing the court with the Golden Eagles. For that to happen, obviously a lot of things went wrong, but there is one that particularly stands out if you go back and look at the box score: Allazia Blockton was 2-for-8 in 26 minutes. For context, this year, Blockton is averaging a shot every 1.76 minutes, close to one every other minute. The Hoyas took her out of the game while she was in there, at least on offense, as she ended with 10 rebounds. They did the same thing in the return bout in Milwaukee, as Blockton went 5-for-9 in 23 minutes before fouling out. Sure, she was much more effective, but they also limited her effectiveness in a three point MU win.
The point of all of this, of course, is that we don’t know if Blockton is going to be cleared to play this weekend.
That’s what Georgetown did last year when they weren’t a particularly good team, and that aspect of the Hoyas hasn’t changed all that much for this year. They’ve lost all of their games against their six best opponents this season, and a horrifying 47-45 home loss to VCU mars their record further. However, as you can guess from the concept of “allowing 47 points in a loss,” Georgetown is pretty solid on the defensive end, ranking #35 in HerHoopStats.com’s defensive metric. They’re particularly imposing inside the arc, where teams are shooting just 36.2% against them, 12th best in the country, and for the most part, they don’t let you get a second chance at it, either.
The Hoyas have a myriad of problems on offense, with a lot of it seeming to stem from the lack of awareness that they’re a crummy three-point shooting team. However, the one thing that they are definitely good at is not creating their own problems. They have one of the 20 lowest offensive turnover rates in the country, so Marquette isn’t going to be able to create fast breaks in that manner. They’re not a strong offensive rebounding team, so if MU can get to Georgetown’s misses — and there’s going to be a lot of them — they can accelerate the game from there.