Marquette women’s basketball started off Big East play with the way that they’ve been treating most everybody on the schedule so far this season: #BEATEMDOWN.
MU picked up a 39 point win over Providence to open things up, and followed that up two days later by closing out 2018 with an 18 point runthrough against Creighton. Perhaps the most impressive part about all of this is that senior superstar Allazia Blockton played a grand total of eight minutes in the two games. All eight came early against Providence as she left after that with an ankle injury that sidelined her for the Creighton contest. It was the first game that Blockton has missed in her entire Marquette career, which does go a long way towards explaining why she’s MU’s all time leading scorer in basketball for both men and women.
Blockton’s availability for Friday night’s big time Big East showdown is up in the air, as head coach Carolyn Kieger called it “day-by-day” following the Creighton game on Monday afternoon. She was wearing a protective walking boot during the game and was on the bench, so that’s generally speaking a good sign. It’s also a good sign that Marquette handled Creighton fairly easily without her. While the MU rotation is dominated by the five senior stars, Kieger’s system is reliant on speed, movement, and perhaps most importantly in this case, sharing the ball. That’s why she has four of her seniors on track to finish with over 400 career assists, which will put all of them into the top 10 all time in program history, and at least one into the top five. That selflessness is ingrained into the team culture at this point, so while losing Blockton for a few games may sound like a very bad thing, the style of play is such that they can plug a new spoke into the wheel — in Monday’s case, it was sophomore Selena Lott — and things just keep on turning.
Marquette and DePaul were co-favorites to win the Big East this season, so it was always going to be a big deal that they faced off in game #3 of the league slate, and a big deal for Marquette that the first meeting was going to be in Milwaukee. Things got a little bit bigger when Creighton went into Chicago and beat the Blue Demons last Saturday night. That gives MU an opportunity to open up a two game lead in the loss column on the team that was expected to be neck-and-neck with the Golden Eagles all year long in the standings. That’s an opportunity that MU can’t afford to let slip by them.
There’s more than just league title ramifications at stake as well. As we tilt into the start of conference play across the country, it’s that time of the year where bracketology projections start popping up. I’ve talked before in this previews about Marquette having their sights set on earning a #4 seed or better in the NCAA tournament to lock in home games for them. Well, the two most prominent bracketology names that I can think of out there have the Golden Eagles doing exactly that. ESPN’s Charlie Creme has Marquette as a #3 seed and High Post Hoops’ Russ Steinberg has MU as a #4 seed, with both projections taking into account games through January 1st. The NCAA’s RPI calculations are trailing a little bit behind that, ranking Marquette #17 through games on January 2nd, but that’s why there’s a selection committee to provide nuance to things instead of just going completely on what the RPI says. Still, there’s worse things you can do for yourself than beating the RPI #50 team in your own building, and that’s what Marquette gets a chance to do on Friday night.
Big East Game #3: vs #24 DePaul Blue Demons (10-4, 1-1 Big East)
Marquette is 26-44 all time against DePaul. BREAKING NEWS: They’ve been routinely very good under head coach Doug Bruno. The two sides split their regular season meetings last year, with DePaul snapping a four game Marquette winning streak in the series when they won in Chicago. The Blue Demons have won two straight in the series, thanks to their victory in the 2018 Big East tournament championship game.
I think we can safely say that DePaul was not planning on coming into this game needing a win to not fall two games behind Marquette in the Big East standings. After they went 9-3 in non-conference action with three completely understandable losses (#1 Notre Dame, #14 Syracuse in Mexico, at #2 Connecticut), you would have been hard pressed to find someone who would have picked Creighton to win in McGrath-Phillips Arena in the first game of the Big East schedule. That game was bonkers, with Creighton jumping on the Blue Demons early and building a 12 point lead in the first quarter before DePaul went up by as many as 11 in the second frame. Things settled in from there before the Jays closed it out and sent co-favorite DePaul to a loss in conference action before anyone really knew what was going on.
Ultimately, what happened in that game is kind of what DePaul has been letting happen this season. They’re a really bad shooting defense team per HerHoopStats.com, ranking in the bottom 50 in the country in field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage, and two-point shooting percentage. They’re “only” #278 in the country in three-point shooting defense, so there’s something. Even with this glaring weakness, the Blue Demons are still a top 100 defense according to HHS because they make up for it elsewhere. They’re a solid rebounding club, they force a turnover on nearly 23% of possessions, they don’t let you make good passes to get open shots, and they’re a top 25 shot blocking team. Their glaring weakness when it comes to shooting defense is also managed by the fact that they’re the 10th fastest team in the country, averaging 79 possessions per game.
They’re also absurdly great on offense, ranking #18 in the country in HHS’ offensive metric. They have just three double digit scorers, led by Ashton Millender at 13.6 per contest, but all nine every game rotation players average at least six points per game. They have five women attempting three or more triples per contest and connecting on at least 35% of them. That’s a nightmare to defend, even if that’s not a five player squad that Bruno would actually throw out there together at any point. Kelly Campbell might be the biggest threat to Marquette’s chances of victory. The 5’10” junior from New Jersey is a triple threat, averaging 7.9 points along with team highs in rebounds at 7.2 and assists at 5.3 per contest. She’s one of the 35%+ shooters on the squad as well.