Here’s the good news about the 2019-20 Marquette women’s basketball season thus far: They’re 3-0.
Head coach Megan Duffy has taken a roster with very little experience playing together and gotten three wins out of them, and all were by at least 17 points. I don’t care who the opponents were, that’s good news.
With the next three games, things get significantly more difficult. A team with most of its cast returning from a deep postseason run comes into the McGuire Center on Thursday night, and that will be followed next week with the first road game of the season against the most dominant team in the Horizon League. After that, it’s an SEC squad coming off their fourth straight Sweet 16 and third straight Elite Eight coming to Milwaukee. One way or another, we are going to find out exactly how far Megan Duffy has gotten with her team to this point of the season.
Maybe it means a 3-3 record. Maybe Duffy lights a fire and we get some surprises. It’s hardly a “moment of truth” type spot for Marquette, as there’s a lot of season left to go. It will be a three game stretch that tests this team, and perhaps for the long term, that’s a good thing. These next three games won’t be all that different from the experience of playing Big East games. Duffy’s freshmen are going to get a taste of what to expect when the league schedule rolls around starting on Thursday night. If we have to trade a home loss in November for a road win (or two?) in February, then so be it as far as I’m concerned.
The team is doing a lot of things that are pretty good right now, so it’s just a matter of taking that and building on it. The thing that stands out the most to me when I look at HerHoopStats.com? MU ranks #18 in the country in assisted baskets. When you’ve got a very young team like this one as well as a team that doesn’t have a lot of familiarity playing with each other even from the veterans, knowing you can rely on passing to the open woman or the cutter for a bucket is a big deal. That’s a very good cornerstone to start the season on, because that kind of early play can end up building confidence in the entire roster and turning things into a bit more than the sum of the parts.
Game #4: vs Northwestern Wildcats (1-0)
Marquette is 4-8 all time against Northwestern. The Golden Eagles picked up the win in the most recent meeting, which came last year down in Evanston. That gave the Golden Eagles two straight wins against the Wildcats and wins in four of the last seven meetings.
It is hard to get a handle on what to make of Northwestern this season. We know they’re 1-0, and that’s neat. However, it was a blowout win over Loyola Maryland, so that doesn’t tell us much. The Big Ten doesn’t help, either, as they only produced a preseason poll that listed the top five teams in the league, and Northwestern is one of the nine B1G teams not in the top five.
What we do know about them for sure is that the Wildcats went to the WNIT championship game last season before ending their campaign there with a loss to Arizona. That gave them a record of 21-15 on the year after going 9-9 in Big Ten play. This still feels slightly disappointing, as Northwestern was receiving AP votes when they played Marquette in December a year ago. They also return four of their top five scorers from last year’s squad, and given that head coach Joe McKeown has been running the show since 2008, I think it’s safe to say that this Northwestern squad knows what to expect from him and vice versa.
Lindsey Pulliam picked up where she left off last season during NU’s opener. She scored a game high 25 points, leading the team in scoring just like she did a year ago. However, it took her 21 shots to get there, and that may be a weakness that Marquette can exploit. Pulliam hit on three of her five long range attempts against the Greyhounds, but that number is way out of pocket from where she was last year at just 18% from behind the arc. It’s possible that she’s evolved into a shooter, but that remains to be seen.
Northwestern’s biggest hole in the roster comes in the rebounding department, as Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah led them in rebounding with 11.2 per game. HerHoopStats.com had her as the #3 offensive rebounder in the country in terms of rate, and ranking #30 on the defensive end is nothing to sneeze at. No one else averaged even five rebounds per game for Northwestern last season, so it will be interesting to see how they fill the statistical hole in the rotation left behind by the departed senior. Four Wildcats had at least five rebounds against Loyola Maryland in their opener, led by eight from Sydney Wood.