2019 BIG EAST WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT SEMIFINALS
#2 Marquette Golden Eagles (26-4, 16-2 Big East) vs #3 Villanova Wildcats (22-8, 13-5 Big East)
Date: Friday, November 29, 2019
Time: 2:30pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, WI
Streaming: Big East Digital Network on the Big East’s YouTube channel
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 16-4
Season Series: Marquette won, 2-0
The two teams involved in Friday’s first Big East tournament semifinal match are at different points in their season. First off, we have Marquette, coming in as the #2 seed in the tournament and ranked #12 in the country. Through November 24th, the Golden Eagles are ranked #12 in the NCAA’s RPI calculation. They have a 5-3 record against RPI top 50 opponents and are a perfect 21-0 against everyone else that they’ve played. It is safe to say that not only is Marquette guaranteed an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament at this point, but they are very much in the conversation for a top 16 national seed. Those national seeds get to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, and as MU proved last year, that can be a half-punched ticket straight to the Sweet 16. All Marquette needs to do is prove that they deserve one of those top spots by polishing their resume with another win.
Villanova on the other hand, is very much out of the at-large picture. They hold the #61 spot in the RPI, and with only 64 spots in the national championship field and about half of those going to automatic qualifiers, the Wildcats are very much on the outside looking in and there’s nothing they can do about it at this point. That’s what happens when you go 1-4 in your matches against top 50 opponents and then tack on three sub-100 losses, too. Well, there’s almost nothing they can do, of course. They could just go ahead and win the Big East tournament, and that’s not an impossible task. While they were beaten twice this year by Marquette, they went 1-1 with #1 seeded Creighton, handing the Bluejays their only loss in league play in 2019. It’s definitely within the realm of possibilities for the Wildcats to play that well for two straight matches and end up giving the Big East three NCAA tournament teams.
While Marquette heads into the tournament with three All-Big East performers led by 2019 Player of the Year Allie Barber, Villanova can match them in that department. Senior setter Emma Decker was one of three women to average at least 10 assists per set in the Big East this season. Decker was joined on the all-conference team by two Wildcat middle blockers in sophomore Sophia Howling and senior Allie Olsonoski. Howling was one of the three women to average over a block per set this season, and Olsonoski was not that far behind at 0.87. Both middles are part of a group of VU hitters at head coach Josh Steinbach’s disposal that average between two and three kills per set. It’s an interesting arrangement, partially needed out of lineup inconsistency (Howling is the only one of the group of six to have played in all 30 matches), but there can be an advantage to it. If you don’t know who’s going to be the primary attacker from match to match for Villanova, it’s hard to defend them.
Marquette has to be the favorite in this match. They have the better seed, they have the better record, they won the regular season series, blah blah blah I can go on forever. Yet, it’s not impossible to think that Villanova can win. Marquette’s biggest problem right now is health. Outside hitter KJ Lines hasn’t played since early October and had knee surgery about two weeks ago, senior setter Lauren Speckman spent most of October in and out of the lineup, outside hitter Madeline Mosher is presumably unavailable after an ankle injury that kept her from playing since late October, and outside hitter Hope Werch suddenly started sporting a massive thigh wrap in the middle of Marquette’s final home weekend of the regular season. Tack on the various dings and bangs you get through the course of a volleyball season — just look at any team’s hands and wrists this time of the year — and this isn’t quite the same Marquette team that beat BYU and Wisconsin in one week’s time back in September. It’s still a very good volleyball team, though. Mix in a bit of frustration at not pulling off a Big East regular season title as was the very clearly stated goal at the start of the season, and perhaps that’s just enough motivation to plow through Villanova and on to Saturday’s title match.