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Marquette Women’s Basketball Preview: The Walnut Creek Convention & Visitors Bureau Thanksgiving Classic

Look, that’s the official name of it, it would be rude to just say “The Saint Mary’s Classic.”

San Diego v Saint Mary’s Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

I think we can say that if you don’t like what head coach Megan Duffy is doing with her Marquette basketball team this season through six games, then you just can not experience joy.

The Golden Eagles are 4-2 through six contests since Duffy was hired, and you can easily “yeah, but” handwave both of the losses. One was in overtime without leading scorer Selena Lott, and the other was a two possession game that was much closer than that for the majority of 40 minutes against the #10 team in the country.

In fact, if you take a peek at Marquette’s page on HerHoopStats.com, it’s very clear that the Golden Eagles really have just one true weakness this season, and that weakness is pretty much the only reason why they lost to Mississippi State last time out. If you think about the Four Factors of basketball, Duffy has her team ranked in the top 100 in the country in five of the eight categories. Most importantly, she has them ranked in the top 40 in offensive effective field goal percentage, as well as in the top 70 in the same state on defense. You’re going to win more games than you lose when you’re a good shooting defense team and a great shooting offense team.

That, of course, brings us to MU’s weakness, and that’s the turnovers. The Golden Eagles are #202 in the country per HHS at forcing turnovers.... and #302 in committing them. Right now, 23.5% of Marquette’s possessions have ended in turnovers, and that’s absolutely the reason why they lost to the Bulldogs on Monday. Marquette outshot Mississippi State easily and considering that MSU is a great rebounding team, Marquette did more than enough to counter that aspect on both ends. It’s just that there were so, so, so, so many turnovers that at the end of the day, Marquette just did not have enough field goal attempts to be able to pull off the win.

And yet they only lost by six to the #10 team in the country.

With that in mind, it’s reasonable to think that this is a problem that can be corrected as the season goes on. Under Carolyn Kieger, turnovers were less of a problem given the speed that she wanted to play at. If you turned it over, that’s fine, there were going to be 74 other possessions in the game. This year, Duffy has Marquette going quite a bit slower, so possessions have to have more meaning. On top of that, Marquette is just an inexperienced team. They have five players who came in with collegiate experience, most of whom didn’t have experience playing with each other, as well as six freshmen. There’s going to be some growing pains there, and to a certain extent, that explains the turnovers.

As the season progresses, Selena Lott will get used to having Jordan King in the backcourt next to her. Camryn Taylor will get used to receiving passes from Isabelle Spingola. Etc., etc., and so on. You get the idea. As the team grows together — and theoretically as they continue to win together — hopefully the turnovers will figure themselves out. There’s very little else to question about what’s going on with this team, and that’s the best news possible.

Game #7: at Saint Mary’s Gaels (2-3)

Date: Friday, November 29, 2019
Time: 4pm Central, or thereabouts, as it’s the second game of a doubleheader as part of the event
Location: McKeon Pavillion, Moraga, CA
Streaming: WCCSports.com
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

Marquette is 3-0 all time against Saint Mary’s. The first ever meeting came in December 1996 in Moraga, while the next two came in Milwaukee. The two teams have not met since December 30, 2001.

I’m not really sure what to make of SMC at this point of the season. They have two road losses on the year, but one was at Nevada by only six points and the other was at Wyoming by only two points. Their third loss was at home, but it was against then-#14 North Carolina State this past Sunday, and while it was a 17 point margin, that’s fine. They also blew out UC Santa Barbara at home and picked up a nine point home win over UC Davis.

Okay. Those are definitely games.

They’re a pretty good shooting team — just not from the free throw line — and they play at a relatively moderate tempo according to HerHoopStats.com. The Gaels are an excellent defensive rebounding team, ranked #16 in the country in rate by HHS. Marquette is a quality rebounding club, so they’re going to have to be on their best behavior to grab up misses... or maybe the key is just not missing all that much to limit the impact.

Marquette’s big downfall against #10 Mississippi State on Monday was turnovers, and that’s not something that MU is going to have to worry about against the Gaels. They’re one of the worst teams in the country when it comes to steals and defensive turnovers in general.

Creating a gameplan to stop Saint Mary’s offense will not be easy. Head coach Paul Thomas has four women averaging between 11 and 15 points per game, so trying to isolate a particular one to shut down is not easy. Taycee Wedin is probably the most troublesome one, as the sophomore from Milwaukie, Oregon, is dropping in 48% of her threes on the season. She also leads the team in attempts with eight per game, so denying Wedin the ball or driving her off the line probably needs to be a focus. Emily Codding and Sam Simons are the primary rebounders on the squad, grabbing up 8.0 and 6.4 per game respectively. Simons is the taller of the two at 6’2”, but I don’t think that should be of particular worry to the Golden Eagles.

Game #8: vs Tulsa Golden Hurricane (3-2)

Date: Saturday, November 30, 2019
Time: 2pm Central
Location: Moraga, CA
Streaming: WCCSports.com
Live Stats: Tulsa’s site says they’re happening via Sidearm, but neither hosting SMC nor Marquette says that. We’ll see what happens.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

This is Marquette’s first ever meeting with Tulsa.

At least in terms of records, Tulsa is the better of the two opponents that Marquette will see this season. However, this tournament will be their first trip away from the Reynolds Center in Tulsa, so we will see how they react to a new environment. They have wins over Arkansas State, Oral Roberts, and Loyola Marymount, while the losses came against Stephen F. Austin (by 4 points in their opener) and against Oklahoma State. The loss to the Cowboys was by 30 after OSU let Tulsa score just nine total points in the entire second half.

This one could turn into a battle of tempos. Thus far this season, Megan Duffy has not been pushing the pace with the Golden Eagles, as they’re ranked #294 in possessions per 40 minutes by HerHoopStats.com. Tulsa, on the other hand, is up at #59 in the country, raking up nearly seven more possessions per game than the Golden Eagles. There’s a lot of other parts to it, of course, but whichever team can dictate pace may end up with an advantage.

One thing working in MU’s favor in terms of slowing the Golden Hurricane down is the shooting numbers by both squads. Tulsa isn’t doing too hot so far this year, sitting at #186 in the country in effective field goal percentage. They’re only shooting 31.2% from deep, but they also don’t take very many threes, either. MU, on the other hand, doesn’t rely heavily on the three, but they’re knocking the hell out of them at 40.5% on the year.

Kendrian Elliott is the primary name to know for Tulsa. The 6’2” senior from Wichita is averaging 18.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per game this year. Now, to be clear, that doesn’t give her particularly good rebounding rates, and might actually tell us a lot more about Tulsa’s overall shooting issues. She is one of the better shot blockers in the country, ranking #283 in rate by HHS and averaging just short of two per game.

The Hurricane have a trio of women willing to let it fly from downtown, but only two of them are important to defend. Morgan Brady (42% on 24 attempts) and Maddie Bittle (35% on 26 attempts) can knock the shots down with regularity, but Alexis Gaulden should be allowed to hit one before MU bothers to defend her. The 5’9” senior from Broken Arrow, OK, has connected on just 19% of her 26 tries from outside in four games this season. Part of that is going 0-for-11 against Arkansas State and Oral Roberts, but that means she’s 5-for-15 otherwise.