After beating Xavier on Sunday, Marquette women’s basketball is YOUR 2018-19 Big East regular season champion for the second straight season.
Well, mostly, at least. As things are heading into the final weekend of the regular season, there exists a chance that MU could end up sharing the regular season championship with DePaul. The Golden Eagles are 14-2, while the Blue Demons are 12-4. One more Marquette win or one more DePaul loss, and that chance of a tie goes out the window. Given the margin of victory by Marquette against both of their final two opponents in the first meetings this season combined with DePaul’s loss to one of them, I’m not particularly feeling all that worried about that chance coming through.
No matter what, thanks to a regular season sweep of the Blue Demons, Marquette will be the #1 seed in the Big East tournament down at Wintrust Arena in a little over a week from now. It remains to be seen who MU will face in the quarterfinals as the final four spots in the league standings are still in a bit of turmoil here. As the #1 seed, Marquette will get the winner of the #8/#9 game, and without mushing through the tiebreakers at this point, there’s as many as five teams that could end up with 10 losses and thus rummaging around in the 7 to 10 seed area. In fact, both teams Marquette plays this weekend could end up as their quarterfinal opponent.
With very little to play for in terms of the Big East at this point, MU is working to lock up their spot as a top 16 team in the NCAA tournament. The top 16 teams in the field of 64 get to host the first two rounds, so it’s a massive advantage in terms of advancing to the Sweet 16. As of February 11th, the selection committee had Marquette as a #3 seed, which has them as a top 12 team. Marquette then immediately lost their very next game, and then they followed that up with a home loss to Butler this past weekend. You can see how things might still be in the air a little bit. ESPN’s Charlie Creme updated his bracketology on Monday, and he still has MU as a #4 seed. Thus, it’s pretty important that the Golden Eagles close things out with wins. Dropping to a #5 seed means playing a neutral site first round game and then, if that’s a win, having to (presumably) play a #4 seed on their own floor in order to advance past that.
I’m not as worried about this as perhaps I should be. Through games played on February 26th, Marquette was the #10 RPI team in the country, playing against the 49th most difficult schedule in the country. I know RPI isn’t everything, but sitting at #10 in the RPI heading into the final weekend is a lot better than sitting at #15 or #16 when you’re trying to convince the committee to let you play at home. Creighton (#105) and Providence (#112) won’t be particularly helpful to either of those numbers, but they are road games, and those do mean a little bit more when you’re running the math.
Here’s my take on it: Knock out these last two wins, figure out a way to get to the Big East title game, and let the chips fall where they may in terms of hosting the NCAA tournament. Will that be a bit more difficult than normal following Erika Davenport’s season ending knee injury? Yeah, it might! The Butler game made that all too obvious. But that’s the hand that Marquette has been dealt at this point of the season. Time to see if they can win with it.
Big East Game #17: at Creighton Bluejays (13-14, 7-9 Big East)
Marquette is 8-12 all time against Creighton. The series dates back to 1986 with the Jays taking the first four meetings. MU has won four of the last five, including last year’s contest in the Big East tournament semifinals. Both teams won on the road in the regular season last year.
Well, this is normally the part of the program where I’d tell you about what Creighton has been doing since the last time they played Marquette, as well as the part where I’d tell you about what happened in the first meeting, but one is insanely long and the other is largely pointless. MU and CU faced off in the second league game for both sides, and now they meet up here in the second to last game. In short, “Creighton’s entire season happened.” While they’re 7-9 on the year coming in, they’ve won three out of the last four to get there. It’s going to be a tough road to get them to the summit of Mount .500 given who they’re going to have to play in the final two contests, but such is life. Creighton could finish anywhere between fourth and ninth in the standings, so there’s a lot going on there.
As far as the first game between the two teams goes, it was pretty much all in one direction. Marquette led by as many as 11 in the first quarter in Milwaukee and the Golden Eagles officially flipped the game on its head with a 12-0 run in the second quarter. If there was any more doubt, MU tossed together a 10-2 run to go up 20 headed to the fourth quarter. Did Creighton keep on coming? Sure, but Marquette continued to assert themselves over and over, and that’s impressive for one big reason. That was MU’s first full game after Allazia Blockton injured her ankle in the league opener. No Big East Preseason Player of the Year? No problem for Marquette against Creighton back on New Year’s Eve.
MU has a new problem to worry about here, as Erika Davenport is done for the year. Davenport is, according to HerHoopStats.com, the 6th best offensive rebounder in the country in terms of rate, and the 75th best defensive rebounder. Creighton, conversely, is a terrible offensive rebounding team (#343 in rate) and a pretty great defensive rebounding team (#35). I’m not worried about MU’s ability to rack up defensive rebounds, but losing Davenport against a good defensive rebounding team could end up being a problem. MU as a team is a great rebounding squad (top 30 in both rates per HHS), but we’ll have to wait and see what happens. How much of MU’s ability to grab up their misses goes out the window without Davenport?
Creighton wants to shoot a ton of threes and makes a ton of threes, too. Audrey Faber, their leading scorer, knocks down 36% of her long range bombs, and Temi Carda, Olivia Elger, and Payton Brotzki will all make a dent in MU’s defense if they’re not careful. Carda and Jaylyn Agnew join Faber as double digit scorers on average, and Faber and Agnew are the team’s top two rebounders in terms of pure totals.
Big East Game #18: at Providence Friars (16-12. 8-8 Big East)
Marquette is 14-5 all time against Providence. Every meeting has taken place since the Golden Eagles joined the Big East. MU has won eight out of the last nine games, including each of the last three.
Last year, Providence went 10-21 with a 3-14 record in league play. They’re now 16-12 and 8-8 in the conference. Good for them and good for head coach Jim Crowley. They’re coming in with wins in three of their last five games, but they still haven’t done enough to prevent themselves from landing in the first day doubleheader at the Big East tournament.
Being 8-8 in league play didn’t stop Marquette from hammering them by 39 in Milwaukee in the opener, nor did Allazia Blockton suffering her ankle injury that kept her out of the next five games. It was 16-6 at the end of the first quarter, and then MU scored the next nine points to start the second quarter to make it 25-6. The end.
Erika Davenport was a major reason why Marquette won that first game, going for 19 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, a block, and four steals. That’s a significant amount of damage from a particular style of player that isn’t replicated anywhere else on the MU roster. The Golden Eagles will have to find a way to counter that, and they’re going to have to do it while recovering from Friday night’s game while in transit from Omaha to Rhode Island. It’s the worst road trip in the Big East by a long, long margin, and with the Central to Eastern time zone transition, MU got the bad version of the worst road trip. I don’t know if MU can hold PC to just 32% shooting and force 23 turnovers again, particular on Senior Day for Yoyo Nogic and Maddie Jolin, Providence’s two best scorers.