Question #1 — Who’s going to score for this team?
14 goals in 18 matches isn’t getting it done. Period. Full stop. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Eight goals in nine Big East matches isn’t any good, either.
That was 2018’s offense for Marquette. Seven of those 14 goals left since the end of the 2018 season. Most of them were due to the end of eligibility, and one was due to transfer.
Thus, someone has to step up and change Marquette’s fortunes in 2019.
It seems that grad transfer Natalie Yass has the potential to provide some pop. It’s hard to take MU’s 5-0 exhibition win over a very overmatched University of Regina squad too seriously, but Yass firing in two goals is a good sign. She was a regular scoring contributor on some not very good Northern Illinois teams, so if she gets more protection from more productive teammates, everyone can benefit.
However, that’s going to require said productive teammates. Alyssa Bombacino is MU’s only returning player with multiple goals from a year ago, so you’d like to see her get a big opportunity to prove she can do more with more minutes. Katrina Wetherell led the team in shots and assists in 2018 as a freshman, so hopefully that turns into goals in 2019.
Those are the names that jump out at you when you look at the roster and the stats from last season. But last season was also not very good. Is there a hidden goal scorer somewhere on the roster that we can’t identify yet? Will one of the freshmen explode into a white hot greasefire of pure goal scoring entertainment? It would be very useful if it happened, if we’re being honest about it.
#2 — Can Marquette tip the pitch in their direction?
We’ve talked repeatedly in these spaces about the impact of shot percentage on a team’s fortunes. I first made reference to it back in 2014 to talk about the struggles of that year’s women’s soccer squad. If you’re wondering how Marquette ended up with the first losing record in Markus Roeders’ tenure as head coach, look no further than how badly the shot percentage was tilted away from them in 2018.
It’s not a perfect stat, of course, but generally speaking: In order to shoot the ball, you have to possess the ball. If you have lots more shots than the other team, you’re possessing the ball more than they are, and thus denying them precious game time where they could be thinking about shooting. I’m sure you can find examples of successful teams with low shot percentages, but I’d be willing to bet that you’d find teams with incredibly accuracy in the process.
The point of the story is that there were 498 shots attempted in total in Marquette’s 18 games last season. The Golden Eagles only accounted for 42% of those shots.
It won’t be a surprise to you to find out that when Marquette was rolling in late part of the previous decade and the early part of this decade, they were throwing up shot percentages in the 60% and 70% territory. Allowing teams to knock around 58% of shots against them is a big explanation as to why things went so very very wrong last year.
It wasn’t heavy firepower that was truly responsible for those great shot percentages 10 years ago, it was the ability to snuff out opposition attacks before they got too deep towards MU’s goalkeeper and even had a chance to turn into shots. Marquette needs to find a way to either A) keep the ball on their offensive end or B) keep the ball out of their defensive end in 2019. Even if they struggle to maintain possession, if they’re able to keep turning the ball back around and headed back in the direction they want it to go, things will be looking up for them.
#3 — Is this a postseason caliber team?
This one takes on two components: The Big East tournament and the NCAA tournament. Last year, Marquette finished 2-5-2 in conference play. This gave them eight points and landed them in ninth place, ahead of only 0-9-0 Seton Hall. DePaul took the sixth and final conference tournament berth with 14 points, leaving MU well off the pace. It was the first time that the Golden Eagles had ever missed the conference tournament since joining the Great Midwest Conference in Year #2 of the program in 1994.
As you can guess, they also missed the NCAA tournament in 2018. After ripping off six straight NCAA appearances between 2008 and 2013, MU has only made the national championship field of 64 once in the past five seasons. If Marquette does not make it to the NCAA tournament in 2019, it will be the first time in Markus Roeders’ 25 year tenure as head coach that he will miss the tourney in three consecutive seasons.
So yeah, there’s a lot going on here.
Let’s start with expectations, shall we? The Big East preseason poll has Marquette expected to finish eighth. However, there’s only four points separating the Golden Eagles in eighth and St. John’s and Villanova in a tie for sixth place. Can Marquette make a couple of relatively minor improvements and jump into the top six this season to qualify for the league tournament? I think that’s easily possible and probably likely.
Past that? If the Golden Eagles want to make it to the NCAA tournament, they probably need to have their focus on winning the Big East this season, and that’s a different animal completely. Last year, Georgetown was the only Big East squad to make it to the NCAA tournament, and they got there with an unbeaten record and the league’s automatic bid. If that’s the kind of strength that the Big East is going to have again in 2019, then you have to at least shoot for the top of the table if you want into the NCAA tournament.
On top of that, Marquette’s schedule is clearly designed to get a team with question marks all over the place onto their feet by the time league play rolls around. MU will face two teams ranked in the preseason polls, but one is Georgetown (#7) and the other is local rival and regular non-conference foe Wisconsin (#16). Butler and Minnesota earned votes in the preseason poll, but that’s it for the schedule. Marquette might (should?) be able to rack up wins in non-conference play, but it remains to be seen if they would actually be helpful when it comes to a theoretical at-large bid.
Is it possible? Sure. A lot of things would have to go right after they spent most of last year going very wrong. If luck and health were Marquette’s biggest problems last year, then probability says that things will probably be much better this year. NCAA tournament better? We’ll see.