It’s been three weeks since the Big East announced the women’s basketball games that will take place this season before Christmas. Three long weeks without Marquette announcing any non-conference games between the start of the season on November 25th and the Big East opener on December 4th.
That changed on Friday afternoon, as the athletic department announced four non-conference contests for Megan Duffy and her squad. This season will not be a normal season with a “play all the non-conference games before all the conference games” type schedule, but hey, what the hell about 2020 says “this is going to be a normal season” anyway?
I should point out that the press release for these games is just saying that this is the schedule for between now and Christmas. It’s not specifically saying that these four games will be the only non-conference games for this season. Of course, it does say “second and final non-conference home game” and “complete its out of conference slate,” so it’s entirely possible that these four will be it for the year. Who knows?!
Before we get into a brief overview of the four new opponents on the schedule, let’s go through the actually day by day schedule for Marquette for the eight games that they have on the board now.
Sunday, November 29: at North Dakota, 1pm CT
Wednesday, December 2: vs Milwaukee, 1pm CT
Friday, December 4: vs Providence, 2pm CT
Friday, December 11: vs Prairie View A&M, Noon CT
Sunday, December 12: at Belmont, 2pm CT
Wednesday, December 16: vs St. John’s, Time TBD
Saturday, December 19: at Seton Hall, Noon CT
Tuesday, December 22: at Xavier, 1pm CT
Something I didn’t realize until now relative to the adjusted academic calendar that Marquette is operating with this semester: That Providence game comes in the middle of finals, not right before they start. Finals are running from the 2nd through the 9th, although obviously with a break on the weekend, as opposed to the normal Monday through Friday scheduling. Obviously, finals are a little bit different this year since everything is being done remotely, but that’s still an interesting quirk for Duffy and her staff to deal with this year.
Okay, enough jibber-jabber. Time to do a surface level glance at what to expect from these four new opponents on the schedule.
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
2019-20 Record: 15-15, but only 13-15 against Division 1 foes, and a 6-10 record in the Summit League
2019-20 Final Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #263
Head Coach: Mallory Bernhard, more on her in a moment
All-Time Series: This will be the first ever meeting.
Okay, so we obviously have to start with the teased information on Mallory Bernhard. She’s been an assistant coach at UND for seven seasons and back in March, she was named interim head coach when the athletic director announced that Travis Brewster would not be returning. It doesn’t look like there’s a big mystery story there. Bernhard played at UND from 2007-11, establishing herself as one of the best shooters in program history, but she’s never been a Division 1 head coach before this season.
While the Hawks had the kind of season that ends with your coach not being retained, Bernhard is set up well for growth from last season. North Dakota returns their top seven scorers from last season, which accounts for every woman who averaged at least six points per game in 2019-20. That’s not to say that there won’t be some growing pains, as Alaina Jarnot has departed after starting in 29 of UND’s 30 games and averaging 5.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, and a team high 3.9 assists per game. Jarnot was also North Dakota’s most accurate three-point shooter at 42.6%, which does raise many questions about why she was only scoring less than six points per game.
North Dakota ranking #107 in the country in three-point rate does not help answer those questions, especially as the Hawks ranked #225 in three-point shooting percentage at just 30.1% as a team. That’s really bad when you have a 43% shooter, and the fact that she’s gone now doesn’t bode well. Marquette is going to have to mind their P’s and Q’s on defense, as North Dakota was a pretty good offensive rebounding team last year, and since they return most of the same crew, we can expect a lot of things like rebounding to carry over from one year to the next.
2019-20 Record: 15-16, with an 11-7 record in the Horizon League
2019-20 Final Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #241
Head Coach: Kyle Rechlicz, entering her ninth season with a record of 119-130.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 31-19, and has won eight straight.
Last year, Marquette blitzed UWM over on the east side for a 78-56 win where they were up 9-0 in less than three minutes and led by double digits for almost all of the second quarter onwards til the final horn. If you wanted to suspect that more of the same might be on the way this season, well, the Panthers have lost three of their top five scorers from last season.
Of course, given that no one on the team averaged more than 10 points per game a year ago, it’s not like the three women who aren’t returning were ultra crucial to the Panthers last year. Leaders, sure, but it’s not like it’s hard to find multiple someones to average eight points a game.
Brandi Bisping did lead the team in scoring a year ago, and she is back for her senior season now. She’s a preseason all-Horizon League Second Teamer after averaging 9.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. As a team, UWM is picked to finish seventh in the Horizon League this season. FUN FACT: Green Bay is not the pick to win that league this season, which is pretty damn wild to think about.
UWM was a very good free throw shooting team a year ago and a very good two-point shooting team a year ago. Of course, given those two strengths, we have to question why Rechlicz had them taking 35% of their shots (47th most in the country) from behind the arc. Go to the rim! Draw fouls! It’s what you’re good at! Nope, they shot a buncha threes at a 30.1% clip, which even if it wasn’t #224 in the country, it would still be awful.
The Panthers were the 15th best defensive rebounding team in the country last season. That’s something that was a strength for the Golden Eagles a year ago as well. However, Marquette lost the services of Altia Anderson to graduation, and thus will have to rely on freshmen to take up that spot in the rotation. Will that lead to a dropoff and thus something that Milwaukee can take advantage of? We’ll see?
Prairie View A&M Panthers
2019-20 Record: 9-19
2019-20 Final Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #318
Head Coach: Sandy Pugh, entering her third season with a record of 29-33 with PV and 269-256 overall.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 1-0
Katherine Plouffe’s first career 20 point game was the difference back in November 2011 as Marquette beat Prairie View 71-51 in the only previous meeting in this series. While that 2011-12 team has almost nothing to do with last year’s team or this year’s team, I wouldn’t really expect much to change. The Panthers were not particularly good last year and they have lost four of their top six scorers. However, much like UWM, Prairie View didn’t actually do much scoring with their now departed top scorer only averaging 10.2 per contest.
I am scrolling through Her Hoop Stats trying to find something nice to say about the Panthers. Here’s something: They did a pretty good job at not allowing three-pointers last year, ranking #13 in the country in defensive three-point rate. With that said, teams shot 47.6% against them on two-point attempts, and that was bottom 50 in the country. If you can get to the rim constantly and connect a whole bunch, why shoot threes? Marquette’s defense will likely have to stay on their toes, though. Prairie View ranked #54 in the country last year in assist rate, so if that carries over, then the Golden Eagles are going to have to avoid leaving people open. Then again, Tatyana Perez was #66 in the country in assist rate as a senior last season, so we will have to wait and see if the Panthers were good at that or if they were just carried by Perez being really great.
2019-20 Record: 22-9
2019-20 Final Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #87
Head Coach: Bart Brooks, entering his fourth season with a record of 79-20.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 1-0
That lone previous meeting came last year as the Golden Eagles survived a 32% shooting performance to rally from down 12 to beat the Bruins, 53-51, in the McGuire Center. That game was godawful for both teams, so let’s just hope that 1) that doesn’t happen again or 2) Marquette figures out a way to adapt and survive down in Nashville this time.
Brooks has had very good Belmont teams in all three of his seasons running the show there, getting to the NCAA tournament in his first two seasons, although they likely would have missed out in 2020 due to a loss in the Ohio Valley semifinals. They did tie with Tennessee-Martin for the OVC regular season title at 16-2, though, so again: very good team.
If Belmont is going to keep that run of quality play up, though, they’re going to have to do it without three of their five starters from last season. Those three double as three of their top five scorers as well, including double-double machine Ellie Harmeyer. She averaged 19.2 points and 12.3 rebounds a year ago which means she was doing twice as much scoring and rebounding as anyone else on the roster. That’s a pretty notable loss. Jamilyn Kinney is the top returning scorer for the Bruins after averaging 8.2 points per game last season. the 5’7” guard out of Arkansas did miss six games last season, but she was back on the court by the time the OVC tournament rolled around, so there’s no reason to think she’s still worried about a lingering injury.
Kinney was the team’s most effective three-point shooter last season, connecting on 39.5% of her 114 attempts on the year. This is particularly notable because 1) Belmont ranked #31 in the country in three-point rate last season and 2) Belmont ranked #181 in three-point shooting percentage last season. If some of the shots that were going to Harmeyer (29.9% on 117 attempts) or Maura Muensterman (33.5% on 203 attempts) start going Kinney’s way, that could end up being beneficial to the overall team success. Then again, maybe Kinney was hitting shots because she was wide open because she was the third option in terms of overall scoring average. We’ll have to wait and see, but considering that this one is on the road, it should be a pretty good test for the Golden Eagles.