And so we begin the 2020-21 Marquette women’s basketball season with, well, not great expectations, but positive expectations.
With very little actual in-game experience returning, along with almost no on-court continuity and six freshmen, head coach Megan Duffy did the only thing she knows how to do: Coach a team to more than 20 wins. After doing that in her first two seasons as a head coach at Miami-Ohio, Duffy guided the Golden Eagles to a 24-8 record in her initial season in Milwaukee. The curtain on the season got dropped before the NCAA tournament field was even announced thanks to the coronavirus, but after finishing second in the league in the regular season and making it to the Big East title game after being picked to finish ninth in last year’s preseason poll, the year can’t be called anything but an unqualified success.
And now it’s Year Two.
Duffy knows what she has in her players, and she’s known them for longer than six months before practices started. She has four freshmen that she intentionally recruited to the team instead of inheriting a recruiting class from Carolyn Kieger, plus a newly eligible transfer that counts as Duffy’s first official signed recruit. This team is tilting towards looking what Duffy wants her Marquette team to look like..... and she built an NCAA tourney team out of the players that she was handed last year.
Now, does that mean that this is going to be a runaway freight train of success this season? Of course not. Heck, we only have eight games scheduled right now, and that includes this one. There are going to be bumps in the road. There’s not a bigger bump in the road than two expected games against Connecticut, traditional national title contender and the newest member of the Big East. But Marquette looks like they’re going to be better than last year, and they start the year off earning votes in the preseason Associated Press poll. Time to sit back and enjoy what’s about to happen next.
Game #1: at North Dakota Fighting Hawks (0-0)
Date: Sunday, November 29, 2020
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, Grand Forks, ND
Television: Fox Sports Wisconsin
Streaming: It looks like you can pay $3 to stream it from FightingHawks.com, but that’s not a guarantee since it’s on FS Wisconsin and FS North.
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB
This is the first ever meeting between the two programs.
North Dakota is coming off a 2019-20 campaign that ended with a record of 15-15 after a 72-43 loss in the Summit League quarterfinals. It was the third straight year without a winning season in Grand Forks, and that ultimately led to Travis Brewster being let go and assistant coach Mallory Bernhard being elevated to interim head coach. She’s still in charge of the show up there, although as recently as November 11th, the UND press office was still using the interim tag for her.
Julia Fleecs was North Dakota’s top scorer a year ago at 12.2 points per game, and she’s poised to carry a notable load for the Fighting Hawks again this season. After averaging 12.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game a year ago, the 6’2” senior from Iowa was named to the Summit League’s preseason all-conference Second Team. She’s the only UND rep out of the 11 women that earned preseason honors from the league and that list is heavily dominated by South Dakota and South Dakota State.
While the Hawks return over 90% of their scoring from a year ago, that doesn’t look to improve their chances to win basketball games in the eyes of the Summit League coaches. UND was picked to finish eighth in the nine team conference this season. You’d like to think that team continuity with an assistant coach taking over the top spot might make them a little bit better, but the coaches actually have them taking a step backwards after a seventh place finish a year ago.
One thing to watch in this game is the pace. According to Her Hoop Stats, North Dakota had the 20th fastest tempo in the country last year. They tended to like to shoot threes in the process, generating over 31% of their shots from behind the arc. They weren’t very good at it, connecting at just a 30% clip. Part of that is because their two most prolific shooters, Lilly Keplin and Jaclyn Jarnot, both shot worse than 31% from behind the arc. If they can solve the issue of missed threes while still playing at a high paced tempo, that could add up to a real problem for Marquette. The Golden Eagles do not look like a team that can get into a shooting match with an opponent going into the year. With Mallory Bernhard taking over the team, we’ll have to wait and see how much she approved of the pace that the Hawks deployed a year ago.