There was a lot to like in Marquette’s first game of the season. Jordan King and Selena Lott looked like a dangerous backcourt pairing, combining for 37 of MU’s 90 points and adding nine rebounds and nine assists between them. Camryn Taylor was a force to be reckoned with, getting 17 points and 11 rebounds in just 17 minutes in her first career start. Head coach Megan Duffy and her staff are clearly prepared to give Liza Karlen minutes as the game calls for it, as the freshman from Minnesota got 22 minutes of run to help cover Taylor’s four foul performance.
There are, as there are bound to be when you start the season on the road after you took a two week break in the middle of preseason preparations because of a positive COVID test, potential problems that raise questions. There’s Taylor’s aforementioned foul problem that stopped her from absolutely wrecking North Dakota’s day. Nirel Lougbo spent the day in street clothes after averaging 14 minutes a game last season. Combine that with freshman Danyel Middleton not dressing for action although traveling to Grand Forks, and we automatically have to ask if the 10 minutes from Taylor Valladay, 12 minutes from Claire Kaifes, and 16 minutes from Antwainette Walker are the plan for the year, or if that was a byproduct of not having the availability that was expected from the backcourt.
There’s also Marquette’s end of game power outage to discuss. With exactly four minutes left to play, Taylor split a pair of free throws to put the Golden Eagles up 18, 88-70. Three turnovers in the next five possessions allowed the Hawks to cut the lead to just nine with 1:53 to go. That’s halving the lead in half the time remaining, so you can see the obvious problem here. Taylor stuck a missed Lott three back up and in with 33 seconds left to go, and that was that as UND didn’t score for 80 seconds either, but that Taylor putback was MU’s only points in the final four minutes. That’s really not what you want to see when you spent the first 36 minutes essentially outclassing your opponent. It never really affected the outcome, but it’s also not great. MU also only shot 40% in the final 10 minutes, and since they went 1-2 in the final four minutes, that means it was 5-13 (38%) for the first six minutes. That’s not ideal, either.
Again, first game of the year. Road game. At least one known quantity from the bench not available. So there were hiccups. It happens. That’s why you play the games, that’s why you volunteer for road games like that. It all helps you figure out what you’ve got going well and what you need to work on. We’ll see what the coaches have been emphasizing since the team got home from North Dakota on Wednesday afternoon.
Oh, and one final thing. This game that we’re previewing right now? It’s Marquette’s final tuneup before Big East play starts. Providence comes to town on Friday afternoon.
Game #2: vs Milwaukee Panthers (2-0)
Marquette is 31-19 all-time against Milwaukee, and the Golden Eagles have won eight straight meetings against the Panthers.
Through two games so far this season, Milwaukee is undefeated, and they’re already road tested, or at least as much as a team can be road tested in this season played largely speaking without fans in attendance. The Panthers started off with a 67-56 win over Ball State where they led by just one after three quarters and trailed by three a few minutes into the fourth. In Game #2 of the season, they flipped a seven point deficit to a seven point lead in the fourth quarter on the road to beat Bradley, 65-60. Since Marquette had a teeny bit of trouble closing the door against North Dakota on Sunday, it seems very ominous that the Panthers have put together back-to-back strong finishes.
As expected, senior guard Brandi Bisping is the #1 name on the scouting report for the Golden Eagles. She’s leading UWM with 16.5 points per game, and her 10.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest only add to the issue. Bisping seems to want to do most of her work inside the arc, particularly with 18 free throws attempted already on the year. She did go 2-for-4 against Bradley last time out for all of her long range attempts on the year, so the Marquette defense will have to respect her shot.
With 13 against Ball State and 20 against Bradley, Bisping looks to be UWM’s primary option on offense. However, they have scorers behind her. Bre Cera, Miquela Santoro, and McKaela Schmelzer are all averaging nine points a game so far this season. Santoro gives you the biggest question mark out of the three, as she went for a game high 16 in the opener against the Cardinals, but only two against Bradley and both of the two came from the free throw line. Redshirt sophomore Megan Walstad has the potential to create problems for Marquette on the interior. She has ripped down more than 10 rebounds in both of Milwaukee’s games, and she hauled in 12 in just 19 minutes against Ball State. That’s going right past luck, around the corner from skill, and down the road to instinct, and that could be hard for MU to defend.
Led by Bisping, Milwaukee has an early advantage in the free throw rate department. It’s still very early and it’s still very much a Small Sample Size Theater situation, but UWM is #12 in the country per Her Hoop Stats in terms of the ratio between free throw and field goal attempts. They are, however, getting to the line at an unsustainable rate, as Abilene Christian led the country last season at under 25%, and the Panthers are currently at 27%. They’re also playing really great defense, ranking in the top 80 in the country in whatever kind of field goal percentage number you want to look at. It remains to be seen if that tells us a lot about the Panthers’ defensive structure or if it tells us a lot about the quality of Ball State and Bradley, though.
This game may end up being won on the glass. Bisping and Walstad are leading Milwaukee to top 80 rebounding rates on both ends of the court according to HHS. They’re doing a little bit better on the offensive glass than on defense, and that’s pretty notable because Milwaukee can’t shoot. 34.9% from the field and 39.9% effective field goal percentage is not good, no matter what part of the season we’re in. The Panthers are clearly looking to drive their offense through second chances, and Marquette will need to rely on the strong rebounding they showed last year as well as how well they did on the glass against North Dakota to cut off UWM at one attempt per trip down the floor.