You know how some times you hear coaches talk about losses aren’t losses, they’re learning experiences? I think we might just have an example of that in Megan Duffy’s Marquette team this season.
The Golden Eagles suffered their first loss of the season back on December 2nd, falling 64-55 to Milwaukee. Marquette was atrocious in the first half of that game, not so great in the third quarter, and good but too far behind in the final 10 minutes.
In the next 47 minutes and six seconds of action, the Golden Eagles outscored their opponents by a margin of 111-42.
They beat Providence by 49, 89-40, and then turned around and jumped out to a 22-2 lead against Cincinnati in the Bearcats’ barn in their next game. That certainly looks an awful lot like a learning experience for Marquette. Whether it was figuring out what Duffy wants from them this season, or putting together the puzzle for what works best for the whole team together, or just needed a little bit of extra adversity to shake things up, it worked.
The key, though, is remembering what you learned and continuing to apply it every day. Sunday’s road trip contest will be Marquette’s final scheduled non-conference game of the season, although the possibility remains that COVID-19 could gift the Golden Eagles a new contest down the line somewhere. The plan right now is to wrap up non-con action and focus on the 20 game Big East schedule starting on Wednesday against St. John’s. Sunday’s opponent figures to be a contender in their conference this season, so you can just treat it like it’s a Big East game if you want to think about it that way. The Golden Eagles will have to take Belmont seriously if they want to walk out of Nashville with a 4-1 record, just like they have to take every league foe seriously if MU has an eye on the NCAA tournament and maybe taking a run at UConn’s presumed spot atop the Big East this season.
There’s definitely some problems or at the very least rough spots in the Golden Eagles this season. One of these days, Marquette only shooting 32% from behind the three-point line is going to bite them in the butt. We still don’t know why Nirel Lougbo and Danyel Middleton haven’t played this season. Camryn Taylor detonated the middle of Milwaukee’s defense, but she’s played just 32 foul-laden minutes in two games since then. Marquette’s a good basketball team, sure, but they’ve still got some things to learn about themselves before they can click all the pieces into place.
Game #5: at Belmont Bruins (2-1)
The only other meeting between the two programs came last year, as the Golden Eagles prevailed, 53-51. It was an absolutely wretched game, with Marquette shooting 32% and Belmont shooting 33%. And yet, somehow, the Golden Eagles prevailed, even though Lauren Van Kleunen hit the game winner with 22 seconds left and Belmont ended up with two tries to drain a game-winning three.
That was one of just nine losses on the year last season for Belmont, as they would finish 22-9 and most likely headed to the WNIT after failing to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. This year, the Bruins are 2-1 after losing by 20 on the road to #11 Kentucky but picking up wins at Middle Tennessee and at home against Tennessee State. That last one is going to end up causing major dysfunction in our analysis of the Bruins, as they clobbered the Tigers by 48. Belmont was picked to finish second in the OVC this season, and was one of three squads to earn first place votes in the polling.
Belmont isn’t going to win any pace of play awards, ranking #200 out of 303 active teams in possessions per 40 minutes according to HerHoopStats.com. I tell you this as a means of emphasizing the kind of impact that Madison Treece is having on the team by averaging 15.0 points per game. The 6’4” senior from Missouri has gone for 14, 18, and 13 points this season, so that blowout of Tennessee State isn’t artificially inflating her scoring stats. No one else on the roster is clearing 10 points per game, so finding a way to corral Treece on the interior is going to be crucial for the Golden Eagles. While she is a senior, MU did not see her a year ago at the McGuire Center for whatever reason, and even if they did, Treece was not the focal point of the team a year ago. Treece does do damage in a hurry, as she’s only averaging 20 minutes per game. It’s not a one-to-one comparison of course, but Marquette may be able to pull out their Providence game plan and treat Treece the same way on defense that they treated Mary Baskerville. The Friars star big was a total non-factor in that game until long after the outcome was decided.
While Treece is leading the team in scoring, her particular talents do not lay in the direction that head coach Bart Brooks likes to take things. As was the case a year ago, Belmont is launching a metric ton of threes this year. 76 of their 182 field goal attempts on the season have come from behind the arc, which is nearly 42% of everything they do. When you take Treece out of the equation, that turns into 74 of their 145 attempts. Literally more than half of the shooting by everyone else on the roster is behind the arc, even though Treece has shot it more than anyone else on the team.
It’ll be an interesting trick to defend, that’s for sure, and Marquette is going to have to be very careful about it. The Bruins are shooting 36.8% from three-point land this season, with leading launching pad Jamilyn Kinney knocking in exactly that number herself on 19 attempts. Tuti Jones has hit five of her 12 attempts (42%) on the year in just two appearances after missing the Kentucky game. There’s a couple of Small Sample Size shooters in here, with Whitney Hay bombing in five of her six attempts in just 38 minutes of action in three games, Destinee Wells hitting three of five, and Blair Schoenwald going 2-for-3 in her season debut against Tennessee State. The biggest question marks on the team are Conley Chinn and Nikki Baird, who are 4-for-12 and 1-for-13 respectively. Chinn was a 32% shooter a year ago, so this is right about in line for her both in accuracy and attempt rate. Baird is a sophomore who played just 151 minutes a year ago but shot 22% on 23 attempts in her 24 appearances. I think that MU has to focus on denying any and all three-point attempts, because everyone else is hitting too many shots and letting Chinn and Baird find a rhythm is probably a recipe for disaster.
A potential angle for success Marquette comes through their own interior play. The Bruins are letting opponents get to the free throw line much too often through three games, ranking #279 out of 303 teams in defensive free throw rate. MU doesn’t have much in the way of established shooters themselves this season, so getting buckets inside is going to be important anyway. Drawing fouls will just come as a matter of course while the Golden Eagles do that, and that’s been a struggle for Belmont. This is probably a function of long rebounds from so many launched three-pointers, but Belmont is also not a very good offensive rebounding team. They can do a pretty good job cutting you off at one attempt, ranking #88 in defensive rebounding rate, but Marquette can cut that strength off by creating chances for fouls on the interior and thus making the Bruins’ defenders start to shy away from contact.