We got a very gutsy performance from Marquette Golden Eagles women’s basketball on Sunday afternoon. The Golden Eagles overcame coughing the ball up on nearly 30% of their possessions to end up with a 64-61 victory over Belmont. Sure, they had to hold their breath and cross their fingers on a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer, but it’s still something to be proud of that MU could solve for X and find a way to win the game anyway.
Generally speaking, we can dismiss the turnovers in that game as a one-off for Marquette. Even after that ballhandling disaster, the Golden Eagles are only turning it over on 18% of possessions this season according to HerHoopStats.com, and that’s absolutely a manageable number. Even in their lone loss on the year, Marquette only turned the ball over 13% of the time. In other words, let’s all agree to let that never happen again and move on.
In this case, we move on to Big East play. Yes, officially, conference action has already started and Marquette is 1-0 on the year after stomping the hell out of Providence back on December 4th. However, MU has wrapped up their scheduled non-conference games and for now, there’s nothing expected ahead but league contests. There’s only three more league contests scheduled, two after the one we’re here to talk about today, but with the men’s schedule locked in place, we should be hearing about the women’s slate for the rest of the year sooner rather than later.
We enter this section of the calendar with Marquette in a three-way tie for first place at 1-0. Villanova and Creighton are your other two teams in the tie, and they hold wins over St. John’s and Butler respectively. Providence, the team that Marquette stomped, issued a stomping of their own to Butler the very next day, and so they’re 1-1. The Johnnies are 0-1, the Bulldogs are 0-2, and everyone else is 0-0 in the league to this point. Villanova (6-0), Connecticut (1-0), and Xavier (3-0) are all still undefeated over all this season, as is Georgetown. However, the Hoyas haven’t played a game at all yet with five games canceled and two league games postponed, and they’re slated to get their first action of the year against DePaul this coming Saturday.
This is your reminder that Marquette is picked to finish third in the Big East this season behind UConn and DePaul, both of whom are currently ranked in the Associated Press top 25. That’s just fine by me. Wednesday afternoon’s game is currently scheduled to be the last MU home game for 2020. Their final two games before Christmas will be on the road against Seton Hall and Xavier, but I suppose it’s possible that the league gives the Golden Eagles something between Christmas and New Year’s when the rest of the schedule is released some time soon.
Big East Game #2: vs St. John’s Red Storm (2-3, 0-1 Big East)
Marquette is 16-10 all time against St. John’s. The Golden Eagles picked up three wins against the Red Storm last season, including a 78-55 victory in the Big East semifinals, so that means that MU has won seven of the last eight meetings between the two sides.
Things are not going well for St. John’s so far this season. More accurately, things are not going well lately for the Red Storm. They started off the year with two wins, easily zipping past Fairleigh Dickinson on the road, 70-44, and plastering Saint Peter’s, 85-47. They haven’t won since. They opened up Big East play with a 74-65 loss at home to Villanova that wasn’t even that close. After that, they’ve been away from home for the last two games, and neither went well. They lost 93-88 at Delaware where they let a two point lead at the start of the third quarter turn into a 13 point deficit with three minutes to play before making a furious rally to get it to a two point game with 17 seconds to play. Last time out, SJU started the fourth quarter with a six point lead against UMass and still had a 57-56 lead with 2:30 to go and tied the game up at 61 with 35 seconds to go. That’s when things really got out of control, as the Minutemen missed both free throws on a foul by Leilani Correa with three seconds left but got not one but two attempts at a putback before UMass got one to fall at the buzzer to get the win.
That’s an awful lot of falling apart in the fourth quarter and/or flailing around to try and win at the last minute. Sounds stressful.
Let’s just call it what it is here: Marquette’s path to beating St. John’s comes down to shutting down Qadashah Hoppie and Leilani Correa. Both women are averaging over 21 points a game so far this season, and they’re the only Red Storm players averaging in double digits. Hoppie has only played in the last two games for St. John’s, but starting out your year with back-to-back 20 point games is still pretty good. Correa went for 35 on 12-for-24 shooting against Delaware, so it’s definitely a situation where both can be going off at the same time. While the focus needs to be on denying chances to those two, Marquette can’t let themselves get tunnel vision. Raven Farley is averaging 9.2 per game and had a 20 point outing against FDU, while Kadaja Bailey is averaging nine points flat per contest.
It’s not a secret that I don’t understand how head coach Joe Tartamella insists on designing his offense, probably to the point where you, the St. John’s fan, is tired of me talking about it. To be clear, I’m not saying it’s bad. While HerHoopStats.com doesn’t have Offensive Ratings quite yet at this juncture of the still young season, the Johnnies are ranked #77 in the country in raw points per possession. They’re top 50 in field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage. On top of that, they’re #25 in the country in three-point shooting percentage, and that’s actually what I want to talk about. HHS says that St. John’s ranks #252 out of 314 active Division 1 teams this season in three-point rate. Bottom 70 in the country in how often they let it fly from deep..... while ranking #25 in the country in accuracy. All four Red Storm players with at least 10 attempts this season are shooting over 35% from long range, led by a 40% mark from Unique Drake on 10 tries. But Tartamella doesn’t want his team shooting threes, it seems. Correa is a shade over four attempts per game. Drake is sitting on exactly two attempts per game. Emma Nolan is just under three tries per game. All of them sinking triples with better than break-even success rates, and yet Tartamella refuses to fully activate his offense in that direction. Again, what he’s doing has been working and is working in terms of efficiency. However, the Red Storm have also lost three straight games and I can’t help but wonder what would happen if they had a few extra threes in the books along the way. SJU have the shooters, they’re just not using them again. If Tartamella didn’t have women who can shoot and was prodding an efficient offense out of it, I’d be happy to praise him for doing that. He’s not, though, and it’s confusing to me that he’s wasting potentially valuable shot attempts.
Maybe this is changing, at least with one new wrinkle. You’ll notice I did not mention all four players with over 10 attempts in the last paragraph in terms of attempt rate. The fourth one is Qadashah Hoppie who has fired off a whopping 21 long range attempts in her two games so far this year. I’m not sure what it is about the senior from Staten Island that gives her the greenest of green lights from outside when everyone else is seemingly tethered to the paint in the lane, although she did hit 37% a year ago and the same as a freshman, too. Still, over 10 attempts per game is waaaaaaay up from Hoppie’s six tries a night last season. We’ll see if that holds going forward, of course, and shutting down Hoppie’s clean looks from outside has to be priority #1 for Marquette.
St. John’s is struggling to rebound the ball this season, and that’s a potential avenue for Marquette to take advantage. The Golden Eagles are pairing a top 90 effective field goal percentage with the 16th best offensive rebounding rate in the country per HHS to keep the scoring humming. That’s a real problem for the Johnnies, because they’re ranking just #238 in defensive rebounding rate so far this year. If MU can continue that kind of glass cleaning, St. John’s is going to be damn near powerless to stop them. MU is a pretty solid defensive rebounding team, ranking #51 in rate on that end, which is still better than the Johnnies’ rank on the offensive glass. Multiple looks at the rim on offense combined with only one look for SJU on defense is a pretty solid way to go about winning a basketball game and moving to 2-0 on the season.