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Marquette Women’s Basketball Preview: at Xavier Musketeers

The Golden Eagles swing back into action with a visit to Cincinnati.

St John’s v Xavier Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I wonder how close Marquette women’s basketball was to leaving for South Orange this weekend. They had an afternoon tipoff against Seton Hall scheduled for Saturday. The press release announcing that the game was postponed was published at 11:11 am on Friday. With finals wrapped up at Marquette, there was no reason for the Golden Eagles to wait until late in the evening to fly out to the east coast. A plan to arrive in Jersey, get settled, get some dinner, watch some film, and get a good night’s sleep seems like a pretty solid plan. It’s roughly a three and a half hour flight out to the New York City area, so if you want to arrive with enough time to be settled at your hotel for dinner at 6pm, you’re looking at being in the air by 2pm at the latest.

It’s entirely possible that the Marquette staff was already at the McGuire Center preparing to leave when that press release went out, and maybe some of the more prepared players, too. Obviously, Marquette knew before the release was published that the game was off. But the timing was probably getting down to the nitty gritty in terms of Marquette’s itinerary.

In any case, Marquette will have been off for nearly a week by the time they tip it off down at Cintas Center on Tuesday afternoon. The logical thought there is that maybe the extra time off will be enough for the Golden Eagles to get Nirel Lougbo and Danyel Middleton up and available for action. Neither woman has played at all so far this season, with Lougbo not even dressing to play for the Golden Eagles during her sophomore campaign. This isn’t much of a real problem for Marquette, as Megan Duffy has gone eight deep on her bench in every game this year and out to nine players in five of their six games. MU has enough bodies to get through things, but given that there’s no word from the team as to the status of either woman — especially Lougbo — it’s a little worrying, particularly with the knowledge that Marquette had two different COVID-19 shutdowns before the season even started.

While MU is going deep into the bench, they are relying on heavy minutes from Selena Lott and Jordan King. Both starting guards are averaging over 31 minutes per game, which is not really an ideal situation. It’s also probably not really what Megan Duffy wants, seeing as Lauren Van Kleunen is third on the team in minutes at 26.8 per game. Having Lougbo and Middleton available in the backcourt would potentially help lessen the burden on Lott and King, but after six games without them, it’s starting to get a little murky as to whether or not there’s actually any benefit by having more available guards to rotate in and out.

We’re an equal opportunity stat watcher here at Anonymous Eagle, so it’s time to talk about Marquette’s three-point shooting. As a team, MU is shooting 31.3% from long range, and while that’s under the 33.3% efficiency cut off where shooting threes is roughly equivalent to shooting 50% on twos, it’s not terrible. HerHoopStats.com says it ranks #148 out of 326 active teams this season. Not good, but not bad either.

And so we turn our eyes to Jordan King and Claire Kaifes. The sophomore guards are a combined 9-for-45 this season from long range. King is hoisting more than four times per game on average but not averaging one make per game, while Kaifes is a little over three times per game but still isn’t at that once per game make mark.

This is negatively impacting Marquette on a couple of levels. One, it’s making offensive rebounding a bigger priority because the Golden Eagles need to recover misses to keep a possession going. Two, it’s going to allow defenders to sag further and further into the lane because they don’t have to stay up on King or Kaifes to deny shots. That ends up making life harder for Lauren Van Kleunen and Camryn Taylor to go to town on the inside, and as they rack up fouls because there’s more bodies inside, the offensive rebounding gets more difficult and you can see how this goes.

So. I don’t know what the fix is, or even if there is a fix. King shot 27% last season on 3.6 attempts per game and Kaifes shot just 15% on 13 attempts in 24 appearances. Time in the gym is really the only fix, and that’s at a premium with pandemic restrictions on the team. Barring that.... maybe it’s time to let Liza Karlen loose on the perimeter a bit more? The freshman from Minnesota is 4-for-9 so far this season from long range.

Big East Game #3: at Xavier Musketeers (3-2, 0-1 Big East)

Date: Tuesday, December 22, 2020
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, Ohio
Streaming: FloHoops.com
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

Marquette is 15-7 all time against Xavier. Over the history of the series, it has been a back-and-forth affair up until recently. The Golden Eagles have now won nine straight against Xavier, and because I know you immediately glanced back to the start, yes, that means Xavier used to have a winning record against MU.

Xavier has had four games dumped off their schedule so far this season thanks to the coronavirus. Marquette ended up as the benefactor of one of those, as they stepped in and played Cincinnati when Xavier could not. That went as a win for the Golden Eagles. Xavier started the year on November 25th, the first possible day of the season, with an 81-73 road win over Detroit Mercy. Not too bad. They didn’t play again until December 13, when they played two games on back-to-back days and beat Wofford by six and Indiana State by seven.

At this point, you’re waiting for it, aren’t you? Yeah. Xavier has lost their last two games, falling 88-83 on the road against Valparaiso. That’s either better or worse than you think, as the Musketeers trailed by 18 with 7:53 to play, but cut it to just three with 56 seconds left. Finally, they started off league play on Saturday..... by giving up a 19-0 start to Connecticut on their way to trailing 38-7 at the end of the first quarter and losing by 47, 106-59.

Probably a solid time to point out that Xavier wasn’t even close to being picked to finish 11th in the Big East this season. They were ninth with Providence and Georgetown still behind them.

Anyway, Nia Clark and A’riana Gray are the top two names to know on the roster this season. Both women are very familiar to the Marquette coaching staff. Gray was Xavier’s leading scorer a year ago, and she’s second so far this year with 13.2 points as well as 7.6 rebounds per game. Clark was recruited to play at Miami (OH) by current MU head coach Megan Duffy, played six games for the RedHawks before a season ending injury, and then transferred to Xavier when Duffy left for the Marquette job. Clark, a 5’9” guard out of Indianapolis, is getting the Muskies 14.8 points per game this season and is knocking down threes with authority at a 46% clip.

Xavier is also benefitting from the presence of a familiar face to Megan Duffy in Ohio State transfer Kae Satterfield. The one-time Marquette recruit has come off the bench in all five of Xavier’s games, but she’s still averaging over 20 minutes per contest. Satterfield is averaging 9.8 points and team high 7.8 rebounds per game, so she’s definitely making the most of her playing time.

Rebounding may end up dictating the result in this game. Xavier is not a good shooting team, no matter which measure you want to take. Overall, two-point, three-point, free throw, effective field goal percentage, whatever, it’s all not good. However, the Musketeers are an excellent offensive rebounding team, just as good as Marquette in terms of rate. Both are top 25 in the country per HerHoopStats.com, and just 0.2 percentage points separate them. Marquette is going to need to keep the Musketeers off the glass and end possessions after one shot to come away from Cintas with the win. As poorly as XU shoots it, they can not be given multiple cracks at the rim. Luckily, MU is a good defensive rebounding team, so this shouldn’t be a problem. However, it is a clash of strengths, so something will have to give. If nothing else, Marquette should be able to take advantage of their own (relatively rare) misses, because XU is a terrible defensive rebounding team. That’s a weird one, given their strength on the other end.

I have some questions about what head coach Melanie Moore is doing with her offense. They’re not major ones, because it’s clear that this isn’t a priority for Moore, but it’s still there. So, earlier we mentioned that Clark is knocking down threes pretty well. She’s also only taken 11 all season. Sophomore Morgan Sharps is 6-for-17 so far this season and that (35%) is just fine. After that.... hooboy. Lauren Wasylson is 4-for-15 and A’riana Gray is 1-for-14. Aaliyah Dunham has attempted six threes in five games and missed all of them.

Now, as far as Wasylson and Gray go, they’re at about three attempts per game, so like I said, long range shooting isn’t a priority for Moore. But at some point, you have to tell both women to knock it off. Gray is a senior who has never shot better than the 27.9% she posted as a freshman, and Wasylson has just gone down hill since her freshman year. 38.3% in 2019 turned into 31% last year, and through five games this year she’s under 27%. Xavier is not a good basketball team and poor shot choices are just going to lead to more and more problems down the line.