During last Friday’s Marquette women’s basketball Big East opener against Providence, we found out that we did not actually know when the Golden Eagles would be playing next. Play-by-play man Patrick Reed dropped a note into the broadcast at one point, letting the viewer know that MU’s planned home game against Prairie View A&M had gone by the wayside due to a COVID-19 issue in the PVA&M program. That left MU without a game until December 13th, when they are scheduled to visit Belmont.
As circumstances would have it, fellow Big East member Xavier is also on a COVID-related timeout, and as such, they had to bow out of their scheduled encounter with Cincinnati on Thursday. Since Marquette was already planning on heading in the general direction of Cincinnati for a game on Sunday — Belmont is in Nashville, Cincinnati isn’t that far off course — it makes all the sense in the world for the Golden Eagles to pack an extra couple days worth of clothes and head out on the road for a minute.
I presume. I suppose they could also return to Milwaukee after Thursday afternoon’s encounter with the Bearcats, but that would mean just turning right around and leaving on Saturday morning for the Belmont game. Then again, given the coronavirus, it kind of does make sense to not be out in the wilderness all that long. We’ll see what happens!
The point is that Marquette is playing Cincinnati on Thursday afternoon.
Schedule Update— Marquette WBB (@MarquetteWBB) December 8, 2020
The Golden Eagles have added a game on Thursday at Cincinnati!
Opening tip is scheduled for 1 p.m. CT and ESPN+ will carry streaming coverage.
: https://t.co/XHDt97NJqh#muwbb pic.twitter.com/5ttCRbsRIK
Anyway, Marquette is 2-1 on the season and 1-0 in Big East play after demolishing the Friars back on Friday. That was a cleansing victory for the Golden Eagles after they looked absolutely atrocious for the first 20 minutes against Milwaukee earlier in the week. Marquette was able to make it interesting-adjacent midway through the fourth quarter, but they never had enough to push all the way through with the rally.
As it turns out, that’s not that surprising. In addition to finding out that the PV game was off, Patrick Reed also dropped a more noteworthy nugget on us during the broadcast: Marquette had experienced a second COVID shutdown, one that wiped out the first week of the regular season. This was never announced by the athletic department, and MU getting put on pause twice in the run up to the start of the season definitely can put a crimp in the ol’ preseason preparation. That doesn’t 100% explain why Marquette got housed for 20 minutes by the Panthers, but it explains part of it. When you miss 28 days worth of practice, things have a possibility of getting disjointed.
Anyway, that’s all behind Marquette, and they looked nearly flawless against Providence. That’s not going to last all season, because nothing ever does, but hopefully Megan Duffy and her staff have the big wrinkles ironed out. We’re still waiting to see the season debut of Nirel Lougbo and the Marquette debut of Danyel Middleton. Both women have a chance to play backcourt roles for the Golden Eagles this season. It appeared that Middleton was dressed against Providence but it looked like Lougbo was not. Will we get to see either one against the Bearcats?
Game #4: at Cincinnati Bearcats (1-1)
Date: Thursday, December 10, 2020
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Improper Fraction Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio
Live Stats: It looks like StatBroadcast will be the answer, but UC doesn’t have an official link up right now.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB
Marquette is 22-13 all time against Cincinnati. Every meeting in the series came between January 25, 1992 and March 4, 2013. While the Golden Eagles have held the advantage in the series, it tilted in favor of the Bearcats over the last several years. Since 2011, Cincinnati won four of the last six contests.
For those of you not particularly familiar with Cincinnati women’s hoops, well, I’m in the club with you. They’re currently in the third season under the guidance of Michelle Clark-Heard. I’m not 100% sure why UC made the change following the 2017-18 season. Sure, former Connecticut Huskies player and assistant Jamelle Elliott had some rough seasons in the Queen City, but the Bearcats had finished over .500 overall in each of her last two seasons — #8 and #9 in charge, by the way — and they reached the WNIT in her final year. This is a program with four total NCAA tournament appearances and none since 2003, one NCAA tournament victory in history, and no regular season conference championships. Am I being highly critical here? No, I’m not. That’s what Geno Auriemma did when Elliott was let go, because he called Cincinnati the worst job in the entire conference.
Anyway, Coach Clark-Heard has posted two seasons with 20+ wins already. The Bearcats reached the WNIT quarterfinals in her first season and then went 22-9 and 11-5 in the American Athletic Conference in 2019-20 before the season was shut down by the pandemic. That seems pretty good, especially since UC hasn’t had back-to-back 20 win seasons since Laurie Pirtle took them to back-to-back NCAA tournaments in 2002 and 2003.
They’re off to something of a rough start this season after being picked to finish fourth in the AAC but picking up two first place votes in the preseason polling. Cincinnati trailed by seven to local rival Northern Kentucky at the start of the fourth quarter of their season opener, but rallied to force overtime and eventually win, 73-67. Then, after a game against a very good Louisville squad was cancelled, the Bearcats made the trip down to Gainesville to lose by 23 to Florida. It was mostly close through three quarters, with UF winning by 10 heading to the fourth and UC cut it to five with 8:35 to go before the Gators closed the game on a 26-8 run. Yipes.
Ilmar’l Thomas was a preseason all-AAC First Team pick, and she’s been living up to that hype so far this season. She is 100% the #1 thing that Marquette needs to worry about, as the 5’10” Oakland native is averaging 28.5 points per game and shooting 60% from the field after scoring 34 against NKU and 23 against Florida. Thomas has more made field goals — 24 — than the next biggest shooter on the team has attempted — 19 — so far this season. She’s also hauling in six rebounds a game and dishing four assists per outing, so we’ll call it good news that she is only 1-for-5 from long range which gives her a made triple for the first time since her freshman year.
Arame Niang is a solid second option for the Bearcats, averaging 12.5 per game through two games. She’s 2-for-10 from long distance, so it feels like she wants to let that fly but the senior transfer from Western Kentucky only shot 30% on just under two tries a game for the Hilltoppers last time she was eligible to play. I suspect she has a fascinating story to tell as she was born in Senegal and had to sit out a year at WKU after transferring from a university in Japan.
It’s just been two games, so it’s a little small sample size-y, but Marquette is going to have to pay attention on the offensive glass. Rebounding is one of the things that Marquette focuses on and does well under Duffy’s guidance, but so far this year, Cincinnati ends possessions with authority. HerHoopStats.com says that the Bearcats are #86 in the country in defensive rebounding rate right now, hauling in over 71% of their opponents’ misses. That doesn’t convert to the other end, though, and if MU can limit second chances and get out in transition, that could be a big boon for the Golden Eagles’ chances.
Cincinnati also blocks shots well, ranking #22 in the country so far in terms of rate per HHS. They’ve got three women who are making the biggest contribution to that, but the good news for Marquette is that none of them are notably tall. It might take some craftiness by the Golden Eagles in the paint, but it seems like a size advantage is not something that they’re going to have to worry about seeing.