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Marquette Women’s Basketball Preview: vs Xavier & vs Butler

The Golden Eagles return to Milwaukee for their final two-game home weekend of the regular season.

Seton Hall v Xavier Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

At this point, all Marquette women’s basketball needs to do in 2019-20 is stick the landing.

Here’s what Megan Duffy has done with five regular season games remaining and one guaranteed Big East tournament game:

  • Guided Marquette to their fourth straight 18 win season, something that the Golden Eagles have not done since Terri Mitchell had five straight from 2003-04 to 2007-08.
  • Won nine Big East games, guaranteeing at least a .500 record for Marquette for the fifth straight season for the first time since 03-04 to 07-08.
  • Clinched a top seven spot in the conference with five games to go after being picked to finish ninth
  • Has Marquette in contention for a fourth straight NCAA tournament bid, something that has not been done since 1997-2000, which is also the only time that has happened in program history.

Seems good.

With just one win this weekend, Marquette will have 10 wins in conference play. That would give them double digit wins in the league for the fourth straight year, which has never happened as a part of the Big East. In fact, when Carolyn Kieger did it for the third straight season a year ago, that had never happened before. The fact that Duffy can do it while inheriting a team with very little experience playing together and — let’s be honest — very little experience at all is incredibly impressive.

So now all they have to do is stick the landing.

Just finish strong. Beat Xavier on Friday for sure, and getting revenge on Butler would be very good, too. Going on the road against Georgetown and Villanova might not be easy, but that should be a 1-1 weekend at the worst. That leaves just a house money game to close the regular season, when Marquette hosts DePaul, and then whatever happens in the Big East tournament. The door to that NCAA tournament bid is wide open for Marquette right now, all they have to do is walk through it.

Big East Game #14: vs Xavier Musketeers (2-21, 1-11 Big East)

Date: Friday, February 14, 2020
Time: 7pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, WI
Streaming: Big East Digital Network on the Big East’s YouTube page
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

Marquette is 14-7 all time against Xavier. The series has been back-and-forth over the years, but in that “you win a few, now I win a few” kind of way. Marquette’s current eight game winning streak against the Musketeers is the longest winning streak in the series, and yes, that means that just a few years ago, Xavier had a winning record against the Golden Eagles.

Okay, how much effort do you want me to put into previewing this game? In the first meeting between the two teams this season, Marquette led 23-4 at the end of the first quarter, led by as many as 33, and won by 20. Since then, Xavier has lost all five games. Now, in their defense, they seem to be starting to figure somethings out. They lost by just seven at Creighton, rallied from down eight with six minutes left to force overtime before losing at Butler, and had multiple chances to beat Villanova in the final 30 seconds (and got blocked three times) before losing by one.

Still, they’re 1-11 in the league and 2-21 for the year. This game is at home, and this is a game that Marquette is easily favored in and absolutely needs to win. Keep it simple: Shut down A’riana Gray, who averages 16.3 points, nearly twice as many as any other Musketeer, as well as 9.7 rebounds per game, and that should do it for the Golden Eagles. Gray had 13 and 10 in Cincinnati earlier this season, but obviously most of that happened while Marquette was already up 19.

Big East Game #15: vs Butler Bulldogs (17-6, 9-3 Big East)

Date: Sunday, February 16, 2020
Time: 2pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, WI
Streaming: Big East Digital Network on the Big East’s YouTube page
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

Marquette is 13-9 all time against Butler. The Golden Eagles have won 12 of the past 17 meetings, but Butler is currently riding a two game winning streak after beating Marquette in Indianapolis earlier this season.

Okay, so here’s the deal. Marquette almost beat Butler last time out. I know, I know, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Butler got 23 points in the first half from Kristen Spolyar as no one else on the team did literally anything for 20 minutes of basketball. No, seriously, the halftime score was Butler 29, Marquette 25. In any case, Marquette was up three on a triple from Isabelle Spingola with 5:49 to go, even after that explosion from Spolyar in the first half. At worst, this game was competitive up to that point, and you could argue that Marquette was playing exceptionally well except for the whole Spolyar part.

And then Marquette didn’t get a field goal for the next five minutes, and they trailed by four. That sucked.

Also in the “that sucked” department: Lauren Van Kleunen took a huge crash to the floor in the first half and did not return after playing 10 minutes to that point. She returned against Xavier just days later, so it was purely precautionary that she was held out. How do the Golden Eagles perform with another 15-20 minutes of LVK on the floor? There’s a lot of questions to be answered when these two teams hook it up on Sunday afternoon.

Since that first meeting, Butler has played themselves into second place in the Big East standings. They lost by 15 to DePaul in their very next game, but they have not lost since. There were a few more squeakers in there, including 50-47 on the road against Providence, 63-61 in overtime against Xavier, and 63-61 this past Sunday at home against Villanova. That’s a lot of wins with plays made in high leverage situations for Butler, so they’re not going to be worried about getting into another situation like that.

Quite simply, this is going to be a game that gets decided on the defensive end for both teams. HerHoopStats.com has both squads as top 60 defensive teams, with MU holding the advantage at #42 in their defensive metric. The Golden Eagles also have the advantage of being the better offensive team to start with, so it will be easier for the better defense (MU) to tighten down the worse offense (BU). Of course, we could have said the same thing about the first game between the two teams, and the Bulldogs were the ones jumping up and down in excitement at the end of that one.

Butler will also be playing to hold on to second place by the time Sunday rolls around, at least that’s the result you would expect. They won’t be favored to beat first place DePaul, which would give them a fourth league loss. Marquette will be favored to beat Xavier, which means the Golden Eagles will likely be 10-4 on Sunday morning while Butler might be 9-4 if they lose to DePaul. A Butler win will flip the positioning back around as well as give the Bulldogs the season sweep and the tiebreaker if that’s what it comes to when it’s time to settle the conference tournament seeding.