This Marquette women’s basketball preview is coming to you on Saturday, because I wanted to let Friday night’s results in the Big East transpire so we can definitely talk about what’s on the line for the Golden Eagles in their regular season finale. See, thanks to the Big East’s travel partner system, everyone else except for Marquette and DePaul are playing two games this weekend to finish up the regular season. Meanwhile, MU and the Blue Demons only have one game against each other left to go.
Thus, we needed to see Friday’s slate finish up before we could tell what conference tournament possibilities remained for the Golden Eagles. Dealing with “well, if this happens on Friday and then this happens on Sunday, and then MU wins, but if this other thing happens” for five different results is just way too complicated.
And speaking of making things less complicated, our Big East brethren did their part to help the Golden Eagles out on Friday night. Without getting too into the weeds, Marquette came into the weekend with a chance of finishing in a tie for third place and then ultimately ending up as the #4 seed in the conference tournament. That, my friends, is out the door.
Thanks to a 67-47 Creighton victory over Villanova, the third place tie possibility went up in smoke, as Villanova went crashing down to seven losses on the year. The Wildcats needed to win out and stay at six losses to hold onto a hope of tying MU, as the Golden Eagles have five losses in league play right now. Even better than that, St. John’s rallied from down six with 3:16 to go to beat Butler in overtime, 85-80. That was Butler’s sixth loss in league play. The worst that the Golden Eagles can do at this point is a tie for second place with the Bulldogs, and maybe because of tiebreakers that means ending up as the #3 seed.
Or, just for funsies, Marquette can go beat DePaul on Sunday afternoon and clinch the #2 seed free and clear of any ties at all. MU can still end up free and clear in second place if they lose to the Blue Demons as well, since Butler still has to visit Walsh Gym and face Seton Hall on Sunday. If Marquette can lose there, so can the Bulldogs.
Oh, and don’t forget: Marquette was picked to finish ninth in the Big East this season, just one point ahead of 10th place. I dunno, Megan Duffy seems pretty good at this whole coaching thing. RELATED: Go listen to her appearance on Blake DuDonis’ podcast.
Big East Game #18: vs #16 DePaul Blue Demons (25-4, 15-2 Big East)
Marquette is 28-46 all time against DePaul. The two sides have split the last four encounters, but that means that the Blue Demons won earlier this season in Chicago as well as in the Big East title game at the end of last season.
At a glance, you’d think that the 89-71 loss to then-#16 DePaul back at the start of Big East play (literally, it was game #1 of 18) would tell you that Marquette was outclassed by the Blue Demons. That’s not entirely true. Marquette’s only real problem in the game was turnovers. The Golden Eagles coughed the ball up 26 times in that game, which ended up being on one-third of their possessions. MU shot the ball very well in the game when they got a chance to do so (53.7% effective field goal percentage) and grabbed up a whole mess of the few shots that they did miss (38% of the possible offensive rebounds). If you ignore the possessions where they coughed it up, Marquette scored 1.37 points per possession when they got at least one shot up. That’s INSANELY good, as evidenced by the fact that they ended the game at 0.91 per possession even with the turnovers.
Let’s all remember that Marquette led 14-11 early in the second quarter in that game in Lincoln Park. They held the Blue Demons to just nine points in the first 10 minutes, which is an outstanding level of defense. 11 of those 26 turnovers came in the first quarter, so while the Golden Eagles were putting the clamps on DePaul on one end, they were doing themselves absolutely no favors on the other. Of course turnovers are bound to happen, but what if they only turned it over seven times instead of 11? What if they scored on half of those other four possessions? That’s four points! What if MU finished the first period up 16-9 instead of 12-9? How does that change how the next 30 minutes goes? This was a single digit margin deep into the third quarter, and the lead was only 13 with 7:26 to go. Marquette wasn’t that far from pulling the stunner at McGrath-Phillips Arena.
And now, Marquette has 16 other Big East games under their belt, and they get to play the Blue Demons at home. We’ve already seen Marquette give Northwestern and Mississippi State fits at the McGuire Center this season, and that was before the Golden Eagles had the experience of 90% of a Big East season. All credit to this idea from Megan Duffy on Blake DuDonis’ podcast (told you to go listen to it, remember?): Marquette’s rotation has drastically changed since December 29th. The Golden Eagles got at least 17 minutes from their core rotation seven players in that game, along with nine minutes from Nirel Lougbo, and three from Claire Kaifes. During conference play, Lougbo is averaging 14 minutes per game, and Kaifes is up to eight per contest. Marquette’s rotation has changed pretty dramatically as Duffy has leaned into her bench a little deeper than she did eight weeks ago. That’s the kind of thing that you can do when you have six freshmen. Maybe you can’t trust them too much seven weeks into the season, but 15 weeks in? Totally different ballgame. What will Marquette be able to do against the Blue Demons with 1) their newer and deeper rotation and 2) their always improving confidence as a team?
I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but it might be more interesting than you think.
We should probably talk at least a little about DePaul, since we’re already 1,000 words into this preview, huh?
They’ve already clinched the regular season title at 15-2 in league play. The Blue Demons should probably savor it, as Connecticut joins the league next season. We know that they’re a great offensive team, ranking #12 in HerHoopStats.com’s system. They’re #8 in the country in raw points per 100 possessions, as well as #8 in possessions per 40 minutes, too. DePaul is going to try and accelerate this game, and they’re going to score in bunches while they do it.
Marquette is going to have to defend the three-point line extremely well. DePaul wants to shoot from outside more than anything else, and while they’re not exceptionally great at hitting them, they’re good enough to be terrifying when firing off 31 threes per game on average. Kelly Campbell is hitting 43% of her attempts, and Sonya Morris is at 37%. If they get on heaters, it’s bad news all around for Marquette.
The good news for Marquette is that DePaul’s leading scorer is a terrible outside shooter. Chante Stonewall averages 17.5 per game to lead the Blue Demons, but she’s only connecting on 27% of her long range shots. That’s a weakness that Marquette may be able to exploit. Stonewall went 1-for-5 from outside in the first meeting while going 6-for-10 inside the arc. Inducing long shots from the senior from Normal, Illinois, is probably going to be a good thing.
Campbell isn’t a scoring threat, even with her long range shooting. She only averages 8.1 points per game, and the Blue Demons have four players averaging in double digits in that department. Unfortunately, it’s everything else that makes Campbell a Big East Player of the Year candidate. She’s third in the league in rebounding at 8.4 per game, and she’s leading the Big East in assists at 6.0 per contest. There’s only three women averaging more than five per game (shouts to Selena Lott and Tiana England from St. John’s), so six helpers per contest is a really big deal, especially with how much DePaul wants to shoot it from outside. If Marquette can keep the ball out of her hands, it’s going to muck up how the Blue Demons operate.