I’m going to try something a little different and a little new here. As you’re probably aware of at this point, the coronavirus ended the Marquette women’s basketball season just a few days before Megan Duffy’s team was going to almost assuredly receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. As such, we never got an official chance to bring the season to a conclusion.
We also lost every scheduled Marquette sporting event between now and August for sure, as the Big East and Marquette ended the rest of the spring seasons at the same time as the NCAA tournament was cancelled. So, as a result, we’ve got nothing but time to fill for a long time now. So, while I don’t normally do a big breakdown for women’s basketball, we’ve got the time to dive in and do that.
In the interests of not turning this into one 8,000 word article where I end up giving things less attention than I really could, I’m going to break things up into a few pieces. We’ve already given the seniors a big farewell over here, and the other three returners from the 2018-19 season got their time in the sun over here. We took a look at all six freshmen over here, including the now transferred Destiny Strother.
That means we’re taking a a look at the whole season for the Golden Eagles now, with a particular focus on what Megan Duffy managed to accomplish in her first season on the Marquette sideline.
Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Okay, so to start with, I think we have to go back to the end of the 2018-19 season. It’s important to set context for the transition from Carolyn Kieger to Megan Duffy. Even if Kieger had not departed for Penn State, Marquette women’s basketball still would have been facing a year where they lost
- 66.4% of the minutes played
- 76.3% of the points scored
- 60.6% of the rebounds acquired
- 82.4% of the assists dished out
That appears to be a monumental hurdle to overcome, and that would be the case if it was the same coaching staff maintaining their hand on the rudder. We have to presume that a big part of Kieger’s plan for 2019-20 involved a whole lot of Shemera Williams, as the top 70 prospect and Milwaukee native would have been given a lot of opportunities to succeed right away. Instead, Williams reopened her commitment following Kieger’s departure, and while Megan Duffy took a swing at retaining Williams, she ended up at Virginia.
And so, Duffy took over a roster with five returning players who, for the most part, had never really played together much at all. She added six freshmen to that group, all of whom were recruited by Kieger. In short, with the exception of transfer Antwainette Walker who would have to sit out the 2019-20 season, none of the 11 women who would take the court in practice for Marquette in Duffy’s first season were on the roster because Duffy asked them to be there in the first place.
Winning in college basketball is hard. Winning in college basketball with inexperienced but veteran players is harder. Winning in college basketball with a roster that is 55% freshmen is harder. Winning in college basketball with an inexperienced roster that is more than half composed of freshmen that you didn’t recruit is even harder.
And Marquette went 24-8 and was assuredly going to get an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament had the coronavirus not wiped that out.
Let’s back up, because Megan Duffy guiding this roster to a 24-8 record is impressive at face value based on what we’ve laid out already. If you look at just the circumstances of the 2019-20 season, then Megan Duffy did a very good job. However, if you expand the view to all of Marquette’s women’s basketball history, then you start to see that Megan Duffy did something that’s borderline bonkers.
Think about all of this:
- Marquette won 24 games at the conclusion of the conference tournament. It is just the 16th season in the 45 years of program history with at least 20 wins, and just the sixth season with at least 24 wins.
- It’s the first time that Marquette has finished with a winning record in four consecutive seasons since Terri Mitchell ran off nine straight winning seasons between 2002-2011.
- Marquette won at least 20 games for the fourth consecutive season. That has happened just one time in program history, when Terri Mitchell did it in her first four seasons in charge from 1996-2000.
- Marquette won at least 24 games for the fourth consecutive season, something that has never happened in program history.
- Marquette went 13-5 in Big East play, giving them a winning record in conference action for the fourth consecutive season. It is the fourth time in program history that has happened, with Jim Jabir doing it once in the Great Midwest Conference (1991-1995), and Terri Mitchell doing it twice. It happened once in Conference USA (1996-2000) and once bridging CUSA into the Big East (2003-2007). Marquette had never finished with a winning record in four straight seasons all in the Big East before 2019-20.
- It’s the second time in program history that Marquette has won 10 games in conference play in four consecutive seasons, with Mitchell accomplishing that in her first four seasons in charge (1996-2000). It’s the first time that Marquette has done that in the Big East.
I could probably try to keep digging for more angles here, but you get the point. Duffy managed to achieve something either as a singular season or as a grouping of seasons that is rarefied air for Marquette women’s basketball, and that’s enough of an accomplishment on its own. The fact that she did it with a roster that she was completely unfamiliar with before April 2019 is absolutely nutso.
Duffy did it with a style of basketball that was incredibly fun to watch as well. Sure, it didn’t have the lightning pace of Kieger’s squads, as Marquette went from over 73 possessions per 40 minutes in 2018-19 to just under 70 this season according to HerHoopStats.com. And sure, there was a dip in efficiency that you’d expect by going from a senior laden squad to a team needing freshmen to play big roles.
But Marquette still ended up as a top 40 team per HHS, and ranked in the top 45 on both ends of the floor in Her Hoop Stats’ system of evaluation. The Golden Eagles had the #15 field goal percentage in the country, and the #35 effective field goal percentage. They swallowed up rebounds at an absurd rate, ranking #9 on the offensive glass and #29 on the defensive end. Only nine teams in the country averaged more assists per game than Megan Duffy’s Golden Eagles, and only seven had a higher percentage of shots come off of an assist.
That last part is the one that really tells you what Duffy did this season in my mind. Remember, Marquette lost 500 of their 607 assists from the 2018-19 team. 82.4%. Essentially, there was no one returning as an established distributor....... and four players ended up averaging more than two assists per game. Selena Lott in particular went from 1.4 assists per game in 2019-20 to 5.6 per game this past season, which ranked #18 in the country.
It was a remarkable season, and it would have been one even if MU didn’t start from the position that they did. The fact that Duffy did this with a team with no players in established roles and needing multiple freshmen to come through in big ways just emphasizes how successful the entire enterprise was.
The only truly bad thing to happen in the 2019-20 season was the fact that it was crashed to a halt by the pandemic before we got an NCAA tournament appearance to put a cap on things. Sure, Marquette might have gotten knocked out in the first round, but being able to celebrate the entire thing happening at all would have made it worthwhile. I said when Duffy was hired that her first season in charge would have been a success if she just had Marquette within shouting distance of the NCAA tournament. Being in the tourney would have been (and if you want to think about it as if they made it, you can say “was” here) a fantastic achievement for the team.
Instead, we wait for the next season of college hoops, as Duffy loses just two seniors, but brings in a four woman recruiting class to reinforce the roster. We already saw what Megan Duffy can do when she’s just handed a roster. What happens when she takes a roster of players with experience playing together and starts to build it out in the manner that she perceives to be the most successful direction? It certainly seems like 2019-20 was merely the cornerstone of Duffy’s time in charge at Marquette.