Back when Marquette Golden Eagles women’s basketball was supposed to play DePaul on January 3rd, I had written what I thought was a pretty good 500 word discussion of how well Megan Duffy has her squad playing defense this season. I wrote that before the game was doused by MU’s third COVID-19 shutdown of the season, which means I actually wrote it back in 2020 because the shutdown was announced on January 1st.
It was housed in the editing document you’re reading now, and as you’ve obviously figured out now, it’s not here.
There’s not really a point in discussing what Marquette did or how Marquette was playing so far this season. The last time that Selena Lott and the Golden Eagles were on the floor for a game was December 22nd. You’re reading this either on the evening of January 14th or the morning of January 15th. There will be 23 days between game days for Marquette. Whatever happened in late November and December kind of doesn’t matter any more. Sure, the core principles of the systems that Megan Duffy is running this year are still in place. But it’s been over three weeks since they played a game, partly because of a long layoff after Christmas and partly because of a COVID-required shutdown, and partly because of an open gap in the schedule that was already there. Between players going home for the holiday and the mandated hold on team activities, Marquette has barely been practicing in the last three weeks.
We — and I use the royal we here that includes the coaching staff and the players here — have no idea what the team is going to look like on Friday afternoon when they return to action. There’s no way that the players are at the level of conditioning and game readiness that they were at before Christmas. They definitely haven’t been coming together as a team on the court and becoming an even more coherent squad over the past three plus weeks. Those of us not on the coaching staff don’t even know who may or may not be affected by actually testing positive for the coronavirus over two weeks ago. Will everyone even be available for the Golden Eagles this weekend?
Quite honestly, it’s like Marquette is starting the season from scratch. Instead of getting a chance to play two warmup games before getting a Big East opponent, they’re going straight into the fire of the 17 remaining league games on the schedule. It might not go well, maybe in terms of aesthetics on the court, and maybe in terms of wins and losses, too.
Big East Game #4: at Seton Hall Pirates (4-3, 2-2 Big East)
Date: Friday, January 15, 2021
Time: Noon Central
Location: Walsh Gymnasium, South Orange, New Jersey
Streaming: FloHoops, with John Fanta and Phil Stern on the call
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB
Marquette is 16-8 all time against Seton Hall. The Pirates won the most recent encounter between the two sides, getting the 72-60 victory last February. That result snapped a seven game winning streak by MU in the series, so now the Golden Eagles have only won eight of the last 10 meetings.
Seton Hall was scheduled to get their eighth game of the season in on Wednesday, which was in fact a rescheduled game in the first place. They were supposed to play at Creighton, but the Bluejays took a COVID pause, scuttling that contest. That led to a road trip to Connecticut getting put on the board, but because UConn played Providence over the weekend and Providence went on pause on Tuesday, the league was not comfortable putting SHU and UConn in the same room on Wednesday. The point of this is that Seton Hall has been off since a Monday visit to Butler that resulted in a 79-64 win, but hey: The Pirates have played three games since Marquette last took the floor, so they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.
The problem with trying to assess what Seton Hall is and is not lies with Andra Espinoza-Hunter. The Ossining, New York, native opted out of the 2020-21 season with Mississippi State in August, announced her graduate transfer to Seton Hall in late November, and was declared immediately eligible for this season in late December. She has played in each of Seton Hall’s last three games, averaging 14.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game while playing 36 minutes a night. The good news is that she’s not unfamiliar to the Marquette coaching staff. The former top 25 prospect came off the bench for 13 points and two rebounds in 24 minutes in MSU’s 74-68 victory at the McGuire Center last season.
Espinoza-Hunter is shooting 35% from long range in her three games of action in blue and white and is averaging more than 12 shots per game. That immediately thrusts her up amongst the team leaders in the usage department, so it’s hard to tell exactly where her shots are coming from. Is she replacing someone else in the rotation entirely? Are the other Pirates players sacrificing to let Espinoza-Hunter show what she can do? Is that the best move for Seton Hall, given that Espinoza-Hunter has never played that role on a team in college, whether it was her one year at Connecticut or her two years at Mississippi State? She appeared in 33 games for the Bulldogs last year, but averaged just 12 minutes a game and contributed 4.6 points and 1.0 rebounds on average.
I’m largely focusing on Espinoza-Hunter here because we can’t tell for certain how much she’s impacting Seton Hall’s team stats so far. Then again, she has played big minutes in three of their seven games, so that’s a pretty strong chunk of what they’ve been doing on the floor as a group. The biggest difference between Marquette and Seton Hall this season has been tempo, and that’s a problem for a MU team that hasn’t played since before Christmas and hasn’t practiced all that much either. On average, the Pirates are getting about three possessions more per game than Marquette, which is the Her Hoop Stats math difference between a top 50 pace and a pace just barely inside the top 140 in the country.
Both teams shoot the ball pretty well, but the Pirates like to rely much more on shooting three-pointers than Marquette. If the Golden Eagles can avoid letting Mya Jackson shoot (51%!) and more on getting Lauren Park-Lane (26%) and Alexia Allesch (19%) to let fly from behind the arc, they might actually be able to get Seton Hall’s tempo to work against the Pirates. Seton Hall is not a good offensive rebounding team — maybe because of not caring due to trying to play fast, maybe because of slightly more random caroms from threes — so missed shots are much more likely to end up in Marquette’s waiting arms.
Finally, we can’t ignore what happened the last time that MU visited Walsh Gym. Seton Hall faceguarded Selena Lott whenever she didn’t have the ball in an effort to deny Marquette’s most dynamic playmaker the opportunity to do what she does best. In addition to that, Lott’s lack of handling the ball led to Marquette turning it over on 31% of possessions in the game, which is how you spend a lot of time down by double digits in a basketball game. MU has to be prepared to counter whatever defense the Pirates throw at Lott this time around, because they proved that they have a quality way to disrupt Megan Duffy’s chosen best way forward.
Big East Game #5: at St. John’s Red Storm (4-6, 1-4 Big East)
Date: Sunday, January 17, 2021
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Carnesecca Arena, Jamaica, New York
Television: FS1, with John Fanta and Kim Adams on the call
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB
Marquette is 17-10 all time against St. John’s. The 66-62 victory earlier this season gave the Golden Eagles four straight wins in the series as well as wins in eight of the last nine encounters. The lone loss in there, though, was on a trip to Carnesecca Arena in February 2019 when MU was ranked #8 in the country.
This is Marquette’s first return bout opponent of the season, which is kind of funny when you consider that MU has only played three Big East games coming into the weekend. In the first meeting between the two sides this season back on December 16, the Golden Eagles gave up 31 points to Leilani Correa in the first 27:30 of the game while falling behind by seven points.... and then held her scoreless for the remainder of the game while closing on a 25-14 run, although most of that was a 15-3 run immediately after what would end up as Correa’s final bucket of the game.
St. John’s has had mixed results since that game. Three days later, they went to Providence — y’know, that team that Marquette clobbered by 49 — and lost by 23, perhaps largely because Correa did not play. They squeaked out a home win over St. Bonaventure to close out their before-Christmas schedule, and then opened things up after the break on January 9th with a 64-56 win over a clearly not good Butler team. Finally, on Wednesday night, they got shelled by #19 DePaul, 101-84, in a game where the Blue Demons led by 12 at the end of the first quarter and by 20 at halftime.
The big difference for St. John’s since they played Marquette is that Qadashah Hoppie has appeared in all four games. She missed the Marquette game after missing SJU’s first three games and playing in the two immediately before MU. Since returning to the lineup, she’s been pretty much exactly the player you’d expect her to be. Hoppie is averaging 18.5 points per game in her six appearances this season along with 3.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists. She’s connecting on 39% of her three-point attempts as she remains the only Red Storm player who has a green light from head coach Joe Tartamella to let it fly from long range. Well, the only player who should have a green light who is letting it fly, as Correa is shooting 29% on 4.6 attempts per game and that is not good.
The return of Hoppie to the lineup gives St. John’s two potential angles for output instead of just one. Both Hoppie and Correa have a usage north of 28% according to HerHoopStats.com, so if Marquette uses what they learned in the final 12 minutes of the first meeting to take away Correa, they’re still going to have to contend with Hoppie out on the floor.
Marquette’s biggest team problem with St. John’s the first time around this season was defensive rebounding. MU is a good to great rebounding team on both ends of the court, and the Golden Eagles did what they normally do on their own misses. However, when it came time to wrap up the misses from St. John’s, MU was well off course. The Johnnies got to 43% of their misses back in December, and MU has been holding opponents to just 29% all season. You can see the problem here.
The silver lining in this cloud is that the problem was almost all Marquette’s doing and had very little to do with what St. John’s was doing on the glass. The Red Storm players accounted for eight offensive rebounds in the game, but because Marquette tipped seven of their missed shots out of bounds one way or another, they ended up with 15 offensive rebounds in the game. I don’t want to go so far as to say that this is something that is easily correctable by Marquette, because there’s a lot of potential reasons why it happened, not least of which is MU’s six blocks in the game. But fumbling a defensive rebound out of bounds with no impact from your opponent is something you can clean up. Marquette effectively gave St. John’s twice as many second chances as the Johnnies earned in the first meeting. Considering how tight the game was as it went along as well as at the final horn, that played a big part in how things transpired. If MU can get back to business as usual against the Red Storm on their misses, then perhaps they can leave Carnesecca Arena with a win.