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Marquette Women’s Basketball Preview: at Villanova Wildcats

No, this is not the game we expected to be playing when Sunday’s game ended. Such is 2021.

Georgetown v Villanova
Nice Marquette style uniforms, Mr. Villanova mascot.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Let’s start our preview of Wednesday night’s game by discussing the potential history that we might see at Finneran Pavilion.

Senior guard Selena Lott is currently sitting on 997 career points. Given that Lott leads Marquette in scoring at 17.0 points per game, I feel that it’s safe to say that at some point on Wednesday evening, Lott will become the 30th player in MU history to tally 1,000 career points. With six points, she will pass Kerri Christianson for 29th place on the all time scoring list. She can’t get any further up the chart or, if you prefer, I don’t foresee Lott scoring 65 points against the Wildcats in order to catch and pass Kiesha Oliver for 28th place.

That’s not the only chart moving that Lott can do. Last time out, she hit enough three-pointers to move past Heidi Bowman and into 14th place all-time in three-point field goals made in program history with 120 in her career. The senior from New York is just one behind Allazia Blockton in 13th place, so tying MU’s all-time leading scorer seems pretty likely, as does passing Blockton. Erin Monfre’s 12th best total of 125 triples in a Marquette career seems maybe a little bit out of reach for one game, but hey, maybe Villanova just loses track of Lott repeatedly.

After all, not quite getting your assignments nailed down is the kind of thing that happens when your pregame preparation gets thrown out the window on short notice.

This game is happening on Wednesday night because Xavier popped a positive COVID-19 test after playing Seton Hall on Saturday. It’s supposed to be Seton Hall coming to the McGuire Center, but because of contact tracing, the Pirates can’t make the trip. The league solved Marquette’s problem by partnering them up with Villanova, who was supposed to play Xavier on Wednesday. An easy decision to make, sure.

But what kind of impact is that going to have on both squads? The Big East announced the change on Monday, so it’s possible that MU head coach Megan Duffy and her staff knew earlier than that. In fact, they might have even had to approve of the opponent change. Still, there had to have been some prep for Seton Hall that had been started before it was cast aside to start gameplanning for the Wildcats. Villanova is an entirely different story, as the Wildcats had a game on Monday night that they had to get through before really starting to prepare for their next game. How much work before Monday night did Villanova do on Xavier only to have that tossed out the window during the day? Is Marquette going to be properly prepared for Villanova and vice versa? We have no way of telling for sure, and the fact that Villanova has a head coach in her first season probably throws several wrinkles into both team’s preparations.

By the way, this is kind of a big game for both sides. Marquette is tied for second place in the Big East with DePaul at 6-1, with both teams one game back in the loss column of 8-0 UConn. Seton Hall and Villanova are the only two teams in the league with two conference losses right now. A win at the Finn would be a big deal for the Golden Eagles in terms of creating separation from the rest of the conference, while the Wildcats need the win to help keep themselves in shouting distance of the top four spots in the league.

Big East Game #8: at Villanova Wildcats (9-2, 4-2 Big East)

Date: Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Finneran Pavilion, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Streaming: FloHoops.com with Matt Janus and Christine Motta on the call
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

Marquette is 16-10 all time against Villanova. The Golden Eagles have won eight of the last nine meetings after the two sides split the season series with each side winning at home. The game at Villanova was the second of the two, but Marquette won the most recent meeting because the two sides met in the Big East tournament quarterfinals.

I think it’s fair to say that this season has gone about as well as could be expected for Villanova. They won their first seven games, including picking up two Big East wins. They’re now 9-2, with a 4-2 record in conference play. That sounds not great, but when you consider that the losses were to Connecticut and DePaul and that the DePaul loss was by just 12 points on the road, that’s not anything to hang your head about.

They have, however, only played one game since January 6th. That came on Monday night when they hosted St. John’s and coughed up a a 17 point lead with 8:32 to play to end up going to overtime before prevailing against the Johnnies. It’s actually even worse than that sounds because they were still up by five with exactly 60 seconds left. Officially, Villanova never trailed in that game, so there’s that, I guess. It remains to be seen how playing an extra five minutes after blowing a big lead in the first game in 19 days affects the Wildcats when they play again about 48 hours later.

We spent a lot of our team preview on the Wildcats back in November talking about the potential changes in the program now that Harry Perretta is no longer the head coach for the first time in 42 years. To be honest, it turned into a discussion of the potential lack of changes, as new head coach Denise Dillon played for Perretta at Villanova back in the day.

The biggest change so far is pace. After years of Perretta playing slowed down basketball and Dillon showing a recent historical preference at making things methodical, the Wildcats are currently ranked #188 in average possessions per game according to HerHoopStats.com. That’s right about the middle of the country, and it’s nearly six possessions more per game than last year’s Villanova team.

The next biggest change is shot selection. Dillon’s recent Drexel teams didn’t tend to shoot that many threes, or at least not as many threes as Perretta’s teams were doing. After staying north of 40% of their field goal attempts coming from behind the arc the past five years, Villanova is only getting 35% of their shots out there this year. That’s still a lot, #48 in the country, but it’s obviously way down.

Finally, I want to point out that Dillon has clearly placed an emphasis on rebounding, especially on the offensive end. It’s always been a little weird that Harry Perretta wanted to play at a slow pace but was seemingly okay with getting one shot and moving on to the defensive end of the court. That’s not the case for Dillon, as this year’s team is #90 in offensive rebounding rate and #69 on the defensive end. Both numbers are the best ranking for Villanova in the past four seasons. Maddy Siegrist and Sarah Mortensen are the names to know/players to put a body on, as both women have an individual double digit rebounding rate on both ends of the court. Brianna Herlihy is leading the team on the defensive rebounding rate front, so Marquette’s stellar rebounders are going to have to account for all three women at all times.

I think that we can safely say that this game may be decided by which defense is more disruptive. Marquette regularly earns praise for the way they share the basketball, and that has gotten the Golden Eagles the #8 assist rate in the country. Only seven teams in the country are better than them..... and you guessed it, one of them is Villanova. In fact, literally no one in the country is better than Villanova at assisting on buckets, as their 73.6% assist rate is the best mark in the NCAA. Obviously, that takes a team commitment, so there’s lots of women in blue and white with gaudy assist rates, but none better than Raven James. She’s currently #37 in the country individually, with 35% of Villanova’s buckets while she’s on the floor coming after a pass from her. One team’s defense is going to end up being at least a tiny bit more disruptive than the other in this game — odds are it’s going to be Marquette, they’ve got the more efficient defense already — and shaking a well oiled machine just sliiiiiightly out of sync might be just enough to chalk up the win for whichever team it is.

If Marquette can’t shake James off her game, merely corralling Maddy Siegrist should do the trick for the Golden Eagles. The sophomore is averaging a double-double with 24.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. She also played over 36 minutes per night, including staying on the court for 42 of 45 minutes on Monday night. She also had 24 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 9-for-20 from the field. The offense is going to try to go through the New York native more often than not as she has a usage rate north of 30%. Given Villanova’s preference to score off the pass, it’s probably going to have to be a team effort to defend Siegrist.