Let’s not dance around it, shall we?
If Marquette volleyball wins on Friday night, they will have a two game lead in the Big East standings with seven matches to play. At that point, they will control their own destiny and will have nothing but free space in front of them as they head towards a Big East regular season championship. It would also be MU’s first win over a ranked team all season, and it easily becomes their best RPI win of the year as well. Creighton goes into the weekend at #14 in the RPI, while MU’s best win so far is #37 Texas A&M.
If the Golden Eagles were to lose to #24 Creighton, well, then the rest of the regular season turns into a staring contest. That would give Marquette two losses in league play, both to the Bluejays, and thus drop the Golden Eagles into a tie with CU for first place. It would give Creighton the advantage as the #1 seed in the conference tournament thanks to the tiebreakers, but with seven matches left to go, anything could happen. Creighton has already dropped two matches to teams with a combined record of 11-9 in the league, so it’s entirely possible that the Bluejays have another loss in them before we get to Thanksgiving weekend.
It’s also possible that Marquette has a slip up in them as well. The Golden Eagles have not looked particularly strong in their last two matches, but they still managed to come away with victories. As the season continues to grind on, ticky-tack tiny dings start to accumulate. Sure, that happens to every team, but when you’re a team like Marquette and you’re apparently living dangerously at this point, slipping by 1% can mean the difference between figuring out a way to rally to beat DePaul in five sets and losing in a sweep.
So, yeah, beating Creighton would be very helpful. That theoretical win over the Jays gives Marquette the freedom to get caught once and still be on track for at least a share of the Big East title. That’s a much more favorable way to finish out the season than turning every single match into a “must-win-to-stay-even” situation.
Oh, and beating Providence on Saturday no matter what happens on Friday is super important. Don’t want to overlook anyone here.
Big East Match #11: vs #24 Creighton Bluejays (20-3, 8-2 Big East)
IMPORTANT GAME DAY INFO: All students in attendance will get a free T-shirt — presumably sans spider webs — and y’all are encouraged to come in costume for Halloween, as the best student costume will win an Apple Watch.
Marquette is 5-22 all time against Creighton. Yes, you read that right. The good news is that one of the losses was before Marquette became a Division 1 program, so that record is only 5-21. The Golden Eagles went 1-2 against the Bluejays in the spring as they split a pair of contest in Omaha before losing the Big East championship match there in April. The 3-0 win on February 6th snapped an eight match losing streak to Creighton, but the Bluejays won the meeting earlier this season in Omaha.
Back on October 10th, Creighton beat Marquette to pull the two teams into a tie for first place in the Big East. In Creighton’s very next match, they were knocked off by Connecticut for the first win over a ranked foe in that program’s history. Since then, the Bluejays have played three matches, and they have won all three in a sweep. The closest that they have come to being challenged in those nine sets is a 25-22 middle frame against Providence where Creighton took the final four points of the set all on errors by the Friars.
I wonder if they’re annoyed at themselves for flubbing the tie with MU at the top of the standings and thus needing to win on Friday in order to have a shot at even sharing the league title with the Golden Eagles? Seems like that miiiiiiight be playing a part in how things are going for them right now.
This match might just come down to which team is able to play most like themselves for three sets out of five. Marquette is the best hitting offense in the Big East at .271 and the only team hitting north of .240 as a team. Creighton is the best hitting defense in the league, holding teams to just .131 against the Jays, and that’s the only defense under .160 in the Big East. CU is #2 in hitting offense, MU is #3 in hitting defense. Creighton has the best assist average in the Big East and the best kill average as well.... but Marquette is #2 in both categories. We’re talking about razor thin margins here in over 70 sets worth of action this season for both teams, but someone has to come out as the victor, and dictating terms is the way to do that.
As discussed the first two times these two teams hooked it up, Creighton funnels their offense in two primary directions: Norah Sis and Jaela Zimmerman. They’re the only two attackers with more than 350 swings so far this season, and both women (825 for Sis, 746 for Zimmerman) have more than doubled up that 350 mark. This is where we have to talk about Zimmerman playing in nine fewer sets than Sis.... because the sets in question are the ones in Creighton’s last three matches. Is she going to be available on Friday night? With the Jays on such a hot streak over the last three matches, does that matter? Is this going to lead to Naomi Hickman running wild for the Bluejays, something that she does with an annoying frequency against the Golden Eagles?
Hickman and Annika Welty are averaging north of a block per set this season as they drive the Bluejay net defense to the top blocking average in the Big East. That is obviously going to be high on the priority list of “things to avoid” for Marquette. The Golden Eagles did that well in the first meeting, allowing just 1.75 blocks per set instead of the usual 2.73 that the Bluejays usually average.
Big East Match #12: vs Providence Friars (15-8, 3-7 Big East)
IMPORTANT GAME DAY INFO: I’m unclear on the details, but there will be a costume contest for kids (presumably the under the age of 15 type) and trick or treating of some sort for said kids. I’m just reading out of the press release y’all, if you have questions, ask the MU ticket office.
Marquette is a perfect 14-0 all time against Providence. In fact, since this series started in 1999 and then resumed in 2014 when the Friars started playing volleyball in the Big East, Marquette is 42-2 in sets against Providence, and both of the two losses were in the first meeting. Since this became a twice yearly meeting in 2014, Marquette has swept Providence every single time.
When Marquette beat Providence back on October 8th in Rhode Island, it kicked off a four match losing streak for the Friars which included three sweeps. The last of those sweeps was at the hands of Creighton two weeks ago, but since then Providence has steered out of their slide. Last weekend, PC played host to Villanova and Georgetown and came away with a pair of sweeps of their own. The Friars are still a looooong way away from the possibility of a top four finish and a Big East tournament berth, but y’know, baby steps. With eight matches left to go as of this writing (they visit DePaul before coming to Milwaukee), Providence is on the verge of clinching a winning record for this season. The spring season was their first season with a winning record since 2017 and they haven’t done that in back-to-back years since 1999 and 2000.
Shaliyah Rhoden remains a big reason why the Friars are doing better than recent years. She’s leading the squad with 3.40 kills per set, which is good enough for seventh best in the Big East and is better than any player on the Marquette roster. Emma Nelson and Emma Fink are #2 and #3 on the hitting list for PC as the only other two women to average more than two kills a set this season.... but as was the case heading into the first meeting, they just aren’t playing in every set for some reason. EXAMPLE: Nelson only played in one set against Marquette while Fink only played in two of the three. Weird, huh?
Allison Barber is just under 10 assists a set, literally, at 9.99 right now. I can’t help but wonder if the fact that she’s #2 on the Providence roster in digs per set is really putting a dent in her ability to get assists. After all, three digs per set are three balls where she can not, by definition, get an assist.