Last time out, Marquette women’s basketball suffered their first loss of the season. That’s the time when you take a deep introspective look at yourself to say “Did we lose because of a distinct problem in this game or did we have flaws in our previous wins that just flared up on us?”
In MU’s case, it appears to be a little of both. The big issue is that the Golden Eagles suddenly couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. They posted an effective field goal percentage north of 50% in each of their first three games, all wins, and then against Colorado, just 43.5%. That’s not helping, but that’s also possibly just Colorado’s impact on the game, both the Buffaloes as the opponent and the state because of the altitude.
On the other side, Marquette “escaped” their game against Southern with a 25 point win even though they turned the ball over more than 28% of the time. That’s a situation where everything else was going your way, and thus you didn’t really notice the impact of your own problem. Against Colorado? 28% turnover rate, including eight turnovers in the fourth quarter as the Buffaloes pulled away from MU over the final 10 minutes.
It also didn’t help that Colorado didn’t turn the ball over as much as MU’s first three opponents did. I don’t want to say that Marquette got used to getting stops on 20+% of possessions against Alcorn State, NJIT, and Southern, but when the Buffs only coughed it up on 12% of possessions, well, that’s a real problem in terms of creating empty possessions on defense.
Colorado was Marquette’s first Major Seven conference test of the season, and you could easily argue that the Golden Eagles failed the test. On Friday, MU will face a team that’s not a Major Seven foe but one that has the NCAA tournament as a goal. Saturday brings another Major Seven opponent, and one that’s almost assuredly better than Colorado is. What can Marquette do differently to prevent the same result that they saw in Boulder form happening on consecutive days?
Game #5: vs Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (4-0)
This will be the first ever meeting between the two teams.
The Blue Raiders are undefeated on the season so far, and they’ve been going home/away for all four games so far this season. They hit their high scoring mark of the year in the opener, getting 70 in a 21 point win over East Carolina before beating VCU by eight in Richmond. MTSU returned home for a date with in-state rival Vanderbilt and won by nine, 55-46, and then went 90 minutes down the road to beat Tennessee Tech in their building by 18.
Middle Tennessee is, as you can guess, more likely than not willing to give in to Marquette’s slower tendencies as they have been one of the slowest teams in the country so far this season. This game is likely to be won on the defensive end, as both squads have been doing a good job locking their opponents up overall. They’re both in the top 40 in effective field goal percentage defense — advantage to #8 MTSU here — but Marquette has the advantage in overall efficiency on the defensive end. The Golden Eagles are, according to Her Hoop Stats, #16 in the country so far this year in defensive points per possession, while Middle Tennessee is “only” #21.
Marquette’s biggest advantage in this game is Megan Duffy’s determination to acquire all of the rebounds in a game. The Golden Eagles rank #2 in the country in offensive rebounding rate right now and 60th in defensive rebounding rate. Middle Tennessee? Sitting at #199 in DReb% is the only thing stopping them from being sub-200 in both departments. Now, that may be by choice for the Blue Raiders, as sometimes “bad at offensive rebounding” is code for “has chosen to get back on defense instead.” Since they’re a pretty good ballclub when it comes to defending, we have to at least acknowledge the possibility.
Middle Tennessee has a trio of women averaging north of 10 points a game so far this season. Courtney Whitson, a 6-foot junior forward, tops the team with 14.3 points per game while leading them in three-point shooting as well. Nearly three-quarters of her field goal attempts this season are behind the arc, so Marquette pretty much only needs to worry about her back there.... but they really need to worry. She’s hitting at a 45% clip on nearly eight attempts per game. Dor Saar, a 5’6” guard from Israel, chips in 13.5 points/game, while Kseniya Malashka has only played in the last two games, but she’s averaging 10.5 in that span.
They might be not great at rebounding as a team, but Alexis Whittington is individually great at collecting misses. She’s averaging 8.0 rebounds per game, and the 5’11” guard is mostly getting that done on the defensive end, although you probably guessed that. Saar is averaging 4.5 assists per game, and since MTSU isn’t going particularly fast, that means she’s assisted on over 40% of their buckets so far this year.
Game #6: vs Georgia Bulldogs (4-0)
Marquette is 1-1 all time against Georgia. The two teams met in back-to-back seasons in the mid-1990s in a home-and-home situation with both sides winning their home date in 1993-94 and 1994-95. Georgia had the bigger win, shelling MU 104-60 in the second contest.
This game will not be Georgia’s first game away from Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, but that’s not because of anything other than the fact that they’ll be playing Notre Dame on Friday afternoon. In fact, the scheduling of the Daytona Beach Invitational means that the Bulldogs will have less time off before this game tips off than Marquette. Depending on how good the Irish are this season, Marquette may or may not be Georgia’s first truly competitive game of the season. They’re 4-0 with three wins with a margin of 30 points or more and a 15 point win over Mercer where they blew the Bears out by 10 points in the third quarter to roll comfortably to the victory.
The Bulldogs have four women, three of whom are starters, who average between 10 and 12.8 points a game. 6’4” center Jenna Staiti is the leader there, and she does it nearly entirely with shots on the inside. I have to couch that because she has attempted three long range shots this year without hitting one yet this season. Staiti also averages 8.5 rebounds per game, and considering that she does all of this in a touch over 20 minutes a game means she’s doing things with incredible efficiency so far this season.
Javyn Nicholson might have Staiti beat, though. The 6’2” junior leads the team in rebounding at 9.0 per game and adds 11.5 points to the proceedings. Nicholson has come off the bench in all four of Georgia’s games so far, and she’s averaging only 16.3 minutes a night. The Bulldogs do go 10 deep every night so far this season, but given how lopsided their games have gone, that might not stick once they start getting challenged regularly.
Given that Georgia has absolutely destroyed everyone they’ve played so far this season, I’m not sure how seriously to take any of their team stats, particularly on defense. Are the the #1 defensive effective field goal team in the country for real as Her Hoop Stats currently says they are, or are they just benefiting from smashing Gardner-Webb by 52? Feels like a little more the latter than the former at the moment, doesn’t it?
With that said, some things aren’t as much about the other team. Right now, heading into the weekend, this shapes up to be a battle of the two best offensive rebounding teams in the country. Georgia has grabbed 53% of their opponents’ misses so far, while Marquette is ever so slightly behind them at 52.3%. The key to limiting that problem? Being good at defensive rebounding, and for the moment, Marquette has a distinct advantage on that side of the glass. I always find it fascinating when an outstanding offensive rebounding team struggles, or at least comparatively struggles to stop their opponent from doing that same thing on the other end. In theory, defensive rebounding is easier! And yet Georgia is merely a middle-of-the-country team in that department through four games at just #159.