We’re just days away from the start of the 2021 Marquette volleyball season, so let’s look at the biggest questions facing the Golden Eagles this fall!
QUESTION #1 — Can the Golden Eagles restart their NCAA tournament streak?
From 2011 through 2019, Marquette qualified for each and every single NCAA tournament, and they did it on an at-large bid in all but one of those seasons. The platform that Bond Shymansky built has become the base for Ryan Theis’ success as MU’s head coach, peaking in 2018 with the Golden Eagles earning their first ever national seed in the NCAA tourney and reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.
Nine straight tournaments.... but that streak ended in the spring.
Now, to be clear, that’s not an indictment of Theis or his players for the spring season. Marquette posted a 71% winning percentage in 14 matches, and that was 75% before the Big East tournament started and MU added one win and one loss. That’s great! Going into Selection Sunday, Marquette had an RPI of 19, which would have easily been good enough for selection as an at-large team..... if this was a normal season. It wasn’t, though. It was a 48 team NCAA tournament instead of the normal 64. When there’s only 18 at-large bids, taking out-of-character losses — like Marquette did on the road against Butler in the middle of the season — can be the difference between in and out... and for MU back in April, it meant out.
The end of one tourney streak means that the next season can be the start of a new one. Can Marquette start that streak? Well, head coach Ryan Theis scheduled this year’s home opener against the reigning national champions and home match #2 is against a team that went to the Final Four in the spring. If that’s not a sign that Theis expects this very experienced and senior laden team to be tournament caliber when Thanksgiving rolls around, I don’t know what is.
QUESTION #2 — Can Marquette dethrone Creighton this year?
History says the answer is no.
Creighton has won seven straight regular season championships, including winning the Midwest Division last season. They are an unstoppable juggernaut at this point.
Or at least have looked like one.
Marquette did split a two match set with the Bluejays in Omaha in the spring, and a COVID pause eliminated the return set of two contest in Milwaukee later in the season. Those two matches in Omaha ended up being the regular season meetings that counted in the Big East standings, and we’ll never know if Marquette could have taken a sweep in Milwaukee.
We do know, however, that two of the coaches in the Big East that don’t work for Creighton or Marquette have the Golden Eagles as better than the Bluejays this season. Sure, CU has the advantage in the preseason poll, 97 points to 93, but that’s not much of an advantage. In fact, as pointed out by Friend Of The Show Matt DeMarinis from White and Blue Review, someone in the league not only has Marquette in first place.... but doesn’t even have Creighton in second behind the Golden Eagles. 8 first place votes = 80 points. Two second place votes = 18 points.... and yet the Jays only have 97, not 98. Someone out there in the league — and I’m guessing it’s not Joanne Persico from St. John’s for voting math reasons — thinks that Marquette is going to run away with this league, or at the very least run away from Creighton.
It’s a long way between now and November when this gets settled, but there’s at least a little bit of evidence to suggest that it’s possible this year.
QUESTION #3 — Will Marquette be ranked at any point this season?
I elected to phrase the question this way, because I don’t think it’s a guarantee that it will happen. The Golden Eagles start the season off earning votes in the AVCA poll, but they’re also 130 points away from 25th place. That’s a pretty wide divide, and even beating fellow RV team Hawaii in the first weekend of the season probably wouldn’t be enough on its own to shove MU into the top 25. Weekend #2 of the season isn’t going to provide Marquette with any chances to immediately make a “YOU MUST RANK US” splash, and I don’t think the possible 6-0 record would be enough, either.
That brings MU to the first two home matches of the season..... and they’re against the preseason #3 and #2 teams in the country, in that order. Let’s be honest about it: Going 1-1 would be a massive accomplishment. Presuming that Kentucky and Wisconsin are still top five teams at that point? Is splitting with them enough to rank Marquette with a theoretical 7-1 record at that point? You could convince me both ways on that, but I’d also wager that the odds are against Marquette getting one of those wins. That’s not even a knock against Marquette, by the way! “I don’t know if you’re good enough to win a Final Four level match” isn’t a bad thing! Most teams aren’t that good!
If they don’t win either match, getting ranked at all this season probably comes down to one of two things. Either Marquette just compiles a metric ton of wins and overwhelms the voters with their record or Creighton gets themselves ranked and Marquette beats the Bluejays. MU’s first match against Creighton isn’t until October 10th, so we are a long way away from that possibility coming in.