The Golden Eagles head into league play with a record of 9-2 with the two losses coming against the two top 10 opponents that MU played. In other words, this is right about where you would have hoped Marquette was through 11 matches. Beating two teams that went to the Final Four in the spring was going to be really hard, even with those matches at home, and the Golden Eagles came up short. It happens. They also won every single other match, and while it’s up for debate for the time being as to how beneficial any of those wins will be when it comes to NCAA tournament selection time, the fact of the matter is that they are all wins. MU didn’t take a single bad loss or even a single mediocre loss, so that will set them up well down the road.
That explains the pitfalls of Big East play, though. Creighton is the only true threat on the schedule, although St. John’s has been playing like a legitimate postseason contender for the past few seasons. Very few if any other teams on the league slate have a chance at making the NCAA tournament this fall..... but with the exception of Connecticut, they’re all very familiar with playing Marquette under the guidance of Ryan Theis. Marquette has to take each and every match on the slate very seriously because, without a marquee win right now, they can’t afford to take weird losses. They took one in the spring, falling to an awful Butler team, and that one off night arguably cost them the end of their nine year NCAA tournament streak.
Is Marquette favored to win both matches they’ll play this weekend? Almost assuredly. Can they coast through these matches? Absolutely not. Focus is the name of the game for this business trip to the east coast.
Big East Match #1: at Villanova Wildcats (8-4, 0-0 Big East)
Marquette is 19-4 all time against Villanova. The first meeting came in 2005 which was MU’s first year in the Big East. The Golden Eagles have won six straight matches in the series and 15 of the last 17 sets as well.
Villanova comes in to the Big East opener with wins in five of their last six contests. The loss came this past weekend when they got swept by Princeton. Overall, their results are not particularly impressive. No one’s going to fault them for a loss to Stanford to start the season, but they also have losses to Western Carolina (3-0), Grand Canyon (3-0) in there and it took them five sets to beat both Northeastern (6-6 so far this season) and Temple (a very not good 4-7).
At a glance, it seems that Villanova’s biggest problem is merely putting the same lineup on the floor match in and match out. Only three women have played in all 42 sets so far this season, and only two more women have played in more than 38 sets. Two of the women who have been in all 42 sets are averaging north of two kills per set and Riley Homer is leading the squad at 3.81/set. Clare Delaplane is #2 on the team in kills at 2.67 per set... but she has also missed the last four matches. There’s just more questions wherever you look. Kathleen Johnson with 2.33 kills/set? Only played against Penn in VU’s most recent match! Sanaa Barnes and her 2.21 kills per set? Missed the first three matches of the year and one match two weekends ago. And so on and so forth.
Belle Morgan has played in 37 sets while appearing in all 12 matches for the Wildcats and leads the team at 9.92 assists per set. Andrea Campos has gotten on the floor in four matches and appears to have taken over full time setter duties when she’s been out there since she’s averaging 8.56 assists. Averi Salvador is the third player who has appeared in all 42 sets, and her 4.36 digs per frame this season are awfully close to twice as many as anyone else on the roster. Kiera Booth provides a reliable presence at the net with just barely under a block per set at this point of the season.
Big East Match #2: at Georgetown Hoyas (4-7, 0-0 Big East)
Marquette is 18-4 all time against Georgetown. The first ever meeting was back in 1996 as part of an event that the Hoyas hosted and they were bad hosts, winning the match 3-1. Georgetown won the first two matches in the series and four of the first seven. It’s been all Marquette over the last 15 meetings, and the Golden Eagles have won 18 of the last 19 sets as well.
Yeah, Georgetown doesn’t look like they’re a good volleyball team this year. They started the season off with back to back losses to American and Howard, so they’re not even a good volleyball team relative to their own city. Things got regionally worse when they took losses to Delaware State and Loyola Maryland, and that loss to the Greyhounds kicked off their current four match losing streak. Their next three defeats? Fairleigh Dickinson, Virginia, and Bellarmine. That streak could hit five in a row as the Hoyas will host DePaul on Friday before MU comes to town.
This probably shouldn’t be surprising. The Hoyas didn’t even play in the spring season and they’ve had just one winning season since 2012. Combine “history of not being particularly good” and “took two straight years off from playing volleyball” and you’re not going to get a lot of positive results.
Their attack, such as it is, has Mary Grace Goyena out in front. The 6’1” outside hitter is leading the team at 2.98 kills per set. Giselle Williams is the only other player averaging over two kills per set, but she didn’t play in the Bellarmine match and has only played in 30 sets out of the 45 total so far this season. No matter who ends up throwing attacks across the net, things are probably not going to go well for them against the Golden Eagles as just one of GU’s six hitters with at least 100 attacks this season is hitting better than .190.
Emma Plutnicki has started at setter in 10 of Georgetown’s matches and she’s averaging 7.49 assists per set.... but she didn’t play against Bellarmine, so it’s up in the air as to whether she’s available here. Jessica Cusi might be the closest thing that Georgetown has to a reliable component in the rotation, as she has played in every set and leads the team at 4.20 digs per set. We at least have to consider that Chanelle Smith can give Cusi a run for the reliability throne as she’s averaging 1.17 blocks per frame while starting every match for GU.