Part of the problem is that Marquette had a visit to UConn dashed by the Golden Eagles encountering a COVID problem coming out of Christmas break. The other part of the problem isn’t really a problem at all, as that UConn game was the only game that Marquette had scheduled between the 22nd and Friday. MU was naturally supposed to have a week and a half off after visiting the Huskies, so that undoubtedly helped head coach Megan Duffy and her staff manage whatever layoff from practice that they had to undergo because of the COVID shutdown.
It also might be beneficial to super-senior Karissa McLaughlin. MU’s #2 scorer, #1 passer, and top (only?) three-point shooter went out of the Cincinnati game after just 12 minutes of action after apparently doing something to her ankle while executing a spin move in transition. McLaughlin left the game and did not return to action, but she did turn up on the Marquette bench in a walking boot for the second half. It appears to be the same ankle that she had surgically reconstructed before her fourth season at Purdue, and the one that she thought she had rehabbed enough to play in 2020-21 but ultimately had to shut it down after a handful of games. Marquette has not said a single word about McLaughlin’s health since the Cincinnati game, so I guess we’re all just waiting til tipoff on Friday night to see if she’s going to be able to keep playing or if that ankle has finally ended her collegiate career.
Given that this game is a restart to the season to a certain extend and it’s on the road and it’s against the team sitting in first place in the Big East, I don’t think this is quite an inflection point to the season for the Golden Eagles. Given Creighton’s position in the NET and the Big East standings in particularly against their preseason poll projection of sixth, sure, it would be a pretty big deal to walk into Omaha and get the win. But Marquette has looked shaky at times this season, and merely having a quality performance on the road against a good team is probably more important than actually winning here.
After all, the last time that Marquette played a Big East game, they were tied at 51 with Seton Hall with 9:24 to play...... and then immediately gave up a 16-0 run to the Pirates to end up taking the loss in South Orange. A little birdie told me that Duffy was none too happy with the performance after the game, although that’s merely confirming what the outside observer could easily surmise. The Golden Eagles need to play better than they did in that one, even if they played pretty well for the other 34 minutes of the game, and that has to be the goal for Friday night somewhere in middle America.
Big East Game #4: at Creighton Bluejays (9-3, 4-0 Big East)
Marquette is 12-14 all time against Creighton. With that said, Marquette took all three meetings last season, including the matchup in the Big East semifinals, to run their winning streak to four in a row in the series and eight of the last 12.
Creighton is having themselves a heck of a season so far. It might not have looked like that through four games when the Jays were 2-2. However, as it turns out, their road losses to Drake and Nebraska — by three and five points respectively — have stood up pretty well. Nebraska is 12-1 and up to #8 in the NET, while Drake is 9-4 and still in the top 60 of the NET. Nothing wrong with those road losses, that’s for sure. Anyway, after that, they reeled off five straight wins, including a 2-0 start to Big East play, dropped a home date to a NET top 40 South Dakota team, but bounced back to win two league road games AND go to Fayetteville and knock off a very good Arkansas squad.
All in all, the Bluejays have set themselves up on a path to an NCAA tournament bid AND they are currently atop the Big East standings. They’re unbeaten through four contests, while DePaul is 3-0 and UConn is 1-0 to round out the teams that are still unbeaten so far. Pretty neat, huh?
It seems that Creighton is doing this more by way of offense than defense, although their ability to get stops is nothing to sneer at right now. Her Hoop Stats has the Bluejays ranked #22 in the country in points per 100 possessions and #39 in their Offensive Rating calculations. They are a lethal outside shooting team, connecting on 37% of their long range shots, which is 13th best in the country, and that pushes them up to an effective field goal percentage of nearly 52%, good enough for 23rd best in the nation.
Creighton spreads that firepower around, with nine of their 10 every night rotation players averaging at least one attempt per game. If we round Emma Ronsiek up from 2.9 to an even three per game, that gives head coach Jim Flanery four players firing off at least three long range shots per game, and three of them are very good at it. Morgan Maly leads the team at 7.2 attempts per game, and 37% of her tries go down. Lauren Jensen is just short of five attempts, and she’s hitting 44%. Ronsiek is the last of the three primary shooters at 37.5%. If Marquette can somehow trick the entire Jays’ offense into funneling their shots through Tatum Rembao, that’s probably the best version for the Golden Eagles. She’s hitting just 22% this season on three attempts per game. With that said, this is an outlier for her, as she’s never hit lower than 30% in a season and hit 42% a year ago. Rembao is also leading CU in assists per game and ranks in the top 60 in the country in assist rate, so it certainly seems like she knows that she’s better off setting her teammates up.
One thing that’s working in MU’s favor is that Creighton isn’t interested in turning this game into a track meet. They might shoot more threes as a function of their offense than all but 26 teams in the country, but CU isn’t hurrying to get there. They’re averaging just over 68 possessions per game, and that nearly has them ranked in the 300s nationally. That’s good news for MU relative to the Golden Eagles’ woes shooting the ball since they likely won’t have to win in a shootout..... but it’s not so good since it means that MU is going to have to defend as hard as possible for a whole heck of a lot of the shot clock every time down the court.
The Bluejays aren’t particularly interested in taking a second chance at shooting it (they rank just #162 in offensive rebounding rate), but they’re very interested in you only taking one crack at it. They’re hauling in nearly 74% of the available defensive rebounds so far this season, which ranks them #40 in the country. 5’11” guard Payton Brotzki is the most effective defensive rebounder according to Her Hoop Stats, but she’s only ranking #162 in the country in terms of rate in her 14 minutes a night. The point of the story is that they’re clearing the glass as a team more than anything else, so Marquette can’t rely on merely being one of the 10 best offensive rebounding teams in the country in order to help bolster their own offense in this one.