Would you like a look behind the curtain?
I intentionally waited to write the opening you’re currently reading until Friday afternoon. Seton Hall was visiting Xavier with an 11:30am Central time start on Friday, and once I realized that fact, in combination with Marquette not playing until Saturday afternoon, it was somewhat imperative to wait until we got a result from that match. A Xavier win would continue us along the path we were already on, while a Seton Hall win would clinch a top two finish in the Big East for MU. The top two teams in the standings at the end of the season get a bye to the semifinals of the six team conference tournament, so it seems kind of important to wait to see if Marquette earned that bye before they faced off with the Friars on Saturday.
Xavier won, 3-0, to move to 10-5 in the Big East and remain one game ahead in the loss column of St. John’s and UConn and in third place in the league. Thus, they have kept open the possibility that the Golden Eagles could end up in a tie with the Musketeers and ultimately end up slipping to the #3 seed. Xavier won’t play again until Sunday afternoon, so the deck is clear for the 13-1 Golden Eagles to take care of their own business on Saturday and eliminate the chance of finishing with five losses in the league this season.
In case you’re wondering, yes, Creighton has already clinched that top two spot since they could only end up with four losses with their 14-0 record and can’t be caught by the Musketeers. As always since the Golden Eagles fell to the Bluejays in Omaha earlier this season, every match that MU plays at this point is effectively for the Big East regular season title, at least as long as Creighton doesn’t lose. Marquette needs to stay within one game of the Bluejays in order to create the chance of forcing a tie for the regular season title in the final match of the Big East calendar, which is at home against Creighton.
In the national picture, beyond MU’s #17 ranking in the AVCA top 15, the Golden Eagles have slipped to #16 in the NCAA’s RPI math. That’s through matches played on November 6th, so keep that in mind, but the fact of the matter is playing #258 Georgetown and #187 Villanova last weekend, even though they were 3-0 wins for MU, didn’t help the ol’ RPI. Marquette was #12 a week ago and #10 two weeks back. History has shown us that the NCAA selection committee is really just looking for an excuse to be dismissive of MU and Creighton because of their league schedule. Falling to #16 in the RPI when only the top 16 teams in the selection committee’s mind get a national seed and the right to host the first two rounds of the tournament is not great. RELATED: Providence is #251, but hey, at least it’s a road match. UConn is #86, and getting a top 100 road win would be very good in terms of keeping the Golden Eagles in contention to play postseason matches at the McGuire Center for just the second time in program history.
Big East Match #15: at Providence Friars (11-15, 3-11 Big East)
Marquette is a perfect 16-0 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 48-2 in sets against Providence, and both of the two losses were in the first ever meeting.
I believe that Providence is still fighting for a Big East tournament spot, at least for Saturday’s match. They’re exactly four games behind sixth place Butler, and so mathematically, they should still be in it, especially with a regular season finale against the Bulldogs still to come. Then again, they wouldn’t be in desperation mode without losses in six of their last seven matches, which is how they’ve landed in 10th place in the standings at the moment. Their only win? 3-2 on the road against last place Georgetown. Overall since they faced Marquette in Milwaukee, the Friars have gone 3-7, sweeping Georgetown, but getting swept by Creighton and Villanova. They did split with third-place Xavier, so it’s clear that they’re capable of playing like a team in the middle of the table.... they’re just not actually doing it over the past few weeks.
Emma Nelson continues to be the leader for the Providence offense. She’s averaging 2.65 kills per set this season, but just 2.47 in Big East play. Brielle Mullally has stepped in to do some damage against Big East foes, averaging an in-league team high 2.70 kills per set. Mullally is hitting .232 against conference opponents, but Nelson has still taken the majority of the swings, just barely, at 404 versus 393 for Mullally. Nelson is hitting just .161 against Big East teams, a somewhat notable drop from her .183 for the season.
The wildest part about whatever’s going on with Providence’s offense? Neither Mullally nor Nelson are leading the team in swings. Whether you look at it overall or in Big East play, that honor goes to Shaliyah Rhoden. She has 130 more swings overall than Nelson, although missing five sets overall does help explain a little bit of that. Nelson hasn’t missed a set in Big East play, but Rhoden and her .121 hitting percentage are still more than 40 swings ahead of her.
On the defensive end of things, Mackenzie Taylor is holding things together with 4.63 digs per set. That’s more than two digs per frame better than anyone else on the team with Mullally coming in second at 2.62/set. Kayla Grant and Sasha Rudich are a quality tandem of blockers, coming in at 0.82 and 0.80 blocks per set this season, and those numbers pretty much match up with what they’re doing in league play. That’s not knock you over kind of stuff, but it’s respectable enough to know you have to deal with it at the net.
Big East Match #16: at Connecticut Huskies (14-11, 8-6 Big East)
Marquette is 10-3 all time against Connecticut. The Golden Eagles have won the last seven meetings in the series to break what was a 3-3 tie. Both of the last two meetings, including earlier this season at the McGuire Center, have been 3-0 sweeps for Marquette.
UConn has a lot to play for at the moment. The Huskies are currently tied for fourth in the Big East with St. John’s at eight wins and six losses. That means they could still end up finishing as far down as eighth in the league, and with only the top six qualifying for the conference tournament that’s obviously outside looking in territory. The flip side of that is that they’re only one game behind third place Xavier in the loss column after the Musketeers beat Seton Hall on Friday afternoon. Finishing third is absolutely still on the table for UConn, and knocking off Marquette would definitely bring them one step closer to that goal.
Part of the reason why the Huskies are where they are in the standings is what happened in between playing Marquette earlier this season and now. Their match with Marquette was UConn’s third straight loss to open league play, and then they compounded their problem by falling on the road to DePaul in four sets and then not being able to close the door on a 2-0 lead over then-#21 Creighton at home. That’s 0-5 to start Big East action..... and then they won eight straight. They picked up their sixth loss in their most recent contest, which was their visit to Omaha to see the Bluejays this season. No shame there, but it’s put them back a step in competing for that conference tournament berth. They will host DePaul on Saturday afternoon before MU gets to Gampel, so it’s possible that the Golden Eagles could be handing them a third straight loss.
Caylee Parker remains the top option for the UConn offense, averaging 3.32 kills and hitting .233 this season. In Big East play, that’s 3.65 a frame and .275, so it’s very good for the Huskies that she’s been picking it up a bit. Jasmine Davis (2.97/set) is a quality second option at least in terms of production if not hitting percentage... but she hasn’t played since October 29th against Villanova. That’s really only two missed matches, but if she’s not available this weekend, then things get a little steeper for UConn here.
Madi Whitmire makes things go on offense for Connecticut, averaging 10.09 assists per set overall and nearly 11 a frame in Big East contests. Karly Berkland is leading UConn’s defensive end with 3.80 digs, but generally speaking, the Huskies are a digs-by-committee team. They’ve got three more players averaging at least two digs a set, although one of them is Davis. Kennadie Jake-Turner is one of the better blockers in the Big East, averaging 0.92 blocks for a point per set overall, but she’s a little bit down in league play at just 0.89.