Can I start this preview off with a helpful tip for everyone?
If you’re not familiar with Hoop Explorer, I highly recommend you go check it out. It’s not just because it’s a good college basketball website in this case. They have debuted women’s college basketball stats over there now, which means we can get on/off efficiency data for the Megan Duffy version of Marquette! This is how we can learn very fun things like, for example, through three games of the season as the Golden Eagles have started off 3-0, the MU offense completely falls apart without Jordan King on the floor. Adjusting for competition level and filtering out garbage time, Marquette is tallying 116.0 points per 100 possessions with King running around out there for them..... and just 75.4 without her. The defense gets a little better without King on the floor, but when the differential is that big on offense, you take the trade off, y’know? Chloe Marotta is the defensive version of that, with a 73.6 per 100 allowed on and 105.6 while she’s on the bench.
I suspect no one is being taken by surprise by any of this information, but it’s more of a “this is confirming things we would have guessed” type of scenario. Have fun playing around with that.
Anyway, onwards to the Battle 4 Atlantis. It’s good that Marquette is 3-0 already this season because, uh, it’s going to be an uphill battle to get a win out of the Bahamas. As you can see, MU gets #3 Texas to start the tournament... and then they play either #6 ranked Louisville or a Gonzaga team that’s earning votes in the AP poll on Sunday..... and then they play one of #11 Tennessee, UCLA, South Dakota State, or Rutgers on Monday.... and the Bruins and the Jackrabbits are the unofficial #26 and #27 teams in the country just outside the top 25 right now. Rutgers is 3-1 with a loss to Seton Hall, for the record.
Yeah! It’s a lot! It’s really cool that Marquette is participating in this event.... but also, when you look around the room at the long standing history of all of these programs, Marquette was brought in as 1) a representative of the Big East and 2) a crash test dummy. Can they win at least one game? I mean, let’s not rule it out. It’s a neutral court game played in a hotel ballroom an hour’s flight off the coast of Miami. Anything can happen for 40 minutes, and even Her Hoop Stats says that MU has nearly a 50/50 chance of winning their first round game thanks to the neutral court setting.
The winner of this game will play the winner of #6 Louisville and RV Gonzaga on Sunday at 1:30pm Central time, while the loser of MU/UT gets the Cardinals/Bulldogs loser at 6:30pm CT on Sunday.
Game #4: vs #3 Texas Longhorns (1-1)
Marquette is 1-1 all time against Texas. The Longhorns won the first meeting in Austin in 1994, 98-86, while the Golden Eagles snagged a 68-65 win in the 2011 NCAA tournament.
It’s hard to make any declarative statements about the Longhorns at this point of the season. They beat Louisiana 68-45 in their opener after opening up a 17-8 lead on the Ragin’ Cajuns at the end of the first quarter, so it’s not like they had to pull away late in that one. Big deal. Game #2 of the year was on Monday night, and they went up to Storrs and lost, 83-76, to a UConn team that is still ranked in the top 10 in the country even though they don’t have Paige Bueckers at all this season thanks to her offseason knee injury. Big deal, (almost) everyone loses to UConn in Storrs.
About the only real thing that we can say about Texas right now is that we haven’t seen what the Longhorns are supposed to be yet. Last year, Rori Harmon chipped in 11.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 2.4 steals per game. This earned her Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors and as the Longhorns won the conference tournament, she was named Most Outstanding Player. Coming into this season, ESPN had the 5’6” point guard as one of the 25 best players in the country… and in fact had her at #10.
And she hasn’t played a minute yet, not in a game that matters. Harmon missed both contests with a toe injury that’s relatively minor but also not worth having her running around on it this early in the season. Is she going to be ready to go on Saturday against the Golden Eagles? Is head coach Vic Schaefer going to — fairly, by the way — guess that his team should be able to beat the Golden Eagles without Harmon in the lineup and hold her off for the rest of the tournament? Is Harmon still going to be a no-go for the entire trip to the Bahamas? It’s a big question, and at the very least, it has to be at least slightly beneficial to MU’s chances of pulling the upset if she doesn’t play.
Without Harmon, Schaefer is going eight deep in his rotation this season so far, nine technically as there are nine women who have played in both games but Khadijah Faye, a transfer from Texas Tech, is averaging five minutes so I don’t know if that counts. 6’4” forward and Oregon State transfer Taylor Jones is leading the team in scoring so far at 15.5 ppg, although Sonya Morris — yes, former DePaul guard Sonya Morris — is right behind her at 15.0/game. 6’2” freshman Ndjakalenga Mwenentanda is doing a great job coming off the bench to start her Longhorns career, averaging 11.5 points in UT’s first two contests.
Everyone rebounds at least a little bit for Texas, led by 7.0 per game from Jones. Marquette’s goal is to dictate the game through rebounding, and dealing with Jones’ size is going to be a major impediment to MU’s chances of winning this thing. The Longhorns are doing a good job sharing the ball without Harmon in the lineup as six of their rotation players are averaging at least one assists per game so far. 5’10” BYU transfer Shaylee Gonzales leads the pack there with 3.5 a night.
I don’t know if it means anything for the Golden Eagles and how they can figure out a way to win, but man, I just typed out the word “transfer” and awful lot in those last few paragraphs. They’re clearly a very good basketball team given the fact that they gave UConn a run for their money, but it’s at least reasonable to wonder how much the Longhorns are still figuring out exactly what they are as a team with so many new faces carrying such heavy loads. That could make the re-introduction of Harmon to the rotation even more interesting, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.