QUESTION #1: Who is going to step up for Marquette this season?
Think about last year’s team in terms of jobs. There were nine jobs — five starters, four subs — on last year’s roster. The five starters played in every single game and four of them started every game as well. Two of those starting jobs are now available with the departure of Karissa McLaughlin and Lauren Van Kleunen. Two of the bench jobs are available as well, as Danyel Middleton transferred to UIC and Antwainette Walker elected to spend her bonus season of eligibility at Eastern Kentucky.
That’s four jobs that are up for grabs this season.
If you want to argue that Rose Nkumu and Kennedi Myles are going to play bigger roles on this year’s team, sure! Right there with you. That would count as “stepping up” under the letter of answering the question at hand. But they were the other two bench role players last season. If they take on a different job, then that’s just opening up the job they had last year, and we’re still at filling four jobs.
Nia Clark comes to mind immediately as someone to take one of the jobs. She didn’t really have a choice when it came to leaving Xavier, but it feels like maybe she’s got something to prove now that she’s getting another chance in the Big East. Emily La Chapell is a top 100 prospect coming out of Appleton, and you’d like to believe that she’s going to get a chance to contribute right out of the gate.
MU is still going to need two more jobs filled. Makiyah Williams, now that she has a whole season of college hoops under her belt? Julianna Okosun, now that Marquette has a LVK shaped hole on the interior? One of the other three freshmen on the roster?
Or maybe Claire Kaifes, who I intentionally left for last here, just to leapfrog us into the next question.......
QUESTION #2: Will someone, literally anyone, please hit a three-pointer this season?
Karissa McLaughlin on her own accounted for 60.1% of Marquette’s three-point attempts last season and 72.5% of their makes. Total up everyone who left the active roster last season, and those numbers go up to 69.3% and 78.3%. Marquette’s returning players shot 26-for-107 from long range last year. I don’t know what part about that is worse: the 24.3% conversion rate or the less than one make on just over three attempts per game.
By the way: That 24.3% includes Jordan King’s 33.3% for the year, and she went 3-for-12 in MU’s first six games of the year and had to shoot nearly 36% the rest of the year to get there... and please remember that she only averaged 1.7 attempts a game.
Pinning an entire component of a modern 21st century basketball offense on one player last year was a notable flaw in the Marquette roster. That one player is gone now because McLaughlin was always only going to be here for one year. That leaves a grand total of.... well, no one as a reliable returning shooter. Before figuring out her shot last year, King had turned in shooting percentages of 23% and 27% from behind the arc, and with that low total of attempts, it’s clear that she wrapped up last year still not 100% sure of her shot.
I used Claire Kaifes as the leapfrog into this section because I presume that, up until her offseason knee injury, she was going to get a chance to shoot it more than a little last year. She connected on 34% of her long range attempts as a freshman in 2020-21, and was letting it go 2.8 times a game. If she can get into games and contribute, that’s going to help Marquette stretch the floor.
Liza Karlen is a big option as a shooter as well. She hit just short of 40% of her threes as a freshman, and then missed her first 18 attempts of the 2021-22 season. That pretty much put a halt to Marquette even trying to get Karlen some long range looks, so she went just 4-for-19 the rest of the year. If she can generate a dangerous inside/outside game, that’s going to create a dimension that was completely lacking from last year’s roster.
Nia Clark showed signs of hitting long range buckets in her first two years of college hoops, but only hit 27% last year. Emily La Chapell shot 40% and 38% from behind the arc in her final two years of high school. Aizhanique Mayo drained 47% of her tries as a senior in Connecticut.
Marquette has options. Hopefully they can all come together and create a legitimate multi-dimensional shooting attack for the Golden Eagles. But for now, it’s a mystery as to who can be relied on as a given long range threat right now.
QUESTION #3: Is this an NCAA Tournament team?
Last year was the first time since 2016 that Marquette did not play in the NCAA tournament. That even counts 2020 when the tournament was canceled but Marquette was clearly deserving of an at-large bid at the time. While MU was gunning for a program record fifth straight appearance in tournaments that actually happened, there was never really an argument that they deserved an at-large bid in the closing weeks of the regular season.
The fact of the matter is that they lost non-conference games to eventual tourney teams Colorado (#7 seed) and Georgia (#6), split with non-tourney team but eventual WNIT runner-up Seton Hall, split with tourney team DePaul (#11), and got swept by tourney team Villanova (#11). Turn two or three of those six losses to wins, or maybe even just close the door on the home game against UConn — that was a two point game at the start of the fourth quarter, after all — and MU’s probably an NCAA tournament team there. They weren’t that far off, they just didn’t take advantage of the situations in front of them when they had the chance to do it.
This year, Marquette’s non-conference schedule is split into two parts: Home games, with five of seven coming against top 200 Her Hoop Stats teams last year, and the woodchipper known as the Battle 4 Atlantis. The good news is that B4A is going to be great for MU’s strength of schedule components in the NET. The bad news is that 0-3 is a realistic result in that tournament. If the Golden Eagles filch even one win out of that event and square up win after win at the McGuire Center, they’re probably in a lot better position for an at-large bid this year.
My answer to the question at the start of the year? I can see how they get there from here. Am I 100% confident that they figure it out between now and March? Not 100%, that’s for sure.