No, your eyes do not deceive you. This is a Marquette women’s basketball preview, and yes, we are talking about the start of Big East play at the start of December. No, non-conference play has not ended, there’s still three more of those games to go, including a bit of a big showdown with Colorado looming in the distance.
But Creighton and Xavier already started off Big East action last week, and we’ve got to fit in 20 games somehow, so here we are. It’s important to note that Marquette is off on the road for their first pair of Big East contests since 1) the league wanted this weekend of action, there’s 5 games on Friday and 4 on Sunday, and 2) Marquette wanted the Al McGuire Center available for the volleyball team to host the NCAA tournament. Was it a long shot back in whenever over the spring or summer for this particular iteration of Ryan Theis’ Golden Eagles to earn that top 16 national seed? Maybe, given how little MU was bringing back.... but the goal every year is to host those first two rounds, and better safe than sorry, and a tip of the cap to the Marquette administration to not taking any chances.
That brings us along to the other fun part of what’s going on this week: Marquette is ranked in the AP poll! The big wins over Texas and Gonzaga along with a very close overtime battle with either Receiving Votes or #20 UCLA, depending on whether you count the poll before or after the game, has led to the voters elevating MU into the rankings. Weirdly, they actually got one fewer point in the voting totals than they did the week before as the unofficial #27 team in the country, but that’s life, I suppose. Anyway, the point of the story is MU is ranked for the first time since the end of the 2018-19 season. That was Carolyn Kieger’s final year in Milwaukee, so yes, this is the first time that MU has been ranked under the direction of Megan Duffy. It’s also the first time that Duffy has had a nationally ranked team, as she didn’t quite get there in her two years at Miami.
That means that Marquette is absolutely on track for an NCAA tournament berth this early in the season... but it also means that Marquette has to keep the train on the tracks. The only way to stay in the rankings is to keep winning. It would generally speaking be bad for the #24 ranking to take a loss between now and MU’s December 28th showdown with current #25 ranked Villanova, and at a glance, it would probably be not good for the NCAA tournament picture as well. Once you stake a claim to a spot, defending it becomes an every day priority instead of looking ahead at the opportunities to claim a spot. As long as Marquette keeps working as hard as they have been working on defense — #27 in the country on that end per Her Hoop Stats — then most things should work out okay.
Big East Game #1: at Georgetown Hoyas (4-2, 0-0 Big East)
Marquette is 24-4 all time against Georgetown. The Golden Eagles have won 10 straight in the series and 13 of the last 14, including a season sweep last season. MU’s most recent loss in the series was at Georgetown in January 2018.
For a team picked to finish ninth in the Big East this season, the Hoyas have had a perfectly acceptable start to their season, even with a 31 point opening victory over a Division 2 squad. They have wins at Coppin State, at home over Cal Fullerton, and on a neutral floor against High Point. The losses have come at Temple and against Mississippi State on a neutral court. Yeah, maybe that’s not great, especially losing by 35 to MSU, but again: picked ninth.
It could be interesting to see how things go for the Hoyas as the season goes along, as head coach James Howard is leaning heavily on his starters to this point of the season. All five of them are averaging over 21 minutes a night in their five games against Division 1 opponents, and three are north of 32 per game. Only three bench players have appeared in all five contests, and only two of them are averaging more than nine minutes a game. I’m not saying everyone has to go 10 deep every game out, but it’s not a good sign if a team that’s not projected to do well is also not letting their starters get much of a break.
With that said, Georgetown isn’t burning up the courts pace-wise. Her Hoop Stats has them at #267 in the country in possessions per 40 minutes, so that tempo is going to help them out a bit. It’s also putting a lid on their scoring, which is how you get Kristina Moore leading the team at just 9.8 points per game. Both Jada Claude and Kennedy Fauntleroy are at exactly 9.0/game in their five D1 contests, while Kelsey Ransom and Graceann Bennett, the other two starters, are just north of eight a game. That kind of diversity in scoring can be beneficial, as it requires a defense to treat pretty much everyone evenly and not key in on stopping any one player.
As always when Marquette is involved, we have to think about the rebounding battle. That’s a big focus for head coach Megan Duffy, so we know it will be key every time out. So far this season the Hoyas have been a pretty good offensive rebounding team, currently ranking #86 in the country and pulling in over 35% of their misses. Amongst the regulars, Jada Claude and Kelsey Ransom lead the way there at 9.2% in rate each. The Hoyas are not a good shooting team, ranking just #278 in effective field goal percentage, so MU will need to be on point every time GU puts a shot up. On the other end, it’s possible that the Golden Eagles will be able to dominate the glass. The Hoyas are a kind of bad defensive rebounding team at this point of the calendar, ranking just below #250 in the country per Her Hoop Stats. Marquette has yet to show that they’re an elite rebounding team like they were last season, but they’re still #43 in the country on the offensive glass. That’s a lot of second chances available to them, especially if Georgetown isn’t ending the possessions.
Big East Game #2: at Seton Hall Pirates (4-3, 0-0 Big East)
Marquette is 17-10 all time against Seton Hall. The Golden Eagles snapped a three game skid against the Pirates with a 62-43 home win last January.
It’s hard to get a read on Seton Hall so far this season. They started off their campaign by clattering Saint Peter’s at home and then going to Rutgers and winning by 28 in The RAC. They lost by four at home to a ranked Princeton team next time out, and that’s not really a problem.... but losing by seven three days later to Columbia wasn’t great either.... and when that led into a 62-61 loss to VCU in their first game of the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, all of a sudden the Pirates were just 2-3 after landing in a tie to finish fourth in the Big East this season.
They have righted the ship since then, beating Wisconsin and Georgia in the next two days after the VCU loss, and it’s that last one that’s the most notable. Georgia came into that game 7-0 and earning votes in the AP poll and fresh off wins of their own against Wisconsin and VCU in the PJ. The Pirates were trailing by 10 with 3:54 to go in the third quarter of the game, and were still behind by a bucket with 6:54 left in the fourth. They closed the game on an 18-10 stretch after seizing control of the game with a 9-0 run. SHU is going to play at Xavier on Friday night, so we’ll get a chance to see how they respond to that big win over the Bulldogs.
To a certain extent, as goes Lauren Park-Lane, so goes Seton Hall. She’s one of just two Pirates to start in all seven games, and she is logging 38.4 minutes a night on average, including going the full 40 three times already this season and another game of 39:14. LPL is their leading scorer at 19.9 points per game, and her 5.7 assists per game is currently third in the Big East just barely behind DePaul’s Darrione Rogers and well behind UConn’s Nika Muhl. Considering that she stands just 5’3”, the fact that Park-Lane is averaging 2.1 rebounds per game is flipping amazing, and that’s why she’s an all-Big East player.
Sidney Cooks and Sha’Lynn Hagans are giving the Pirates great secondary scoring. They’re averaging 16.0 and 11.9 points per game respectively so far this season, and they’re both doing a lot of it by raining in threes. That’s one thing that’s a weakness for Park-Lane this year as well as in years past, so it’s good for them to have other options. Cooks is at 39% this year, while Hagans is at — this is not a joke — 52%, and both women are averaging 3.3 attempts per contest.
While the Georgetown game will require monitoring relative to the rebounding situation, that’s not the case here. Seton Hall is at best a mediocre rebounding team right now, ranking #229 on the offensive glass and #253 on the defensive glass. This is a team that Marquette can take advantage of on both ends of the floor. This will require the usual hard work on the offensive glass and forcing the Pirates into bad shots on the defensive end. That itself will be a challenge, as the three-point shooting from Cooks and Hagans are helping to push SHU to #39 in the country in effective field goal percentage heading into the weekend.