Oh, man, remember Marquette women’s basketball?
There’s been just one MU game in the last 12 days as you’re reading this on Saturday afternoon when it publishes, 13 if you’re getting to it before the game on Sunday. Compared to the rush of the opening week of the season when Marquette played three games in seven days and then three more in three days in The Bahamas for a total of six games in 14 days.
Some of this is by design. This past week was Finals Week on campus, and as usual, Marquette did not schedule any games to allow the players to relax and focus on their academics. Part of it is on accident and completely outside MU’s control. They were supposed to play a game on December 7th, three days after their most recent Big East game. It was scheduled as a home game against Morgan State, but the Bears went through a stretch of COVID in the team and had to cancel two games as a result, including the trip to Milwaukee. Honestly, that might be for the best for MSU, as they were supposed to go to Texas A&M, to Marquette, and to Texas State (which is just outside San Antonio) all in a stretch of a week. Morgan State, by the way, is located in Baltimore, and that was either going to be a ton of travel back and forth or one very long road trip away from Maryland.
In any case, Marquette has played just one time since suffering an 82-78 loss at Seton Hall back on December 4th. That turned up as a 77-53 win at home against Loyola Chicago, and Jordan King scored a career high 30 points in that one to guide the Golden Eagles to a win. The loss to the Pirates knocked Marquette out of the top 25 after a brief drop in at #24 in the country for one week, but the win over the Ramblers has kept the Golden Eagles in the minds of the voters for the time being. That’s good, and hopefully a win on Sunday does the same thing again.
Marquette’s early run of success this season has them in great position as we inch closer to nothing but Big East play the rest of the way. They’re sitting at #29 in the NET through Wednesday’s games, and if you shorthand it to “top 50 are your at-large NCAA tournament candidates,” then the Golden Eagles are sitting pretty well off through 10 games. They’re 1-1 against top 25 NET opponents, and 2-1 against the top 50 so far this season. That’s going to go a long way for them as the season goes along. If they can scratch out wins against Villanova or Creighton or — oh my god can you imagine? — even UConn as the Huskies are clearly more vulnerable now than in any year in recent memory, then that’s even better.
But, in order to make sure those wins, the ones that they already have and the ones that they have a chance to earn in the future, have maximum value come Selection Sunday, Marquette has to take care of business. Sunday’s game is a “take care of business” game. They should win, they’re heavily favored to win by HerHoopStats.com’s evaluator. But they have to actually go out and do it, and do it after a long layoff of consistent and regular action on the court.
Big East Game #3: vs Butler Bulldogs (5-5, 0-2 Big East)
Marquette is 18-9 all time against Butler. The first ever meeting was in 1986, and like all of the first four, the Bulldogs came away victorious. Since 1991, Marquette has lost just five times and comes into this one on a five game winning streak against Butler.
If you’re measuring a new head coach’s first season on how they perform against the former head coach’s final season, it’s very clear that Austin Parkinson is already having a roaring success in his first year on the BU sideline. Last year, Butler went 1-27, losing their first 10 games as well as their final 17. This year, Butler is already 5-5, and that’s four more wins than the Bulldogs had last year. That’s almost a perfect declaration that things are going better than in 2021-22. The only thing they’re missing is a Big East win as BU went 0-18 in the league a year ago. They’ve only had two cracks at it, losing by eight at home to St. John’s and by six at home to DePaul. These teams are both earning Associated Press top 25 votes this week, and the Bulldogs kept it respectable against both of them. There will be wins for this squad in Big East play this season, let’s just not let it be here in their first road game of the conference slate.
Butler is not a particularly speedy team, averaging just under 70 possessions a game and ranking #258 in the country by HerHoopStats.com in that department. With that in mind, they have only two double digit scorers on the roster this season. Rachel McLimore and Sydney Jaynes have both started all 10 contests for the Bulldogs so far this year, and they put up 12.0 and 10.7 points per game respectively. McLimore, a 5’10” guard/forward on her bonus season of eligibility this year after spending three years at IUPUI with Parkinson, is making the most noise on the roster from long range, cashing in 45.5% of her 3.3 three-point attempts per game. Jaynes, a 6’3” sophomore, can hit the long range shot, connecting 36% of the time, but she’s attempting just barely over one per game. Jaynes shoots 61% on twos, so it’ll be up to Chloe Marotta and Liza Karlen to try to take that away from the Butler offense.
A big question for this game will be the availability of Anna Mortag. The 6’1” forward transfer from IUPUI is averaging 9.9 points per game and a team high 5.7 rebounds as well, plus she can hit the three at 43% on 3.1 attempts per game. However, she did not play in BU’s last game, a 65-63 home loss to Illinois this past Sunday. If she can’t go, that’s going to be a notable loss, as McLimore and Jaynes are the only Bulldogs to start every game this season, and up until the Illinois game, Mortag was the only other player to start every game. On top of that on the court loss, Mortag lists Milwaukee as her home town and attended Brookfield Central High School. There are a total of four women on the Butler roster hailing from somewhere in Wisconsin, so you should expect a pretty notable contingent cheering for the road team on Sunday.
It should be clear from the mentions of three-point shooting already that Butler is a pretty good shooting team. They actually rank #15 in the country, connecting on 39% of their shots from beyond the arc. Weirdly, that’s not a major focus of their offense, at least not to this point of the season. Whether that’s Parkinson figuring out what exactly he has or just a refusal to steer into it or a believe that they’re just hot for 10 games, I don’t know. What I do know is that Marquette likes to take those threes away from you. Not as in “teams shoot poorly against MU,” which they do. I meant that Megan Duffy has the Golden Eagles ranking #14 in the country in three-point rate allowed. They’re contesting possession at the arc and forcing teams into another direction. That’s good, relative to Butler’s ability to shoot it, but it seems that BU will be content to let Marquette do that as well.
A big point of contention will be what happens when Marquette misses a shot. MU isn’t knocking them dead from a shooting efficiency standpoint, so the offense does depend, to a certain extent, on offensive rebounding. The Golden Eagles are hauling in nearly 39% of their misses, and that’s a top 40 in the country number. Butler, on the other hand, is top 40 in defensive rebounding rate. Essentially, this means that the Bulldogs are just as good as ending possessions on one shot as Marquette is at extending them. One side is going to have to win that battle, and that’s going to give that team a pretty notable edge in this game.