Yeah, so Marquette lost to UConn on Wednesday night, and no, it was not pretty on any level. Neither team could keep track of the ball consistently, but the Huskies hit their shots and MU did not, and boom, 31 point loss.
I don’t want to say that Marquette’s postseason hopes hinged on pulling that upset, because that’s kind of silly. However, it would have done MU a world of good. We’re kind of at a “well, get whatever wins you can left on the board and see what happens” situation.
Let’s focus on the short term postseason future for Marquette, and that’s the Big East tournament. After the conclusion of Wednesday night’s action in the league, the Golden Eagles are sitting in fifth place in the conference. The best they can hope for right now is a tie for fourth place with DePaul, and the worst they can do is sixth place. Tying with the Blue Demons would require two MU wins this weekend (Her Hoop Stats says a better than 73% chance on both games, so kind of likely) as well as two losses by DePaul in their games at home against Seton Hall (78%, so not great) and at Creighton (30%, so decent). That doesn’t seem particularly likely.
The upside of Seton Hall not helping Marquette out would be that a win by MU and a loss by Seton Hall on Friday would clinch the #5 seed for the Golden Eagles. The Pirates are the team in sixth place, and they’re 10-8. If they lose, that’s their ninth loss, and if MU wins, the Golden Eagles can’t finish with worse than eight losses. Finishing in fifth and not sixth is relatively important. The bottom six teams in the conference — sixth place and down — play each other on day #1 of the conference tournament. A first round game against Butler and their absolutely awful NET is going to do Marquette no good in terms of the NCAA tournament. But bypassing that and going directly to a game against DePaul or Villanova, maybe Creighton, depending on how things fall, all three teams who are aiming at the NCAA tournament? That’s potentially good news for Marquette.
But one thing at a time. Can’t finish strong if you don’t actually win, and that’s the biggest thing on the table for Marquette right now.
Big East Game #19: at Providence Friars (11-16, 6-12 Big East)
Marquette is 21-6 all time against Providence. After the 61-59 victory at the McGuire Center earlier this season, the Golden Eagles have now won 10 straight games against the Friars. Just think, this series was once only 11-6 favoring MU.
Since the Golden Eagles snuck past the Friars back on February 4th, it’s largely been more of the same for Providence. They haven’t won a game against a Big East caliber opponent since, and I phrased that in a particular way on purpose. Providence’s only two wins in their 2-4 stretch since the trip to Milwaukee? 64-53 at home against Butler and 69-41 on the road against Butler. The Bulldogs are currently 0-16 in Big East play, 1-24 overall, and #332 in the NET. Like I said, no wins over a Big East caliber opponent, and that includes a 62-60 home loss on FS1 to a sub-200 NET team like Xavier.
I’m saying Providence isn’t very good, and it’s a legitimate problem that Marquette only beat them by two in Milwaukee. Of course, it really shouldn’t have been a two point win, as the Golden Eagles were up by nine with three minutes to play. That game had been hovering right around a possession, maybe two, for the first three quarters until the Golden Eagles built that nine point lead over and over again in the fourth. Providence wiped it away down the stretch, but some just ugly play by the Friars allowed Marquette to seal the win.
Marquette is going to have to contain Kylee Sheppard in this game. Her three-point shooting (3-for-5 in Milwaukee) was a big reason why Marquette had a problem closing out the game the first time around. She hit two big ones in the closing minutes, and she was the primary reason why PC shot 5-for-10 from long range in the game. The freshman is shooting 39% on the year and is the only real long range shooting option that head coach Jim Crowley has. Sure, Emily Archibald and Janai Crooms are hitting north of 40% of their attempts, but since they don’t even average two attempts per game, you don’t have to worry about them all that much.
Marquette is going to need to figure out how to play against Providence’s defense. MU’s shooting was awful in Milwaukee, just 33% overall and 35.7% if you flip it around to effective field goal percentage. They made it work enough to win by hauling in nearly 44% of their misses, and MU is an elite rebounding squad.... but depending on that to win instead of hitting shots is a risky proposition as we’ve seen over and over this season. Providence is a mediocre at best defense overall at just #147 in Her Hoop Stats’ metric, but they’re a pretty good eFG% defense at #62 in the country. MU should be able to take advantage of PC’s poor rebounding on both ends, but again, you don’t want to rely on that to make your entire offense work.
It’s worth noting that this will be Senior Day for Providence, as they will wrap up the regular season with a trip to Connecticut on Sunday afternoon.
Big East Game #20: vs St. John’s Red Storm (11-16, 7-10 Big East)
Marquette is 19-10 all time against St. John’s. After winning at Carnesecca Arena earlier this season, the Golden Eagles have now won six straight contests against the Red Storm and 10 of the last 11 meetings. The only loss in that run? A trip to Carnesecca Arena in February 2019 when MU was ranked #8 in the country.
Things have kind of gone well for St. John’s since Marquette won in Queens back on January 30th. They won four of their next five contests — that’s the kind of thing you get to do when you play Butler, Georgetown, and Xavier twice — and they’ve won five of seven to get around to a certain amount of respectability in terms of the league standings. That’s probably going to turn into five of eight by the time they get to Milwaukee, though. They have to go up to Hartford to face UConn on Friday nigh before jetting out to visit MU.
I wonder if the two teams will share a plane to Wisconsin since MU will be right down the road at Providence on Friday night.
The first time around, Marquette led by eight at the end of the first quarter and again early in the third quarter, but it was the Red Storm holding the advantage, 63-62, with just over 90 seconds left thanks to a pair of very open corner three-pointers. Marquette took the lead, St. John’s fell asleep relative to how much time was left on the clock, missed some shots, and the Golden Eagles iced the game at the free throw line. It’s not the kind of way you’d like to win a ball game if you have an eight point lead repeatedly, but it works and counts nonetheless.
Marquette did a pretty good job containing Leilani Correa the first time around. The guard from New Jersey shot just 8-for-20 from the field, and three of her misses were of the long range variety. At a glance, St. John’s had better options in terms of who was hitting shots all game long, so getting a 40% shooting day from SJU’s leading scorer is pretty good, even if it is kind of par for the course for Correa this season.
One thing Marquette did particularly well was keep St. John’s from shooting three-pointers. The Johnnies love to shoot threes, ranking #44 in the country in attempt rate according to Her Hoop Stats. MU kept them to just 24% of their shots from long range, well down from their season average of north of 35%. That’s good news, since they’re also a really accurate three-point shooting team at this point of the year. 34% of their shots go down, and that ranks #43 in the country per HHS. Six of Correa’s 16 shot attempts per game come from long range, and she’s a 35% shooter herself. Kadaja Bailey knocks down 35% of her attempts, but Camree Clegg at 41% is the one that MU has to really watch out for. She averages nearly 21 minutes a game, but played just four minutes against the Golden Eagles at Carnesecca and didn’t attempt a single three in that stretch.
As usual, I have no idea what head coach Joe Tartamella is doing with his roster management from game to game.
In theory, St. John’s is going to attempt to turn this game into a track meet. They’re playing at nearly 74 possessions a game, a top 50 in the country pace. Part of that is because their offense is much better than their defense, so much like DePaul, they’re going to try and cram possessions into a game and you’re just not going to be able to score as much as they do. In theory. We’ll see how well MU’s defense — #44 in the country per Her Hoop Stats’ internal metric — is able to corral the Red Storm and end the season on a high note.