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2022 WNIT First Round Preview: Marquette vs Ball State

The Golden Eagles welcome the Cardinals to the McGuire Center for a win-or-go-home postseason tournament game.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 30 Central Connecticut at Ball State
MAH GAWD, HE’S GOT A T-SHIRT CANNON
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2022 Women’s National Invitational Tournament

First Round

Marquette Golden Eagles (21-10, 13-7 Big East) vs Ball State Cardinals (20-12, 11-8 MAC)

Date: Wednesday, March 16, 2022
Time: 7pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FloHoops
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 2-1

And so Marquette begins their 2022 postseason journey with a home game in the WNIT. Is it the postseason that the Golden Eagles wanted before the season started? I’m going to guess probably not. Is it the one they have, and the last shot for college basketball glory for super seniors Karissa McLaughlin and Lauren Van Kleunen? It sure is, and so I’m willing to bet on MU head coach Megan Duffy driving that point home for her squad.

If we’re being honest about it, partly because of how their schedule lined up, Marquette did not end the season on a particularly high note. The Golden Eagles lost four of their final seven regular season games, and the Big East semifinal loss to UConn made that five losses in the final nine games. It’s not ideal, but that’s what happens when you play UConn three times, too. Then again, Marquette was right there with the Huskies through 30 minutes at the McGuire Center and they absolutely should not have let the road game at Villanova go to overtime, either. Mix in a pretty rough start on the visit to DePaul on February 16th, and there’s three seemingly winnable games that I’m sure the Golden Eagles would like to have back. Heck, I’d be willing to wager that if you flipped those three games, Marquette is prepping for the NCAA tournament instead right now.

If that’s not motivation to tack on a few extra wins in the WNIT, I don’t know what is.

Ball State comes in with their own set of motivations. The Cardinals won four of their final five games of the regular season to bounce back from a three game losing streak. All of that landed them as the #5 seed in the MAC tournament and they promptly knocked off #4 seed Northern Illinois in a six point game. Next up, in the semifinals, a five point win over top seeded Toledo. That put them 40 minutes away from the NCAA tournament, and in the MAC title game, they were nine minutes away from pulling it off. A three-pointer from Madelyn Bischoff knotted the game against Buffalo at 53 points each. The Bulls promptly scored the next five points and would never relinquish the lead. Even though that lead grew to as many as eight points, Ball State still cut it back down to just two, 73-71, with 52 seconds left. There were one bounce, just one stop maybe, away from the NCAA tournament.... and just didn’t get it.

You could make an argument that it’s impressive that Ball State has gotten this far this season. Redshirt junior Anna Clephane suffered a second ACL tear in three years during BSU’s game against Kent State on January 9th. The Cardinals ended up losing that home game, 54-51, to drop to 8-5 on the year and 1-2 in MAC play. Clephane was averaging a team and career high 16.2 points per game while knocking down over 45% of her long range attempts.

Since then, and you could easily see how that could knock them back a peg, Ball State has gone 12-7 thanks to that run in the MAC tournament. I don’t want to say that they’ve been better without Clephane even though the winning percentage has been better. That might just be a product of “we only played MAC games instead of playing Texas Tech and Pitt in non-con action.” But they’ve definitely played well without Clephane, and they’ve done it without anyone else stepping up in to that big scoring role. Even with 19 games of action since her injury, 6’ senior Thelma Dis Agustsdottir is the scoring leader on the squad at 11.1 points, just barely nudging out Sydney Freeman’s 11.0 per game.

During MAC action, Ally Becki has grabbed control of the team from an output perspective. The 5’8” freshman from Indiana leads the team in scoring (12.6 per game), rebounding (6.4), and assists (5.1) against league foes. She was dazzling in the MAC tournament, averaging 15.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists in their three games. Containing her is going to have to be a priority for the Golden Eagles.

HerHoopStats.com does have Marquette favored in this game, 70-63, with a 72% chance of victory. But it’s not that far from swinging the other way, as Ball State would be the favorite if this was going on in Muncie. The Cardinals are probably going to try to play a little bit faster than Marquette, which makes sense even more than from just a typical team profile reason. MU’s a much better defensive squad than Ball State is, while BSU holds the advantage in offensive output. If they think they can outscore the Golden Eagles to get the win just by adding possessions to the game, that’s a route they have to take.

Marquette is going to have to defend the three-point line well. Becki and Dis Agustsdottir launch it from distance more than four times a game each, and both are hitting at least 36% of their attempts. Overall, Ball State gets over 40% of their shots from behind the arc.... but Becki and Dis Agustsdottir are really the only consistent threats to worry about. For some reason, head coach Brady Sallee lets Sydney Freeman fire off six three-pointers a game even though she only hits 28% of them. If Marquette can lure the Cardinals into letting Freeman do the bulk of the shooting, that’s a win for the Golden Eagles.

It’s not a secret that Marquette is going to try to dominate the glass to control this game. Her Hoop Stats has the Golden Eagles as the #12 rebounding rate team in the country, it’s what they do. Ball State is pretty much just abandoning offensive rebounding with their #319 rate, so that’s not much of a worry. They’re a decent enough defensive rebounding team (#67) to make the Golden Eagles work for second chances, so if MU struggles to hit shots, things could get sideways on them.