Cards on the table: Marquette women’s basketball is riding a very thin line.
Over the weekend, the Golden Eagles escaped from Indianapolis with a narrow win over Butler. That game improved Butler’s NET by three spots from #131 to #128... but worsened Marquette’s, knocking the Golden Eagles from #39 to #42. And yet, as ESPN’s Charlie Creme updated his bracketology effort on Tuesday morning, Marquette finds themselves going from First Team Out status last I checked, to Second To Last Team In. That means a First Four game for the Golden Eagles, but in is in, let’s not ask questions.
However, this is but just one view of how the bracket should go. It’s easy enough to construct a bracket where Marquette is on the outside looking in, and with eight regular season games remaining, it’s easy enough to see how Marquette could end up with results that push them out of the bracket. Four of them are against, to put it politely, teams behind them in the NCAA tournament pecking order. Four of them, including the one we’re previewing right now, are against teams in front of them.
I don’t think I’m reaching here to say that Marquette has to go 4-0 against the teams behind them and at least 1-3 against the teams in front of them. You know what the easiest way to go at least 1-3 in four games is? Win the first one.
The catch of course is that this is the hardest of the four, at least in terms of home/road splits. Wednesday’s game in Pennsylvania is the only road game on the slate for Marquette. The other three — UConn, St. John’s, and Creighton, in that order on the schedule — are at the McGuire Center. Does that make them easier? Marquette has already lost the first game of the season series against all four of these teams, but only one of them — the visit to Creighton, believe it or not — wasn’t a competitive game.
The opportunities are there for Marquette. They have to do a whole lot of things right, correcting a lot of mistakes from previous encounters to be specific, to get themselves into the NCAA tournament after missing out last year. Step one on the path is at The Finn on Wednesday. Win, see what’s next.
Stat Watch: Jordan King has passed Courtney Romeiser for 22nd place on Marquette’s all-time scoring list. Next up is Penn State head coach Carolyn Kieger, but King is 63 points away right now.
Stat Watch #2: We’ve still got a bit to go here, but Chloe Marotta is now less than 80 points away from 1,000 in her career.
Stat Watch #3: Chloe Marotta has passed Lauren Van Kleunen for the 9th most rebounds in Marquette history. Marotta is at 809 right now, making her the 10th player in program history with at least 800 rebounds. She is more than 20 away from Lisa Oldenburg in eighth place, so that probably has to wait til the next game. Probably.
Stat Watch #4: Jordan King has moved into a tie for 7th place on the all-time Marquette assists list. She’s tied with fellow royalty Danielle King with 437 career assists. Natisha Hiedeman is next, but she’s 20 assists away right now.
Before we dig in to the aspects of how Marquette needs to handle Villanova on the court on Wednesday evening, I want to highlight what’s going on at Villanova during the day. The Big East and Villanova are doing a whole day’s worth of activity on campus since it is National Girls & Women in Sports Day, including a student-athlete breakfast and a Women’s Leadership Panel in the afternoon. The game will be broadcast on FS2, where all three on camera/microphone broadcasting talents will be women, the producer and director in the TV truck will be women, and the production crew will be headed up by women as well.
This rules, and the fact that they have, by luck, two former Big East women’s basketball players — Denise Dillon at Villanova, Megan Duffy at Notre Dame — as the head coaches for the teams involved in the game is just a fun bonus. My only question is why this was thrown together relatively recently as opposed to announced in September when the schedule was first released.
Big East Game #13: at #19 Villanova Wildcats (18-4, 9-2 Big East)
Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Time: 5:30pm Central
Location: Finneran Pavilion, Villanova, Pennsylvania
Television: FS2, with Sloane Martin, Kim Adams, and Meghan Caffrey calling the action
Streaming: FoxSports.com/live or the Fox Sports app
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB
Marquette is 17-13 all time against Villanova. The Wildcats have won three straight in the series after winning earlier this season in Milwaukee, but the Golde Eagles have still won 10 of the last 14 meetings between the two teams dating back to December of 2016.
This is the second meeting of the season between these two clubs, and Villanova took the one in Milwaukee, 54-52. As you can tell, it wasn’t decided until very late, in fact arguably not until the final 20 seconds. However, Marquette had multiple failings across the span of 40 minutes that could have easily turned the game in their favor. Scoring four points in the first eight minutes? Bad! Giving up an 18-6 run going from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth? Bad! Shooting 36% from the field? Bad! Letting Villanova haul in 15 offensive rebounds, aka 36% of their misses? Bad, and arguably the worst part of it all given how much MU head coach Megan Duffy emphasizes cleaning the glass as a core component of how she wants to play.
With all of that in mind, it’s not entirely ridiculous to think that Marquette can win the rematch if they improve all of those things by 10%. A bucket here, a stop there, a rebound here, a steal there. Minor fixes. That’s how you adjust and figure out how to win against a team that beat you by just two points last time around.
As for the Wildcats, that win in Milwaukee moved them to 11-3 on the year and 2-1 in Big East play. It ended up being the second game of a nine game winning streak for Villanova, elevating them to 18-3 overall and 9-1 in the league. The one was a 67-46 loss to Creighton in Finneran Pavilion, and the last game of the nine game winning streak was a 73-57 return on that receipt where the Wildcats led 26-6 at the end of the first quarter in Omaha and never worried about it again. That wasn’t their most recent game, though. Their most recent activity was a 63-58 loss at UConn on Sunday afternoon in the first meeting between those two teams this season. That game was tied as late as two minutes remaining, and thus really could have gone either way. Does that say a lot about what kind of team Villanova has or does it tell us a lot about how decimated by injury UConn is because they played just six women and one of them was for just six minutes? Hard to say.
While there are a lot of things that Marquette could improve on relative to the first game against the Wildcats, their defense isn’t one of them. Last time around, Maddy Siegrist, who is now Villanova’s all time leading scorer after breaking the record in that win over Creighton, was held to “only” 21 points on 8-for-20 shooting. I get to say only 21 points because she’s averaging over 28 a game this season and is one of the most prolific scorers in the country. As a team, Villanova shot just 31% from the field in that first meeting and just 30% from beyond the arc. You can’t really ask much more from a defense, so if Marquette can just repeat this type of outing, that would go a long way towards securing the win at The Finn.
One thing they have to fix is covering Lucy Olsen and Maddie Burke. Maybe this is something that’s hard to do if you’re devoting significant resources to cutting off Siegrist, but the fact of the matter is that Olsen and Burke tilted the game in VU’s favor in Milwaukee. Combined, they hit six of their 13 three-point attempts. In fact, Burke made a significant dent in the game when she closed the first quarter with a triple and then hit her only two other makes of the game in the first three minutes of the second quarter. Both women are connecting on over 41% of their threes this season, so while closing off the All-American has to be #1 on the game plan, it can’t come at the expense of allowing open threes to high value shooters.