The Marquette women’s basketball season starts TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY.
We already did some preseason picks for Big East awards last week ahead of Media Day tomorrow, but with the season inching closer, it’s time to take a look at the Marquette roster that Megan Duffy has available to her and how all the pieces fit together.
We’re going to go through the six — yes, only six — returning players from last year’s roster to see what they bring to the table for this season. We’ll go in order of average minutes played last season, as that’s something of an indicator as to their role a year ago as well as something of a predictor of what their role might be this season as well. I also broke up the list between the returning starters and the returning reserve players because, well, section headings are neat, that’s why.
On Friday, we’ll talk about the six newcomers on the roster, so keep in mind that half the roster is brand new teammates for the six returning players as you read through today’s update. Be sure to stop back tomorrow for analysis of the official preseason poll from Media Day, and stop in to The Official AE Women’s Basketball Season Preview to make sure you’re caught up, too.
Let’s get to it!
Graduate Student - #23 - Guard - 5’11” - Rockton, Illinois
You know what’s a little bit on the weird side about Jordan King’s fifth year in blue and gold? She’s actually not going to rewrite the record book too much. Even with adding an entire extra full season to her career, more than almost everyone else in program history, King will probably crack into the top five on the scoring chart, but that’s about it for her biggest impact. If King suddenly goes buckwild and averages 25 points a game, then sure, she could take a run at putting an asterisk on the program’s all-time scoring record, but I don’t see that happening.
In any case, Jordan King is going to be the straw that stirs the drink for Marquette. She’s coming off a senior season where she averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.0 steals per game, and she led MU in all of those except rebounds. I think her role on the team is largely going to end up staying the same, and I don’t know if Marquette can really ask more from her this season. Maybe a little bit more efficiency from her finishing at the rim, as she shot just 42% on two-pointers last year, maybe a little bit better at getting to the line and also finishing from the charity stripe.... but that’s about it. The rest of King’s stat profile is all really nice and about the limit of what you could ask your lead guard to do when the team’s playing at one of the slower clips in the country.
Senior - #32 - Forward - 6’2” - St. Paul, Minnesota
Marquette’s going to need a big season from Liza Karlen. With no more Chloe Marotta and thus no more 14.8 points and 9.0 rebounds from her, some of that weight is going to have to fall on Karlen as the team’s starting center. Karlen averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and assists per game a year ago, and if we’re being honest, her numbers are lower than they should have been given that she missed seven games after suffering a fractured jaw in practice. In her first five games back, she didn’t crack double digits and only snagged 6.4 rebounds a night, a decent mark short of her 7.4 per night average for the whole season.
Now, while I said “need a big season,” that might not actually look like it in the stats department. There’s only so much room for growth in her game at this point. The one thing I would like to see is a return of her long range shooting touch, as she shot nearly 40% from long range as a freshman.... but just 14-for-69 (20.3%) since then, including a 9-for-31 a year ago. MU was bordering on being an elite defensive team last season, but they had to struggle their way to an NCAA tournament berth because things were not clicking on offense very well. The Golden Eagles shot just 30.8% from behind the arc and had one of the 70 lowest attempt rates in the country, partially because they knew they weren’t that great at it. More connecting from downtown would open things up all over, and getting a quality three-point threat from the 5 in the lineup would really do some damage.
Senior - #3 - Guard - 5’7” - Iowa City, Iowa
Last year was a great season for Nkumu, and given that she wasn’t the obvious starter from the very beginning of the season, that makes it even better. If you cross out the first three games of the year when Megan Duffy was trying to decide if she wanted Nia Clark or Nkumu on the floor more, Nkumu averaged 4.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.7 steals per game, while playing 30 minutes a night. Those are all career bests for her, all by pretty wide margins.
WITH THAT SAID, Nkumu has to find a way to be better, and she has to do it on both sides of the floor. With as much roster turnover that the Golden Eagles have seen in the offseason, it seems likely that the coaching staff might start looking in other directions if they’re not getting improvements from last season. A year ago, Marquette was better on both ends of the floor when Nkumu was on the bench, according to Hoop Explorer. One of the biggest things that she can do to fix that? Start knocking down threes. After going 2-for-9 in her first two years in Milwaukee, Nkumu connected on six of her 32 attempts last season. That’s less than 19%, and things are going to be a lot easier for everyone if opposing defenses have to respect her as a threat.
Sophomore - #12 - Guard - 5’9” - Naperville, Illinois
My big request for Kenzie Hare in 2023-24 is to find a shot she doesn’t like.
She shot just 34% from the field last season, and part of that is because nearly three-quarters of the shots she attempted were from behind the three-point line. When you’re almost exclusively a long range shooter, it’s going to really drag down that overall shooting percentage because you can make fewer threes and still be a productive member of the team. That wasn’t Hare though, as she connected on just 31% of her three-pointers while attempting more than five per game..... while playing less than 18 minutes a night. In other words: She launched a three about once every three and a half minutes of action, and less than a third of them went down.
That’s a problem, particularly when 33.3% is the same thing as shooting 50% on two-pointers in terms of the points that you’re generating.
Even worse, Hare was a Feast Or Famine shooter. She had 11 games last season where at least 40% of her threes went down, and 20 games where she connected on 25% or less. There is literally no middle ground. No 1-for-3 games. No 3-for-10 games. Over 40, or under 25%. There were 10 games where she didn’t make a three-pointer at all, and those 10 account for 27 of her 158 attempts. In the two-thirds of the season when she made a triple, Hare shot 37% from long range. It’s just that there’s this entire other one-third that’s nearly 20% of her attempts on the year.
Hare was Marquette’s most likely shooter last season, out-attempting Jordan King by more than a shot per game in half the playing time. But if she’s going to play more this year, she has to find a much higher level of consistency, or at the very least, more discretion.
Redshirt Senior - #10 - Guard - 5’11” - Shawnee, Kansas
And then there’s Claire Kaifes, making her way back from a knee injury that cost her all of the 2021-22 season, only appearing in 20 of Marquette’s 31 games, knocking down a career high 37% of her long range attempts.
Now, to be clear, the reason why she didn’t play in every game has very little to do with what the coaching staff thinks of her. Kaifes had an emergency appendectomy and did not play again after the start of February. Before that, she was good for somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes almost every single night, and as you’d expect, Marquette’s offense was a lot better off with her on the court, much better than the defensive improvement the Golden Eagles saw when Kaifes was taking a breather.
At this point, we know what we’re getting with Kaifes. She’s going to come in, she’s going to do her job, she’s going to play her part, she’s going to knock down an open jumper. Is there space for her to open up her role from last year’s 14 minutes a night on average? Maybe, given that there’s a spot in the starting lineup that would fit her just fine — the spot left behind by Emily La Chapell’s very late transfer — but it might be more dependent on what the newcomers bring to the table as well. More on those women and their skills next time out.
Sophomore - #5 - Forward - 6’1” - Columbus, Ohio
We have no idea what to expect from Charia Smith this season. We saw very little of her last year, as the coaching staff scattered 76 minutes across 17 games. Then we saw her in a big ol’ knee brace over the summer, the kind that says “I have had knee surgery and am on a long recovery road.”
Two weeks after we wrote about Smith’s brace, she was quite clearly not dressed to compete, standing third from the right, on the team’s European trip in August.
The team hasn’t published much in the way of practice photographs so far, whether that’s on social media or to the university archive, so it’s hard to say anything particularly definitive on what Smith’s status is right now. On top of that, we also know that Megan Duffy’s administration of the program is not exactly forthcoming in terms of information about player availability. We may have to wait until the opener on November 6th to get a good idea as to what we might see from Smith this season.... and even then, maybe it’ll take a while after that.
With a 12 woman roster, Marquette’s 2023-24 outcomes are clearly not hinging on Smith suddenly turning into a 15 minute a night player. All due respect, but if she can’t go, Marquette still has 11 women on the active roster and that’s really more than Megan Duffy has shown an interest in keeping in her rotation during her time at Marquette.