The first two games of the Marquette women’s basketball season really could not have gone better.
They sliced through UT Martin in the opener with lots of people playing a big part in a blowout win, and almost more importantly, MU got big games from people who weren’t necessarily the obvious choices to make big contributions night in and night out. Game #2 brought a ranked Illinois team to the McGuire Center, and while the Illini were without their preseason all-Big Ten player, Marquette still defended a lead against 90% of a squad that’s arguably projected to make the NCAA tournament relatively easily and picked up a win over a ranked team. That’s the kind of win that ends up looking better and better as the season goes along, and when March rolls around, that could end up being a critical win for Megan Duffy and her team.
And now, for game #3, they hit the road…. To play a team in the Horizon League, and one that’s not Milwaukee. A team that was outside the top 150 in the NET last season. Sure, a team that recently had three straight Her Hoop Stats rankings in the top 50 and five out of six seasons in the top 100…. But the person who guided IUPUI to those gaudy analytics numbers is now the head coach at Butler.
It feels like a bit of a trap game gamble by Megan Duffy and her coaching staff. Win, and sure, you won a non-conference road game… but if the opponent repeats their NET performance last year, it’s roughly equivalent to beating a 10th place team in the Big East on the road. Lose, and you’re going to have to win two games that maybe you’re not expected to win in order to make it up relative to how the NCAA Selection Committee views your profile.
Or to make it much more simple: Lose, and beating Illinois doesn’t matter any more.
One thing to watch: Jordan King hasn’t had a good game yet this season. She was fine against UT Martin, going for 14 points, three rebounds, two assists, and a block, but four fouls limited her to 21 minutes. Against Illinois, she was quietly bad, shooting 4-for-14 from the field in 35 minutes and turning it over four times. To be clear: King is going to get the best backcourt defender every night and help defense every time she turns around. Marquette figured out a way to beat Illinois when she was having an off night, but that’s not necessarily going to happen every single night. Point blank: If you’re supposed to be an all-Big East performer and one of the best backcourt/wing players in the country in the eyes of the Naismith Hall of Fame preseason watch list brain trust, you should probably start playing a little bit better than what we’ve seen from King so far. I’m not worried about it, I’m just pointing at it.
Game #3: at IUPUI Jaguars (1-1)
Marquette is 1-1 all time against IUPUI. The Golden Eagles won the first meeting by 11 points back in 2004, but took a five point loss in the second game of the 2015-16 season, which was the freshman year for Allazia Blockton, Natisha Hiedeman, and that entire crew. Both of those games were in Milwaukee, so this will be MU’s first ever trip to The Jungle.
IUPUI’s year started perfectly nicely. Okay, mostly perfectly nicely, because no one is going to confuse being picked to finish ninth in the 11 team Horizon League after going 13-7 in the league last year as anything nice. But Jazmyn Turner was included on the preseason all-HL First Team after averaging 14.9 points and 5.8 rebounds a year ago, so let’s call it a mixed bag. Then the Jaguars won their opener, beating Eastern Illinois at home 77-72, led by a 32 point outing from junior transfer Katie Davidson. Turner had a 19 point and 17 rebound double-double to help power things as well as the Jaguars nearly let a 10 point lead with just over two minutes to go slip away from them.
Game #2 was a trip to Columbus to visit Ohio State. That’s then-#7 Ohio State, and Sunday afternoon was about what you might guess from a top 10 team hosting the projected 9th place team in the Horizon League. The Buckeyes were up 10 in just over three minutes, up 28 at the half, and went on to win, 108-58, and it was only that close because of a three-pointer from IUPUI’s Jaci Jones with less than 30 seconds to play. Katie Davidson went for 23 points, so that’s something positive? I guess?
It’s hard to make any far ranging statements about IUPUI after two contests with two wildly different margins. Maybe the Jaguars are better than their 9th place projected finish, maybe they’re better than squeaking past Eastern Illinois, and maybe they’re better than getting positively blitzed by Ohio State. Who can say at this point?
Last year was the first year in charge for head coach Kate Bruce after a wildly successful run by Austin Parkinson, who is now the head coach at Butler. It was a pretty successful year, considering that they ended up as the #3 seed in the Horizon League conference tournament after tying with Youngstown State for third place behind two squads that lost a combined five games in conference action. They got bounced from the conference tournament in the quarterfinals, which ultimately does look like a bummer of a way to end the year.
The Jaguars were a top 100 offense a year ago according to Her Hoop Stats, partially because they loved to shoot the three-ball because they made a metric ton of them. HHS says they were #39 in the country in shooting percentage behind the arc and #38 in terms of how often they fired away from long range. They were kind of a bad offensive rebounding team, but pretty good on the defensive end, so maybe the bad OR thing was more of a function of missed threes having odd carom angles more than anything else.
They’re about the same in terms of shooting percentage this season, or at least close enough to it through two games, but they are shooting fewer of them to this point of the year. After 80 minutes of basketball, the rebounding rates have flipped around on them where they are now a good offensive rebounding team that’s bad on the defensive glass, but given the lopsidedness of the Ohio State game, it’s hard to say if those stats are getting skewed by that result.