Here’s what the Big East tournament seeding and regular season conference title situation is going into the weekend.
#1 — Creighton (14-2)
#2 — Marquette (14-2)
#3 — St. John’s (12-4)
Creighton gets to be the #1 seed in the Big East tournament as long as they are tied with Marquette, as 1) those two split their season series and 2) the Bluejays swept St. John’s and the best that MU can do against the Red Storm is a season split after losing in Queens earlier this season. St. John’s hopes at a share of the regular season title lay entirely in winning their final two regular season matches AND Creighton losing to both Xavier and Butler this weekend. For the record: Those are home dates for the Bluejays, so it’s probably best to frame that as “unlikely” for the Johnnies.
Is it possible that Creighton could lose one of them and open the door to an outright league title for Marquette if they win twice over the weekend? Absolutely. Creighton’s non-Marquette loss this season was on the road against Xavier. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Musketeers figure out how to do it a second time, but Marquette fans watched Creighton pull a Michael Jordan “and I took that personally” in a second meeting at D.J. Sokol Arena earlier this season.
Here’s what we know for sure: If Marquette wins their two matches this weekend, they win a third straight regular season title. It’s up to Creighton to decide whether or not it’s a third straight shared title with the Bluejays.
As far as the NCAA tournament goes, going 2-0 would obviously be beneficial to Marquette, as they go into Friday night with a record of 18-9. Through matches played on November 12th, MU has an RPI ranking of #23. That looks like it will be enough to carry the Golden Eagles into the field of 68 as an at-large team at worst, but RPI isn’t everything. Marquette is just 2-8 against top 25 teams, 1-0 against teams ranked 26-50, and 3-1 against #51 through #100. That’s 3-8 against teams at least in consideration for the bracket, and 15-1 against teams outside the consideration pool. St. John’s is the loss at #54. Winning that match would be clearly beneficial to the Golden Eagles, and defeating #170 Seton Hall falls into the category of “do not screw this up under any circumstances.”
In short: Win two matches, win a regular season title, all but clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament, wait for the Big East tournament at the McGuire Center next week. Simple, right?
FUN FACTS: It’s Alumni Weekend for volleyball this weekend, and specifically, Marquette will be honoring the 2013 Big East championship team on Friday night. It’s also Senior Night on Saturday, and MU will honor Anastasija Svetnik and Sarah Kushner before the match. Fellow seniors Yadhira Anchante, Aubrey Hamilton, and Carsen Murray have already indicated to the coaching staff that they intend to return for their bonus season of eligibility next year.
Big East Game #17: vs St. John’s Red Storm (20-8, 12-4 Big East)
Marquette is 23-7 all time against St. John’s. The Golden Eagles have won 12 of the last 14 encounters with the Red Storm, but had a five match winning streak against the Johnnies snapped during the visit to Queens earlier this season. The match right before that streak? The 2019 Big East tournament championship match, which SJU won at the McGuire Center. The Golden Eagles haven’t lost a regular season match at home to St. John’s since November 2016.
St. John’s opened the door to a Big East title on October 14th when they beat Marquette in five sets at Carnesecca Arena. That door is not completely shut now as we outlined up top, but here’s what pushed it to everything but fact: A 3-1 road loss to Villanova just seven days after beating Marquette (not what you want), and a 3-0 road loss to Seton Hall on November 8th. That one was particularly problematic for the Johnnies, because their very next match was a visit to Creighton, and yeah, that’s a scheduled loss. You can’t throw a winnable match into the bin like that right before you tangle with the top team in the table. But that’s what they did, and now their hopes at a title require defeating Marquette again AND hoping Creighton forgets how to play volleyball for two straight matches.
The first meeting between Marquette and St. John’s was close, with three of the five sets being decided by the minimum two points and the other two going 25-22, one to each team. Aces were close, 8-7 favoring Marquette. Blocks were close, 12-10 favoring Marquette. The difference was, as you’d expect, the ability to terminate. St. John’s had 75 kills vs just 60 for the Golden Eagles, and the Johnnies won the hitting battle, .241 to .222.
The Johnnies did a good job spreading their offense around to make Marquette question where the ball was going next, getting 19 kills each from Giorgia Walther and Lucrezia Lodi, both of whom had matching stat lines right down to swings, errors, and hitting percentage. They also had 22 kills from Erin Jones, who struggled a bit with 10 errors but still hit .267 in the match.
Marquette had problems, most notably in off nights from Carsen Murray and Jenna Reitsma. You can deal with a .242 hitting night from Aubrey Hamilton, and there’s nothing wrong with .276 from Ella Foti. But when Murray’s at .235 on 17 swings and Reitsma is at just .143 on 42 attempts — and only four errors — then things aren’t working out the way you want them to go. Sometimes it’s not a complicated sport: Every overpass that Murray blasts back down to the floor, or every pass from Yadhira Anchante up into Murray’s wheelhouse in the middle is one more swing that Marquette doesn’t have to worry about finding a point on later. She’s hitting .367 on the year, and an average night from the Missouri native should be enough to carry the Golden Eagles to a win at home this time around.
Big East Game #18: vs Seton Hall Pirates (14-13, 8-8 Big East)
Marquette is 23-5 all time against Seton Hall. The Golden Eagles’ winning streak in the series now sits at 13 straight, which is every match since SHU knocked MU out in the 2014 Big East tournament semifinals in Milwaukee. Seton Hall hasn’t won a regular season contest in Marquette’s building since October of 2009.
Thanks to that win over the Johnnies last week, Seton Hall is currently holding down the sixth and final spot in the Big East tournament. They do have a little bit of control in their destiny, and I don’t just mean “beat Marquette and get in.” On Friday night, they’ll be down in Chicago to face DePaul, and the Pirates are currently tied for fifth place in the league at 8-8 with the Blue Demons. Win, move to 9-8, drop DePaul to 8-9, and cross your fingers that Villanova flubs at least one match on the road against Providence and UConn to close the regular season. The Wildcats already lost to Providence at home this season, so it’s not out of the question. The Pirates can not get into a tie for the last spot with only Villanova, as they lost on the road to the Wildcats earlier this season, so VU has the tiebreaker. A win against DePaul on Friday night gives them the tiebreaker with the Blue Demons by way of a season sweep, if it comes to that. For the record, SHU is fighting for fifth and sixth place, as Xavier has already locked themselves into fourth even after losing to Butler on Wednesday.
Marquette does have to take the Pirates seriously in this match, and not just because they will have the chance to clinch a regular season title by winning this contest. Seton Hall took the second set in South Orange earlier this season, winning 25-19. The Pirates only managed 16, 14, and 19 points themselves in the other three sets, but the fact of the matter is that if MU isn’t on point, they can find themselves in a hole in a hurry against Seton Hall.
To a certain extent, Marquette won the first meeting because Seton Hall handed out 34 swings to Bianca Bucciarelli on a night where she hit just .029. That’s just eight kills against seven errors in that output. Laila Wallace was also not helpful to the Pirates’ effort with five kills and four errors on 19 swings. Madeline Matheny had a decent night to lead Seton Hall with 11 kills and hitting .167, and Perri Lucas chipped in nine kills on .222 hitting.
Seton Hall will likely utilize two setters, as they did in the first meeting. Both Taylor Jakubowski and Madison Klungel aren’t afraid of pitching it over the net if they see an opportunity as the pair combined for seven kills on 14 attempts against Marquette along with a combined 30 assists.