Opening game tune-up? Check.
Home game challenge against a ranked foe? Check.
Road trip challenge against what should be an overmatched opponent on paper? Check.
3-0 for Marquette women’s basketball, and you can’t ask for better than undefeated. On Sunday, the Golden Eagles will have one final home game before they head to Florida for the Fort Myers Tip Off, which is notable, because that’s kiiiind of the official start to the rest of the season. Two high major opponents in Florida, a decent Memphis team and a decent Penn team at home, at Illinois State, Creighton to start Big East play, two lower end teams going into Christmas break, and then BOOM, New Year’s Eve at Connecticut, and it’s all Big East action from there.
It feels like Marquette has gotten some things ironed out through the first three games of the season. To a certain extent, they had a lot of things that needed ironing out, and Claire Kaifes sitting out with a groin injury just compounded that issue. With her out for the time being and Charia Smith out for the year with a knee injury, Marquette has just four available returning players, and all four start. The six newcomers — knocked down to just five with freshman Halle Vice sidelined with a hand/wrist injury — had to play big roles right away for Marquette to win ball games, and so far that’s the case.
In fact, perhaps the biggest surprise of the season to this point is the fact that it’s freshman Skylar Forbes making the biggest impact on the team, not grad transfer Frannie Hottinger. Forbes is averaging 10.7 points and 3.0 rebounds in just under 16 minutes a game already, and showing athleticism to make plays that you just can’t teach anyone. Hottinger, on the other hand, has been fine: 8.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists. However, she’s struggling to shoot the ball — 42% from the field with just one long range attempt — and has not had the kind of impact that you’d expect from the 2023 Patriot League Player of the Year.
How much of that is Forbes is being a freshman and just doing freshman things versus Hottinger trying to make her high usage Lehigh playing style fit in on a roster where Jordan King, Liza Karlen, and Kenzie Hare are more than ready to lift their share of the weight?
By the way, Kenzie Hare? Very early, very much Small Sample Size Theater here..... but a very early candidate for Big East Most Improved. 10-for-20 from behind the three-point line might not last all season, but she’s 5-for-9 inside the arc as well and averaging 4.3 assists per game. She’s a big reason why Marquette is 3-0 and earning votes in the Associated Press top 25 after just one week of the season.
Game #4: vs Saint Peter’s Peacocks (1-2)
Marquette is 0-1 all time against Saint Peter’s. The only meeting was back in 1989, when MU went out to New Jersey for a late December event hosted by the Peacocks, and the home team got the W, 73-49. That was part of a 1-8 start for Marquette on their way to 11-17 on the year. Sister Maria Pares was replaced as head coach by Jim Jabir the next season.
Okay, so look. Saint Peter’s hasn’t had a winning season since 2007-08. Last year was particularly bad, as after a pair of 13 win seasons before that, SPU went 0-30. They came into 2023-24 on a 31 game losing streak thanks to the 2022 MAAC tournament, and then they lost their opener, 56-44, at UMass.
All of that is preamble to say that Saint Peter’s is already off to a better start this year than last year, because on November 13th, the Peacocks beat Central Connecticut State, a Division 1 program in the NEC and everything, 61-57. That evened their record out at 1-1 and gave them a win, something that did not happen a single time in 2022-23. 32 game losing streak over and done with, fire confetti cannons, clap hands, squeal for joy, etc.
And then they lost 103-33 to Illinois on Wednesday. Yes, the Illinois team that Marquette beat 71-67. Yes, the exact same team, because Makira Cook was still out for the Illini. It was 27-4 at the end of the first quarter, and it was only that because SPU got a putback right before the horn. 50-19 at half. 73-27 after three.
Things are better for Saint Peter’s, who were picked to finish last in the MAAC preseason poll. They are not fixed.
Jada Williams, a 6’1” forward from New Jersey, is Saint Peter’s only double digit scorer so far this season. She’s averaging 10.3 points on 44% shooting, and with just two long range attempts in three games, we can safely presume she’s doing her work in the post. Williams is only second on the team in rebounding, trailing Fatmata Janneh (7.3 rpg) by about half a rebound per game. Janneh is the second leading scorer on the team at 8.3 per game, while assists leader Reilly Sunday (3.0 per game) is #3 on the scoring list at 7.7/game.
There’s not much by way of trends so far this season that makes you say “watch out for Saint Peter’s doing this.” However, we do have to point out that Williams is currently #207 in the country in offensive rebounding rate per Her Hoop Stats. It shouldn’t be a secret to any of our long time readers that MU head coach Megan Duffy wants to win through rebounding. That’s the case yet again this season, with Marquette ranking #116 on the offensive glass and #38 on the defensive glass, both in terms of rate. If MU focuses on that, they’ll be fine. If they let Williams get loose, she can cause problems.