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#23 Marquette Women’s Basketball Preview: vs Memphis

The Golden Eagles return to the McGuire Center with an eye on starting the season with seven straight wins.

Florida Atlantic v Memphis Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

6-0 and ranked is a pretty good way to head into the final week of the first month of the season. That’s the situation for Marquette women’s basketball as they beat Boston College and smashed Arkansas in Florida over the weekend and then got put into the top 25 by the Associated Press voters on Monday afternoon.

You can only play the teams in front of you, and so we can only say that Marquette should be 6-0 based on what Her Hoop Stats’ rankings and predictive models say about the six teams that MU has faced. The Golden Eagles have, admittedly, yet to face a notable test as far as the computers say, although it’s worth noting that Arkansas was supposed to be MU’s toughest test — only a 67.5% chance of victory before tip-off — and that game was nowhere near to close.

The upside to all of this is that 1) Marquette went into the preseason training knowing that they were running with six new players and five returning available players, 2) during preseason training, one of the newcomers and one of the returning players picked up injuries, and thus 3) Marquette was going to need time to figure out how to staple all of this together into a coherent competitive basketball team.

It’s working, with a road test against Illinois State looming next week right before the start of Big East play. More importantly, perhaps, it’s working while preseason all-Big East honoree Jordan King ... is... kind of bad? Don’t get me wrong, she has career bests in field goal, three point, free throw, and effective shooting percentage. Parts of King’s season shows improvement on her game.

But her turnover rate is at a near career worst and her assist to turnover ratio is at a career worst, just like her foul rate. That foul rate is probably why she’s also playing a career low in minutes so far this season, even though Marquette is shorthanded with just nine truly available players right now.

It’s getting to the point where we have to ask the question of whether or not she’s actually healthy enough to be playing. Facts are facts: This is the knee sleeve that Jordan King was wearing last year in the NCAA tournament:

Which appears to be the same sleeve that she was wearing in August on MU’s European trip:

and the same one she was wearing in late September during training:

..... and this is the one she’s actually wearing in games.

It looks like something’s wrong, right? The longer that King struggles to stay on the floor because of fouls and the longer she keeps making uncharacteristic turnovers, the more we’re going to wonder what exactly is going on.

One more injury note: Claire Kaifes did make her season debut against Boston College, playing four minutes. Then the very next day, she didn’t play at all as Marquette was up big pretty much most of the game and almost all of the second half. That’s not a great sign for how her groin injury was treating her 24 hours after playing for four minutes. It’s hard to say that Marquette needs Kaifes in the rotation, but she shot 37% from long range last season, and having a sniper available is never a bad thing.

Game #7: vs Memphis Tigers (2-4)

Date: Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Time: 7pm Central
Location: McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FloHoops
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Bluesky Updates: @AnonymousEagle

Marquette is 16-8 all time against Memphis thanks to a long shared history in Conference USA. MU won the first seven meetings in series history, and they have won six of the last nine as well. The Tigers won the most recent meeting, which was in Memphis in February 2005.

I’m not going to try and trick you and say that things are going well for Memphis this season, because no one is going to believe that things are going well for a team that’s 2-4 through six games. I will, however, point out that Her Hoop Stats did not have the Tigers favored to win any of the games that they lost. In a certain kind of way, they’re having exactly the kind of season that they signed up to have. The flip side of that is that we would definitely be saying much nicer things about Memphis if they had figured out a way to beat then-#15 Tennessee in Knoxville back on November 13th. That game went to overtime after the Tigers rallied from down nine with 3:18 to play. It was still a toss up game with 80 seconds to go at 75-74 Vols, but ultimately Memphis took a 10 point loss.

Memphis was picked to finish fifth in the American Athletic Conference this season, behind South Florida, East Carolina, Rice, and SMU. At #110 in the Her Hoop Stats ratings at this point of the year, they’re kind of playing that out to perfection, as Rice is at #112, but the other three are still in front of the Tigers. Madison Griggs was Memphis’ lone representative on the preseason all-AAC squads, and she was a first team honoree. She’s living up to the standard right now as Memphis’ #1 scorer at 14.3 points per game while shooting 41% from long range on nearly eight attempts per game.

Griggs is the #1 item on the scoring list, and she does a little bit of everything else out there as well, but Memphis is very much a “that’s where the points come from, we have to get everything else from other places” team. Alasia Smith starts and plays over 24 minutes a night, and she’s leading the team in rebounding at 6.2 per game. Aliyah Green is right behind her at 5.2 and Shelbee Green chips in five caroms an outing, too. Memphis is not a passing driven team, up to the point of Ki’Ari Cain leading the team at 2.0 and also only starting once in six contests while still averaging nearly 28 minutes a game. I have questions about the rotation that head coach Alex Simmons is deploying here.

While Griggs is draining buckets extremely well this season, the same can not be said for her entire set of teammates. Even with Cain going 8-for-16 from behind the arc, Memphis is still only shooting 31% from long range, and when you combine that with a “Thor Help Us” awful 39% on two-pointers, you have the Tigers ranking #277 in the country in effective field goal percentage according to Her Hoop Stats. That’s the good news for Marquette’s defense. The bad news is that Memphis is pulling in 39% of all of those missed shots to be a top 40 offensive rebounding rate team. MU has been an elite defensive rebounding team to this point of the season, but they’re going to have to go to work on every possession to limit the Tigers’ interests in second chances.