And so, the fifth season of Megan Duffy’s tenure as Marquette women’s basketball head coach begins.
The Golden Eagles are coming off a 21-11 season a year ago that saw them reach the NCAA tournament for the second time in three possible seasons under Duffy, although they clearly would have been a tournament team if the 2020 tourney had been held. Marquette went 13-7 in Big East play, tying with St. John’s for fourth place in the league, which was two games behind third place Creighton at 15-5 and three games in front of sixth place Seton Hall at 10-10. All in all, a successful season that also saw the Golden Eagles reach the title game of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament and defeat UConn for the first time in program history.
But the 2023-24 roster looks quite a bit different than the one we saw last year. Marquette lost two starters from a year ago by way of the end of eligibility for Chloe Marotta and the transfer of Emily La Chapell to Belmont after one year in Milwaukee. Three of the women who had regular bench rotation spots for Marquette last year are now gone as well, with all three electing to transfer, two for their bonus year of eligibility and one as a traditional undergrad transfer.
That leaves Marquette with just six returning players and just four women who played regular rotation roles all season long a year ago. Jordan King leads the way in that group, as she has a preseason Cheryl Miller Award watch list honor to go with her preseason All-Big East honors from the conference. Liza Karlen and Rose Nkumu enter the year as returning starters, and given everything else going on, we’d have to say that they’re both expected to start for Duffy this season as well.
Marquette’s success this season — the Big East coaches picked them to finish third behind UConn and Creighton — will depend on the six new faces on the roster, which are made up of four transfers and two freshmen. The big name in the transfer group is Frannie Hottinger, who comes in after four years at Lehigh and she wrapped up her career there as the Patriot League Player of the Year last season. She averaged 20.4 points and 9.7 rebounds a game last season, but did that with a pretty high usage rate that she’s not likely to hit while partnered up with King and Karlen on the roster.
Just based on math — you need eight-ish players in your rotation, if we’re being realistic — then at least one other person in the newcomer group is going to have to play a big role for Marquette this season, and maybe more if MU isn’t going to get big minutes from Claire Kaifes or Charia Smith. Is that Duke transfer Lee Volker? JUCO transfer Abbey Cracknell who only joined the roster in August? Might it be freshman Halle Vice who had a stellar prep career from a scoring perspective? If nothing else, Monday’s season opener is going to answer a lot of questions about what the plan is for 2023-24. That’s a good thing, because preseason #23 Illinois comes to Milwaukee on Saturday....
Game #1: vs UT Martin Skyhawks (0-0)
This is the first ever meeting between UT Martin and Marquette.
UT Martin is coming off a 13-17 season a year ago where they went 9-9 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Technically, they were only 8-9 as one of the wins was a forfeit victory because Lindenwood didn’t have enough players to compete. In any case, it was a second straight downturn season for the Skyhawks after finishing with winning records in the OVC for four straight years and making the OVC tournament championship game each time. They lost all four title games, but hey, still a pretty good run.
The Skyhawks return just one full season player from their rotation who averaged more than eight points a game last season. That’s Shae Littleford, a 5’7” guard from Charleston, Illinois, who averaged 13.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists a night. Even Littleford barely qualifies as a full season player, as she missed seven games along the way last season. They do also return Kenley McCarn, a 5’11” guard, who was averaging 19.8 points and 4.3 rebounds..... before she was lost to a season ending injury after four games a year ago.
Littleford is the only Skyhawk on the OVC’s preseason all-conference team. They do an even dippier thing than the Big East does, as the OVC has a 13 woman all-conference team for their preseason honors. That number does include the preseason player of the year, which doesn’t make it make more sense. In any case, UT Martin is picked to finish fourth in the league this season. They’re the top ranked team in the preseason poll that did not receive any first place votes, coming in behind Tennessee Tech, Little Rock, and Eastern Illinois.
Last thing I want to note in this preview: If you look solely at UT Martin’s placement in the preseason poll and their record last year and their #222 ranking in the end of year numbers from Her Hoop Stats, you see a team that’s better than a lot of teams that Marquette could have scheduled to open their season, but still a team that MU should handily beat in their season opener. However, head coach Kevin McMillan has been doing this for a long time at UT Martin and has won six OVC regular season titles. He has gotten the Skyhawks to either the NCAA tournament or the WNIT in nine of his 14 seasons. All 14 of those campaigns are listed in Her Hoop Stats, and UT Martin has been a top 100 finisher seven times, including two top 50 finishes. If McMillan has this year’s squad pointed back towards that level of accomplishment, then they could be a tough out for a Golden Eagles team with six new faces.