The good times continue to roll at the McGuire Center.
Marquette women’s basketball is 11-0 for the first time in program history, blowing right past the previous program record of five straight wins to start the season. Marquette is ranked #18 in the country this week, which is the program’s 53rd time in the rankings and just the 27th time that Marquette has been a top 20 program. MU is one of just 12 remaining undefeated teams in the country here on December 19th as I write this to publish on Wednesday afternoon, and one of just five teams with 11 wins already. Liza Karlen was named not just Big East Player of the Week on Monday, but Associated Press National Player of the Week as well. Marquette is in the top 30 of the NET as of Tuesday morning, and ESPN’s Charlie Creme has the Golden Eagles slotted in as a #4 seed.... which would mean that we would get to see NCAA tournament games at the McGuire Center in March if that holds together.
But business is about to pick up, as Hall of Famer Jim Ross would say. Thursday is Marquette’s final non-conference game of the season, and from the looks of things, the Golden Eagles should be heavily favored to win. They have to take care of that officially before they take a break for Christmas, and after that is a return to Big East play after they opened with a win over Creighton last week. That next game after Thursday? Sunday, December 31st, on the road, against Connecticut.
Between the long layoff ahead and the nature of the opponent in the next game, there’s definitely a possibility for human nature to creep in and distract Marquette. They’ve had a couple of close calls in non-conference action on their way to 11-0. The game against Illinois State was fraught right from the start when the Redbirds went up 11-0 to start the game, and Sunday’s game against App State was no picnic as Marquette was never able to put the last shovelful of dirt on the Mountaineers until the final horn sounded. 40 minutes of Marquette Basketball The Way They Want To Play will get them a 12th straight win and a happy holiday break. But they can’t rest on their laurels and just expect it to happen.
Besides, it’s a Field Trip Day for local Catholic school kids. Gotta give them a show, right?
Game #12: vs Bucknell Bison (3-7)
This is the first ever meeting between Marquette and Bucknell.
Bucknell went 13-17 last season, but finished at .500 in Patriot League play before having their season ended by Lehigh in the PL tournament quarterfinals. FUN FACT: Marquette forward Frannie Hottinger had 25 points and 10 rebounds for Lehigh in that game, so let’s just call the 2023 Patriot League Player of the Year “Assistant Coach Hottinger” for Thursday’s game. I figure that she’s got some solid insights to how head coach Trevor Woodruff runs things after playing against him for four seasons during her time at Lehigh.
This year, the Bison were picked to finish sixth in the 10 team Patriot League. They lost their top three scorers to graduation, transfer, or in the case of one player electing to use their final year of eligibility, both graduation and transfer. That’s how you end up with freshman forward Ashley Sofilkanich leading the team in scoring at 11.2 points per game. Sophomore guard/forward Emma Theodorsson is also averaging double digits after spending the summer with Iceland’s U21 national team, and she’s going for 10.7 points along with a team high 6.6 rebounds per game as well. No one on the roster averages two assists per game, partially because Bucknell is one of the slower teams in the country, but also because they just don’t score off the pass that much. In any case, senior guard Caroline Dingler is leading a five-pack of women averaging at least one assist per game.
Bucknell snapped a three game losing streak last time out, getting a 64-44 victory at home against Merrimack. When the Bison have ventured out into the world of playing a high major team this season, it has not gone well for them. Penn State rolled past them, 94-51, in the season opener, while then-#15 Louisville ran past the Bison for a 77-44 win. The game against Merrimack is just the second time this season that Bucknell has cracked 60 points this season, with the other one coming in a 68-54 home win over Robert Morris. After what happened against App State the other day, Marquette’s goal should be to keep them underneath that 60 point lid, no matter how many possessions get crammed into this game.
The best way to do that is to keep the clock running. I don’t mean that in the obvious way, I mean that because Bucknell is #26 in the country in the ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts this season according to Her Hoop Stats. That’s A LOT of free throws, led by five attempts per game from Sofilkanich, and they get nearly a quarter of their points from the stripe. Don’t foul them, don’t let them shoot the freebies, let the clock run.
Bucknell is a tragically awful offensive rebounding team, ranking #343 out of 360 Division one teams per HHS, but I’m presuming that there’s a certain amount of tactical choice from Woodruff there. They’re not great on the defensive glass, giving up 33% of the opponents misses to a second chance, but at least that’s merely on the bad side of the middle of the road as opposed to openly bad. Marquette is usually going to try to punish you on the glass, and look no further than the 21 rebounds against App State from Noted Bucknell Torturer Frannie Hottinger for evidence there.