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#18 Marquette Women’s Basketball Preview: at #15 Connecticut

The Golden Eagles close out the 2023 calendar year with the first road trip of Big East play this season.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Butler at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday’s game works on two levels for Marquette women’s basketball.

On one hand, it’s a litmus test for what the #18 ranked Golden Eagles are this season. Yes, they’re 12-0 and the program has never even been 6-0 before this year. Yes, they’ve been ranked for multiple weeks in a row, the first time that has happened since the 2018-19 season. All good things.

But we can’t ignore the fact that Marquette has played just one top 60 NET team in all that time and just five top 100 teams. No disrespect to anyone on the schedule, but Marquette has built their record on teams that, at this point of the year, don’t have much of a chance of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Going on the road against the #15 ranked team in the country and the #12 team in the NET is a massive opportunity for the Golden Eagles to show what they’re made of this year. If they go at it hammer and tongs with the Huskies for 40 minutes on Sunday, then win or lose, that says something about what kind of team Marquette is. They already have a NET top 20 win after beating Creighton at the McGuire Center, but backing it up with a stellar outing in this one would be really great. This is the most notable game of the day on Sunday, as it’s the only ranked vs ranked contest on the schedule. People are going to be watching, and it would be a big deal for Jordan King & Friends to stand up and say “we belong in this conversation.”

The other side of things is the fact that this is a house money game for Marquette. More than doubled the longest winning streak to start the season, nationally ranked for multiple weeks, etc., all that stuff I said earlier. This has clearly been a great season so far to this point, and there’s probably a lot more great stuff coming after Sunday afternoon. Winning this game would be a big achievement..... but losing it would be an unsurprising result. Winning on the road against a ranked team is hard. Beating the favorite to win the league in their building is hard.

Win, and it’s a sign that something special might be happening. Lose, and it’s a game that looked like a scheduled loss on the calendar when the schedule was announced. House money. Big chance to come away a major winner, but nothing truly at risk on the other side.

Stat Watch: Jordan King needs one three-pointer to tie and two three-pointers to pass Courtney Weibel for the 11th most in program history.

Big East Game #2: at #15 Connecticut Huskies (9-3, 1-0 Big East)

Date: Sunday, December 31, 2023
Time: Noon Central
Location: XL Center, Hartford, Connecticut
Television: SNY, if you’re in the northeast
Streaming: if you’re not in the northeast, but you’ll need a cable/satellite login.
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Bluesky Updates: @AnonymousEagle

Marquette is 1-17 all time against UConn. The Golden Eagles won the most recent regular season contest, beating the Huskies, 59-52, at the McGuire Center last February. Connecticut holds the current series advantage right now by way of an 81-52 win in the Big East tournament semifinals last March.

I wrote about this in the Big East women’s basketball whiparound league play preview, but it’s worth revisiting again here: UConn is still very clearly a very good basketball team. They’re just apparently not the world beating team that we thought that they looked like they would be during the summer. For starters, it’s not the expected active roster that we expected to see, due to a season ending knee injury to Azzi Fudd and neck spasms that have limited Caroline Ducharme to just four games. A knee injury to rotation player a year ago Ayanna Patterson isn’t helping, either.

The Huskies have also taken three losses this season and none of the three were games decided by the final possession or anything like that. With that said, if you’re going to schedule the way that head coach Geno Auriemma scheduled this year, these are the chances you take. Did losing 92-81 on the road against NC State back on November 12th look like a big deal? Yes, but now that the Wolfpack are ranked #3 in the country, it doesn’t mean all that much, does it? UConn lost by 11 in the Cayman Islands to UCLA, and just like they were then, the Bruins are ranked #2 in the country this week. The third loss was 80-68 on the road against then-#10 Texas on December 3rd. The Longhorns are now #5 in the country.

In other words: Oh, no, UConn has lost road or neutral games against Final Four caliber teams while trying to figure out what their rotations are. “Not as good as we thought they might be” could also be phrased as “might struggle to win a national championship.”

Which means, yeah, they’re still the favorite in the Big East, even with Marquette standing at 12-0 overall so far.

If you think this UConn team is ready to be beaten easily, well, let me point you at their top 10 rankings on Her Hoop Stats. #5 overall, #6 on offense, #4 on defense. Terrifying. #17 in the country in two-point field goal percentage, led by three every game starters shooting better than 55% inside the arc. #28 in the country in three-point field goal percentage, powered by the starting backcourt of Paige Bueckers and Nika Muhl each connecting on better than 42% from long range.

Marquette may be able to gain some control in this game on the glass. UConn is a below average offensive rebounding team and a passable defensive rebounding team. The offensive stuff may just be a product of Auriemma saying “hey, we shoot the ball really well, let’s get back on defense,” so I don’t know if MU’s #16 defensive rebounding rate is really going to be helpful here. Then again, there are worse game plans than “UConn gets only one shot per possession.” The Golden Eagles are pulling in over 35% of their misses this season, and that ranks them #80 in the country according to Her Hoop Stats. The Huskies allow their opponents to get to nearly 30% as a matter of course this season, so punishing them with second chance bunnies from Frannie Hottinger and Liza Karlen or kickouts to any of the other three starters for a long range attempt sounds like a pretty good way to make this game interesting down the stretch.