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2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Preview: #8 USF vs #9 Marquette

The Golden Eagles are headed to South Carolina with an eye on advancing for just the third time since 2012 and the first time under the direction of Megan Duffy.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 USF at East Carolina Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament

First Round

#8 South Florida Bulls (26-6, 15-1 AAC) vs #9 Marquette Golden Eagles (21-10, 13-7 Big East)

Date: Friday, March 17, 2023
Time: 10:30am Central
Location: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, South Carolina
Television: ESPN2, with Courtney Lyle and Carolyn Peck calling the action
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

Marquette is 16-5 all time against South Florida. The two teams met regularly both as members of Conference USA and as member of the Big East, but have not met since January 2013 when Marquette went with the Big East and USF went with the American Athletic Conference. The Golden Eagles won the first 10 meetings, but the series has tilted in USF’s favor since, including the Bulls winning each of the last two meetings in 2012 and 2013.

The Golden Eagles are in the NCAA tournament because of a couple of things. 1) A sneaky smart non-conference schedule that gave the Golden Eagles home games against several opponents that they could beat but that would end up being respectable as the season went along and they had that schedule because 2) they went 2-1 at the Battle 4 Atlantis against three teams that reached this NCAA field, and 3) because they beat Connecticut. Marquette spent the rest of the season mostly speaking taking care of business to make sure that they got into the field of 68, and the combination of everything I listed there was good enough to keep them several spots away from the First Four much less the actual cutline for the tournament.

It hasn’t been an easy season though. Back on December 18th, Marquette beat Butler at the McGuire Center to move to 9-2 on the year..... and then they lost their next three games and four of the next five. Worse than that, the explanation for the losses were all the same: Marquette’s offense didn’t get out of the gate. Colorado, Villanova, Connecticut, and Creighton all ran circles around the Golden Eagles right off the bat, and MU never quite got it back together. That turned into ugly losses to the Buffs and the Bluejays and slightly frustrating losses to the Wildcats and the Huskies, but the point of the story is that MU also never really recovered from this. Marquette’s offense never quite seemed to get it together for the rest of the season, even while they went 11-4 the rest of the way, including another loss to UConn in the Big East tournament.

Marquette’s biggest problem isn’t a secret: They can’t shoot. Or, more accurately, they can’t shoot consistently. Jordan King is a reliable threat to hit from long range, but she attempts fewer than four per game and MU’s offense is probably better off by King utilizing all of the tricks in her bag. Claire Kaifes is the most accurate shooter on the team at 37%, but she hasn’t played since January 25th due to an appendectomy. Kenzie Hare is MU’s most likely shooter at over five attempts per game in 18 minutes off the bench, but she’s only hitting 32% and she’s very much feast or famine. To wit: 8-for-22 in MU’s last five games.... but that’s because she went 8-for-16 combined in the regular season finale against DePaul and the Big East semifinal against UConn. In the four immediately preceding games? 4-for-22. You get the drill. Emily La Chapell had a run in the middle of the year that made you think the light was going on and she was going to be able to crack open the offense with her shot.... but she went just 12-for-44 the rest of the way, and 27% just ain’t getting it done.

If MU’s offensive flow is moving, if they can at least hit a couple of threes to make you honest on the defensive end, it opens up so many things for them. Literally open, because now the cuts are there, now the drives are there... but if MU can’t hit the outside shot, defense can pack it in, and now it’s hard to get the ball to Liza Karlen and Chloe Marotta on the blocks, now it’s harder to get offensive rebounds to bolster the other offensive shortcomings.... you see where I’m going here. If things are going decently well, that’s great for Marquette because they can definitely defend the hell out of you. If they’re not.... things can turn ugly.

South Florida has six losses on the season. A list:

  • vs then-#22 Michigan on a neutral floor by 5 points
  • vs then-#23 Villanova on a neutral floor by 22 points
  • at then-#8 NC State by 8 points
  • vs then-#3 Ohio State on a neutral floor by 2 points in overtime
  • at home against Houston by 2 points
  • vs Wichita State in the quarterfinals of the AAC tournament by 12 points

You can see a shift there. Nothing wrong with most of those first four, a little bit of a question about the loss to Nova, but that’s what happens when you let people not named Maddy Siegrist shoot 8-for-18 from the arc. To clarify on the last two, both of which were in the last month: Houston wrapped up their season with a record of 15-16 while going 10-5 in AAC action, while Wichita State is headed to the WNIT with a record of 18-14 and 6-10 in the conference. I don’t say anything about these losses in particular other than to actually compliment South Florida and say that were it not for either of these losses, USF would probably be a #7 seed in the tournament instead of at #8 and facing Marquette. Take a peek at Her Hoop Stat’s projection, where it has USF at nearly 65% on a neutral court. Feels like they’re not really a #8, doesn’t it?

Head coach Jose Fernandez has been in charge in Tampa since 2000, so he’s been the guy on the other sideline for most of the Marquette/USF games through the series history. He’s mostly had the exact same starting lineup every single game this season with three women starting all 32 games and two more at 31 starts. Three of his starters make up a formidable offensive trio, with Elena Tsineke, Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu, and Sammie Puisis all averaging between 18 and 15 points per game. Tsineke and Fankam Mendjiadeau were named co-Players of the Year in the AAC, which is an impressive accomplishment for both of them, as you could easily see a situation where neither of them get the trophy because of splitting votes. Puisis might be the most dangerous of the trio, as she’s the one carrying most of the load of USF’s three-point shooting. She averages nearly nine attempts per game — fourth most in the country, by the way, and USF isn’t exactly racing up and down the floor — and she puts down 39% of them.

This game may be decided on the glass, and specifically, it might be decided by whether or not Marquette can contain Fankam Mendjiadeau. The 6’4” Cameroonian ranks #114 in the country in offensive rebounding rate and #32 on the defensive glass. As much as we like to talk about Marquette trying to win games by controlling the glass, the fact of the matter is that Fernandez has his team executing in that department better than Megan Duffy does this season. USF ranks #19 in the country on second chances and #25 on cutting you off from yours, and both of those are better than Marquette’s ranks. If they can find a way to stop Fankam Mendjiadeau from getting anywhere close to her average of 12.3 rebounds per game, MU is probably long on their way to finding a way to win. If not? Could be a short visit to South Carolina.

Speaking of, the winner of this game will advance to the second round. That game would be on Sunday, and would be against the winner of #1 overall seed in the entire tournament South Carolina and #16 Norfolk State. I’m not betting on the Gamecocks to lose a home game to the #16 seed, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be Aaliyah Boston and Friends waiting on Sunday if the Golden Eagles manage to advance.