We already have our grubby little mitts on the non-conference schedule for Marquette men’s basketball, so logic dictates that we’re not far away from getting an announcement on the women’s basketball schedule. While that hasn’t happened quite yet, we did get a useful piece of information on Tuesday when the Elevance Health Fort Myers Tip Off announced that Marquette will be one of eight teams participating in their event this fall.
Had to double the field for Year 2!— Fort Myers Tip-Off (@FTMyersTipOff) July 11, 2023
Proud to welcome eight teams to SWFL for the @ElevanceHealth Women's Fort Myers Tip-Off this November.
The event begins Thanksgiving Day featuring a FOX national broadcast for @IndianaWBB vs @LadyVol_Hoops!https://t.co/d49xl8HXH4 pic.twitter.com/kF5EjAftbZ
Megan Duffy’s team will be in the Shell Division of the event, playing in a four team tournament. MU will face Boston College in the semifinals on Friday, November 24th, while Wisconsin and Arkansas will make up the other half of the bracket. The winners and losers from Friday’s games will then face off with each other in a championship and consolation game on Saturday, November 25th. The other four teams — Indiana, Oklahoma, Princeton, and Tennessee — will be in the Island Division and merely play in two prescheduled games on the 23rd and the 25th. The highlight there, though, is that they have set themselves up with a national TV broadcast for Indiana vs Tennessee. I still think I prefer the “the result of this game means something for your next game” format.
Anyway, let’s talk about Marquette’s known opponent a little bit.
2022-23 Record: 16-17, 5-13 ACC
Postseason: Lost to Miami after advancing to the second round of the ACC tournament
Final Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #103
Head Coach: Joanna Bernardino-McNamee, entering her sixth season at BC after a two year stint as head coach at Albany
All-Time Series: This will be the first ever meeting.
Well, let’s just say it out loud: Boston College hasn’t been an NCAA tournament team since going to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006. That was three coaches ago and almost an entirely different conference. Cathy Inglese was regularly taking the Eagles to the NCAA tournament when they were in the Big East, but once they shifted to the ACC, it’s been all down hill for BC. That Sweet 16 run was in their first year in the ACC, and they have won 20 or more games just five times since 2006-07. Two of those came with Bernabei-McNamee at the helm, although only one — 21-12 in 2021-22 — led to a post season berth, although maybe that’s more COVID’s fault than anything else since the other one was in 2019-20.
Bernabei-McNamee’s teams generally speaking play at a pretty quick pace, ranking somewhere in the top 50 in tempo according to Her Hoop Stats in four of her five seasons. They’ve been all over the place in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency rankings during her tenure, so I don’t know if we can say anything definitive about their style other than “fast.”
BC looks to be returning three of the five women who averaged at least 10 points a game last season, including top scorer (13.2) Dontavia Waggoner, a 6-foot guard from Tennessee. Waggoner also led the team in rebounding at 7.3 per game, and the return of Andrea Daley (6.4 rebounds/game), a 6-foot guard from Miami, will help the Eagles on the inside as well. One of the double digit scorers that they lost was Taina Mair, a 5’9” guard from Boston, who also racked up a team high 6.6 assists per game. Figuring out how to find those assists with the new roster — returner JoJo Lacey was #2 on the team at 2.1/game — is probably the coaching staff’s biggest question for this upcoming season.
Should we talk about the other two teams juuuuust in case? Sounds like a great plan!
2022-23 Record: 11-20, 6-12 Big Ten
Postseason: Lost to Purdue in the second round of the Big Ten tournament
Final Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #172
Head Coach: Marisa Moseley, entering her third season at UW after a three year stint at Boston University
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads, 13-12, but the two teams haven’t met since 2017 and Marquette hasn’t lost since 2014.
Wisconsin has not had a winning season since 2010-11, and they haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2010. Since going 16-15 for their most recent season over .500, the Badgers have finished the year with single digit victories seven times in 12 seasons. Credit where credit is due: Head coach Marisa Moseley has posted an increase in victories from the year before in each of her two seasons on the job in Madison, but that’s going from 5-19 in Jonathan Tsipis’ final season to 11-20 this past year. They did end the regular season with an upset of #12 Michigan, so we have to say they’re on the ascent.
With two rough years in the rear view mirror, it’s hard to say anything in particular about Wisconsin’s style of play under Moseley’s direction, so we’ll skip that part. They had five women averaging between 14.1 and 10.4 points per game last season, but three of them are now gone. #2 scorer Serah Williams is the leading returning scorer at 12.7 per game, while Brooke Schramek is the other one at 10.4 a night.
While replacing that kind of scoring from your starting five is generally speaking a problem all on its own, that problem rears its head in a different way for the Badgers. Four of those five women averaged over 30 minutes a game, with the three departing women all going north of 33 minutes a night. To make matters worse, Wisconsin effectively did not have a reliable bench option at all last year. Sania Copeland played in just 23 of their 31 games, so while she played nearly 16 minutes a night when she did play, it’s hard to call her a reliable option. No one else returning from last year’s roster managed the combination of 1) 10 minutes a game and 2) more than 23 appearances. Natalie Leuzinger comes the closest, at 25 games and a 9.7 per game average.
The short version? If Marquette ends up seeing the Badgers in Florida — and yes, it will be funny to go all the way to Florida to play Wisconsin — then it certainly looks like Moseley and her staff are still going to be trying to figure out what lineup combinations work the best by the time this game takes place.
2022-23 Record: 24-13, 7-9 SEC
Postseason: Lost to Kansas in the Great Eight of the WNIT
Final Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #45
Head Coach: Mike Neighbors, entering his seventh season at Arkansas after a four year stint at Washington
All-Time Series: Arkansas leads 1-0 after a 71-69 neutral site victory in December 2007
Well, this certainly seems like the event planners bracketed this thing to get us Marquette/Arkansas in the championship game, yeah? Not only that, but Marquette is arguably the favorite as the only NCAA tournament team from last season.
Anyway, 2022 should have been the third straight NCAA tournament appearance for the Razorbacks under Mike Neighbors’ direction, but COVID swiped that chance from them after a 24-8 season. It’s weird to think that a 24-13 season wasn’t good enough for a bid to actually get them a third straight appearance for the first time since 2003, especially after Arkansas went 13-0 to start the season and launch themselves into the AP top 25. But then again, 13-0 to start and 3-1 in the WNIT means that the Razorbacks went 8-12 in between that great start and Selection Sunday, so that does explain an awful lot, doesn’t it?
The Razorbacks have been an offensively oriented team in the last few years since Neighbors got his system up and running. They were a top 10 offense in terms of efficiency according to Her Hoop Stats in 2020 and 2021, and finished #20 in HHS’ offensive ratings in 2022. Meanwhile, they’ve struggled to be a top 40 defense, and when your offense slides to #53 like they did this past season, suddenly you’re not getting anywhere near enough stops to win basketball games. Neighbors has them getting to the free throw line a ton, including finishing with the best free throw rate in the country in 2022-23, and that’s impressive because they’ve been top 90 in three-point attempt rate in each of the past six seasons, too. If Megan Duffy continues to focus the Golden Eagles towards gathering rebounds, that appears to be a spot where they can inflict pain on Arkansas, as Neighbors’ teams have not even been top 100 rebounders the last several years.
Arkansas returns two double digit scorers from last season in Samara Spencer and Makayla Daniels. They combined to chip in over 27 points a game, so that’s a pretty good starting point for the 2023-24 team, even as they deal with the departure of leading scorer Erynn Barnum. Saylor Poffenbarger started every game for the Razorbacks and led them in rebounding at 6.9 per game, while Spencer was the team’s assists leader at 4.2 per game.