And so, Big East play has arrived for Marquette.
Honestly, with the way non-conference play went for the Golden Eagles — they’re 4-7 on the year with seven losses to ranked opponents — seeing Big East foes on the schedule is a welcome sight. It is 18 matches against teams and systems that they are familiar with, and given Marquette returns so much of their rotation from last season, the mere knowledge that they went 17-1 against this schedule a year ago should be a big mental boost for Marquette.
With that said, Marquette’s chances at making the NCAA tournament are now effectively completely dependent on making a strong run through conference play. This is different than in years past, where Marquette was going through the Big East slate looking to avoid an RPI land mine. The Golden Eagles need to get as many of these 18 Big East wins as they can get. If, say, they are unable to knock off a Creighton team that’s knocking on the door of the top 10 right now but manage to beat everyone else, that would send MU to the postseason with a record of 20-9. Is that good enough for an at-large berth when the Big East schedule looks to not give Marquette a better win than the two top 40 wins over Drake and Dayton that they already hold?
We’ll have to wait and see.
Instead of a normal preview, we’re going to a full Big East rundown to see what everyone has been up to over the last month. But before we get into those stat leaders/best wins/worst losses capsules, we have to do the nitty gritty details about Marquette’s two matches this weekend.
Big East Match #1: vs Villanova Wildcats (9-3)
Marquette is 22-4 all time against Villanova. The Golden Eagles are currently on a nine match winning streak against the Wildcats, which includes a 3-0 win in the 2019 Big East semifinals. MU has not lost to Villanova in Milwaukee since 2016.
Big East Match #2: vs Georgetown Hoyas (9-3)
Marquette is 21-4 all time against Georgetown. The Golden Eagles have not lost to the Hoyas since 2010, winning each of the last 17 encounters and losing just three sets in that time. MU has dropped just one set to GU in the last nine matches. Marquette has lost to Georgetown in Milwaukee just once, on the Hoyas’ first ever visit to Milwaukee back in 2005.
With that out of the way, let’s dig into the Big East, and we’ll go in order of everyone’s RPI as of September 18th. All stats you see are as of that date as well, except for the two teams that had their Big East opener on Wednesday.
AVCA Poll Ranking: #11
Kills Leader: Ava Martin, 4.24/set
Assists Leader: Kendra Wait, 10.45/set
Digs Leader: Ellie Bolton, 4.50/set
Blocks Leader: Kiana Schmitt, 0.95/set
Best Win: at #12 Minnesota, 3-2
Worst Loss: vs #62 Duke, 3-2
Ready? The Bluejays are 4-1 without Big East Preseason Player of the Year Norah Sis. The loss was 1) in four sets 2) on the road 3) against #4 Nebraska. 50/50 the Bluejays lose that one with Sis anyway. They also beat RPI #12 Minnesota and #26 Iowa State AND #87 High Point without her. Yes, sure, Creighton was probably favored to beat High Point anyway, but that’s a good team that went out and took some big non-con swings and came up short.... much like another team we all know very well.
Anyway, Creighton, yes. Sis is out with an abdominal issue, and given how the Bluejays have performed without her, I would imagine that head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth is going to be 100% sure that her star player will be fine before she’s back and playing. Creighton’s next big test isn’t really until they come to Milwaukee on October 6th, so there’s no hurry to get Sis in the lineup to lock down wins. By the way: Ava Martin is leading the team in kills straight up, that’s not me editorially saying that she’s the leader because Sis is out. Sis was only averaging 4.13 kills/set through her 23 sets played. Are Martin’s numbers elevated now? NO THEY ARE NOT, as she’s only averaging 3.95/set without Sis.
Kills Leader: Aubrey Hamilton, 3.58/set
Assists Leader: Yadhira Anchante, 9.12/set
Digs Leader: Sarah Kushner, 3.36/set
Blocks Leader: Carsen Murray, 0.93/set
Best Win: vs #30 Drake on a neutral court, 3-2
Worst Loss: vs #55 Western Kentucky on a neutral court, 3-1
I have many thoughts about Marquette, but y’all have read/gotten the general idea of them already, so let’s keep moving...
..... straight out of NCAA tournament contention as our next team is outside the top 50.
Kills Leader: Abby Harrell, 3.38/set
Assists Leader: Andrea Campos, 10.18/set
Digs Leader: Elizabeth Feczko, 3.31/set
Blocks Leader: Kiera Booth, 0.73/set
Best Win: vs #80 Santa Clara, 3-1
Worst Loss: at #100 Lehigh, 3-1
That loss to Lehigh came back on September 13th, but the Wildcats bounced back with two home wins this past weekend, both sweeps, to move to 9-3 on the year. Hooray for them, and I mean that completely legitimately. They went 10-20 overall last season, so they need just two Big East wins — they had six last season — to improve overall from last year.
With that said, barring something surprising, Villanova is on track for an NIVC invite at best this season. They went 0-2 in top 50 matches already this year, falling at Western Michigan and at home to Notre Dame, and five of their wins are at 250 or lower in the RPI.
Kills Leader: Erin Jones, 3.53/set
Assists Leader: Wiktoria Kowalczyk, 9.65/set
Digs Leader: Rashanny Solano Smith, 3.40/set
Blocks Leader: Ludovica Zola & Magda Stambrowska, 0.67/set
Best Win: at #103 Florida Gulf Coast, 3-2
Worst Loss: at #178 New Mexico, 3-0
The Red Storm were already having a not great non-conference schedule before this past weekend. Nothing wrong with their loss to RPI #11 Arizona State, but the loss to New Mexico, even in the Lobos’ building, was not ideal. That all moved them to 7-2 with seven largely unremarkable wins on the year before the Red Storm Invitational started. Three matches at home, two top 100 opponents, including a top 25 ranked team.... and they went 1-2, losing to both top 100 squads. That is what is known as “not taking advantage of a situation.”
They’re going to get a chance to stack up some wins to start Big East play, as their first three matches are 1) all at home and 2) largely winnable, at least based on this RPI sorting order. They should be able to easily get themselves on track for the conference tournament, but they catch the bad luck of having to play Creighton and Marquette twice, and that might hurt them in comparison to say, our next team, which only gets MU once.
Record: 8-4, 1-0 Big East
Kills Leader: Emma Grace, 2.71/set
Assists Leader: Carrigan O’Reilly, 8.09/set
Digs Leader: Stevie Wolf, 4.12/set
Blocks Leader: Sarah Stevens, 0.63/set
Best Win: vs #52 Buffalo, 3-2
Worst Loss: vs #164 Charlotte on a neutral court, 3-0
And now we’re right on the edge of moving outside of the top 100. Unless something goes very weird, the six team Big East tournament is going to have at least one sub-100 RPI team, probably two, and that’s not great for the league. At least Xavier won their Big East opener on Wednesday night?
We should note that Emma Grace did miss two matches in early September. She has played in their last two contests, so it seems like everything’s back to normal for her. Grace still has the team lead in attacks even with missing those eight sets, but Delaney Hogan and Anna Taylor are the next two options down the list, and they’re both north of 2.4 kills per set, which gives them some solid options to work with on offense.
In addition to that Charlotte loss, Xavier also took an early September loss to #143 Northern Colorado in an event hosted by Colorado. It’s not like there’s anything elsewhere on this schedule that would have set them up for an NCAA tournament run anyway, but it’s just a bummer to see Big East squads take losses that they really should not.
Kills Leader: Jill Pressley, 4.11/set
Assists Leader: Maggie Jones, 6.36/set
Digs Leader: Rachel Krasowski, 4.92/set
Blocks Leader: Meghan Scholz, 1.40/set
Best Win: vs #96 Illinois-Chicago, 3-1
Worst Loss: at #122 Milwaukee, 3-0
That 6.36 assists average for Maggie Jones makes it look like the Blue Demons are running a two setter situation, but it’s not a 100% full two setter situation. Yes, Ashley Cudiamat is averaging 5.00 assists per set, which also makes it look like that, but Cudiamat has missed six sets and one entire match. Like I said, not a 100% situation.
Continuing the “not all the time” conversation, you have to slide down to #6 on the blocks per set list to find a DePaul player that’s played in every set. If they have Meghan Scholz and Katelynn Oxley in the lineup at the same time — and to be clear, they have had them in eight of their matches and each of the last seven — as they’re both over a block per set. With that said, one of the matches that they did have both of them in the lineup? The loss to Milwaukee.
Record: 6-6, 0-1 Big East
Kills Leader: Mariah Grunze, 3.40/set
Assists Leader: Cora Taylor, 10.43/set
Digs Leader: Jaymeson Kinley, 5.09/set
Blocks Leader: Grace Boggess, 1.06/set
Best Win: vs #137 Cincinnati on a neutral floor, 3-2
Worst Loss: vs #172 Northern Kentucky on a neutral floor, 3-1
Is Butler a perfect example of “someone has to put up numbers on every team” and all that entails? Look at their four stat leaders listed above, those are all perfectly good to great numbers. In fact, both Taylor and Kinley are leading the Big East in their categories, and Boggess is third.
And yet, the Bulldogs can’t beat anyone better than a mid-100s RPI team. They also didn’t try very hard to do better than that, as they had just two top 100 teams on their non-conference schedule and their Big East opening loss to Xavier gave them a third. Butler also already owns three losses worse than their best win, which is really not a way to go about doing things.
Kills Leader: Peyton Wilhite, 3.09/set
Assists Leader: Emily Wen, 9.64/set
Digs Leader: Karis Park, 3.93/set
Blocks Leader: Kamryn Lee-Caracci, 0.91/set
Best Win: vs #141 Old Dominion, 3-0
Worst Loss: vs #254 Iona on a neutral floor, 3-1
On one hand, Georgetown is in a three-way tie for the most wins in the Big East right now and tied for the second best winning percentage in the league.
On the other hand, that Old Dominion Best Win is also the best ranked RPI team that the Hoyas have played all season so far. It’s not great. That’s how you can be tied for the most wins in the league and still have a sub-160 RPI, because that means you have three sub-140 losses. In this case, they’re all sub-200 losses.
Would Georgetown be better if they had Gisells Williams in the lineup? The junior from Las Vegas averaged 2.65 and 2.37 kills in her first two seasons on campus, although she never hit better than .200 in either season. She played in all four sets against Howard in the season opener, recording 14 kills and hitting .268.... but she hasn’t played since. It’s hard to say if she would continue along that same track of improvement from her first two seasons, but I think it’s safe to say that GU would be better served by having another hitting option available to them.
Kills Leader: Emma Werkmeister, 2.82/set
Assists Leader: Doga Kutlu, 5.47/set
Digs Leader: Karly Berkland, 3.55/set
Blocks Leader: Audrey Rome, 0.89/set
Best Win: vs #236 Binghamton, 3-2
Worst Loss: at #183 Yale, 3-1
Hey, remember when UConn went 24-11, made the Big East tournament, and then went to the Final Four of the NIVC? Yeah, that was neat. They’re 22-21 since, and they head into their Big East opener on Friday against St. John’s with three losses in their last four matches. The win in there? Their RPI best win of the year, and they had to force a fifth set to knock off Binghamton at home. If they hadn’t pulled that off, then the Binghamton match becomes their worst loss, and their best win is then a neutral site five set victory over #268 Western Carolina.
I don’t want to say all of this is happening exclusively because Ryan Theis poached Abby Gilleland off of the UConn staff after the 2021 season.... but it sure is interesting, isn’t it?
Kills Leader: Madeline Matheny, 3.13/set
Assists Leader: Maddie Klungel, 5.29/set
Digs Leader: Rylee Nelson, 3.50/set
Blocks Leader: Asli Subasili, 1.24/set
Best Win: vs #132 San Francisco on a neutral floor, 3-0
Worst Loss: at #224 Dartmouth, 3-2
I’m old enough to remember when Seton Hall seemed like they were turning into the clear choice as the third best team in the Big East. Now they haven’t had a winning season since they went 16-15 in 2017, and while they’re currently over .500, it’s not looking great for them down here in the sub-200 are of the RPI heading into 18 matches of league action.
There’s some kind of whackyness going on with SHU’s setting situation. At a glance, Maddie Klungel’s numbers make you think it’s a two-setter rotation situation, and Taylor Jakubowski’s 4.69/set helps that entire idea out. Ready for the weirdness? While both women have played in every set (yep, that’s what a rotation looks like) Klungel has started nine times and Jakubowski has started four times to get you to 13 total starts...... in 11 matches. Usually the rotation means they swap in and out for each other, not play with each other, and yet it seems like head coach Shannon Thompson has been doing that, at least a little bit this season.
Kills Leader: Macy Taylor, 2.87/set
Assists Leader: Sammie Ruggles, 5.17/set
Digs Leader: Savannah Ivie, 4.06/set
Blocks Leader: Kayla Grant, 1.00/set
Best Win: vs #246 Bryant, 3-2
Worst Loss: vs #223 Eastern Washington on a neutral court, 3-1
I think it’s important to remind everyone that when The Reformation happened, Providence was playing volleyball in America East, and more to the point, they stayed there for the 2013 season. They had left the Big East to play in AE, and then when the league’s membership changed, Providence said “yeah, we don’t want to hurry into that, we’ll catch up with y’all next year.”
After a 12-18 season a year ago with a 4-14 record in Big East action, it seems they’re still doing that catching up here in 2023, and their non-conference scheduling looks like they’re still in America East. The only reason they played a top 150 team already this season is because they were invited to play in an event co-hosted by #124 Boston College and #140 Harvard, and those are just hop, skip, and a jump bus rides from Rhode Island. The Friars are trending to be one of the worst teams in the country this season because they already have four sub-180 losses, which means they’re not even good enough to stack up wins in their cruddy schedule.
Whatever chances teams like Villanova and St. John’s have at the NCAA tournament right now are being actively damaged by teams like Providence and Seton Hall behaving like this.