Last year at Marquette women’s basketball media day, the media pool was comprised of a few members of Marquette student media and one reporter from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This year at Marquette women’s basketball media day, the newspaper sent a reporter and a photographer, Fox 6 News sent a writer and cameraman, a Spectrum sports reporter was in attendance and just about the entire Marquette student media sports staff was present.
So, why the uptick in media representation for the Golden Eagles? Simple: The Marquette women’s basketball team is the best basketball team in Milwaukee in 2017.
Three years ago, a core group of juniors were recruited to Marquette by head coach Carolyn Kieger. In Kieger’s first season as a head coach, she had finished with a dismal 9-22 record, but she sold the recruits on the vision she had for the program. The new class of recruits had potential – with names like Allazia Blockton, the Dominican High School product who was ranked as the no. 91 recruit in the nation – but as a whole, the class was largely unproven, therefore drawing low expectations.
The Golden Eagles ended up surprising many and finished the year 14-16, going .500 in conference play. Fast forward to last year and Marquette was once again disregarded as a potential threat – but what do you know, the Golden Eagles ended up winning the Big East Tournament. Their magical season, however, came to a screeching halt in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
So, here we are in 2017. A strong starting five has been established with Blockton, Natisha Hiedeman, Erika Davenport, Danielle King and Amani Wilborn, all of which were part of that core freshman class Kieger signed three years ago. The Golden Eagles were ranked No. 19 in the USA Today’s Preseason Coaches Poll and No. 17 in the AP Preseason Poll, both of which are the highest in program history. Marquette was unanimously picked to repeat as conference champs in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll, and Blockton was unanimously picked as the preseason player of the year.
"We all know preseason rankings don’t really matter, so it’s all about the end of the year and how we finish," Kieger said. "For us, we aren’t really talking about it. The media or the polls can do all they want and rank us where they want, but we know we have a lot to learn and a lot to fix. The season is young and so are we, so we are just trying to get better."
Kieger is doing her best to keep those expectations on the outside of her locker room, which makes sense given the fact this team has only ever known being an underdog. But the truth of the matter is that this team could exceed the already lofty expectations.
Yeah, you read that right. I think a team that has never been ranked this high in program history, is the target of the entire Big East – especially of rival DePaul, who Marquette beat in the conference championship last season – and was in the bottom tier of the conference in defensive statistics last year could exceed expectations.
Why do I think this? Glad you asked.
Marquette has one of the most unique offenses in the country. They play at seemingly warp speed, exhausting defenses and allowing the Golden Eagles to quickly build leads or overcome big deficits. Marquette averaged the second most points in the league last year with 78.8 points per game and also finished second in scoring margin with a difference of +8.6.
"We are always going to be a tempo-pushing team. That’s our style, that’s how we recruit and that’s what players want to play," Kieger said. "For us, our style isn’t going to change. In fact, you might see us go a little faster this year because we have so much depth."
Last year, Marquette essentially ran a six-person lineup, but this season, their depth will be increased with a rise in playing time for sophomores Izzy Spingola and Altia Anderson as well as the additions of Olivia Moskari, who is returning from injury, Lauren Van Kleunen, who is coming off a redshirt season and freshman Selena Lott, who Kieger called, "one of the best defenders in the whole entire country."
And of course, you can’t forget Blockton, who seems to be destined for the WNBA after winning Big East player of the year last season, while leading the conference by an entire point in scoring with 17.1 points per game.
The biggest factor in Marquette’s success, however, may be that this core has stuck together.
"They are just more mature and they get things, they grasp concepts a little bit better," Kieger said. "As you grow and as you mature, you learn the game, you learn my style, you learn my expectations and I think for me it’s a blessing because our culture is set now, so we can really teach and we can really put them in a position to be successful on the court."
So, I hope you are now familiar with the Marquette women’s basketball team, the best basketball team in Milwaukee.