Duffy gears up for first BIG EAST Tournament as head coach

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Photo by John Steppe

Megan Duffy walks up the sideline in Marquette’s 76-54 win over Butler on Feb. 16 on Play4Kay Day.

Going into the season projected to finish ninth in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches’ PollMarquette women’s basketball took it a little more personal than one might think. The team put up the projected standings in their locker room to use it as motivation to prove everyone wrong.

“When those standings came out, … we said ‘OK, people are going to look at ourselves like that but we are not going to allow this define us,'” redshirt junior forward Lauren Van Kleunen said. “We have definitely ran with it and it has been a great experience.” 

Once Marquette started racking up wins, it allowed the Golden Eagles to focus more on themselves.

“We started to focus on ourselves and not the rankings anymore because when it comes down to it, it is about how we play game in and game out,” first-year guard Jordan King said.

For head coach Megan Duffy, she inherited a program that lost all five of its starters from last season to graduation. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

Despite all the critics, the former WNBA point guard has led the Golden Eagles to finish as the No. 2 seed in the BIG EAST, Duffy’s team went undefeated at home during conference play and knocked off then-No. 16 DePaul in the regular-season finale.

To top it off, Duffy was named BIG EAST Coach of the Year Wednesday. In her first season at MU, Duffy led the program to its fourth consecutive 20-win campaign. Duffy also holds the second-highest winning percentage in the country among third-year head coaches at 71%.

During her years as a player, Duffy played for Muffet McGraw’s Fighting Irish from 2002-06, when Notre Dame was still in the BIG EAST.

“It is been a really cool experience for me to go back and coach against some of the coaches that were there when I was a player,” Duffy said. “The tradition of the BIG EAST is you know how good the competition (is).”

One of Duffy’s favorite memories from playing in the BIG EAST Tournament with the Fighting Irish was when her parents would travel to go support her.

I was actually talking to my mom about it and we had some good memories of just her and my dad going out and running into (current Villanova women’s basketball head coach) Harry Perretta at the bar across the street and just talking about the games,” Duffy said. “All of the teams stayed in the same hotel so it was very much a championship environment and just with the band and cheerleaders there sending you off, it gets you excited for the most exciting time of the year.” 

Perretta, who is coaching his final season, raised Duffy’s ability to get her team ready for each game this season.

“Megan has done a terrific job in her first year at Marquette. Despite losing a number of talented players from last year’s team, she had the Golden Eagles at the top of the league standings all season long,” Perretta said via email. “I was impressed with how well prepared she had her team each and every night. She got them to play hard and with discipline on a consistent basis.”   

When former Marquette head coach Carolyn Kieger left for Penn State, there was plenty of emotion around the MU locker room.

“It was hard at some points,” Van Kleunen said. “Once Coach Duffy got the job, she was very understanding of that and said, ‘I understand this is emotional, you are okay to feel a certain way like that.’ It was nice to hear that.”

Van Kleunen said the team bought into Duffy’s system after having their first workout with her.

Just the amount of energy she had, the love of the game that she had in terms of her knowledge and the love she had for us just after knowing us for just a day,” Van Kleunen said. “The day she got the job, that night I was talking to her and I was just getting to know her and she was just crazy busy but she still spent an hour and a half with me just talking to me. That just shows what type of person she is. She cares about you, not just as a basketball player but as a person too.” 

Duffy’s style of running the offense includes letting everyone have the ‘green light’ to shoot the ball.

“She is not saying certain people can only shoot,” Van Kleunen said. “That just gives confidence to everyone if you shoot just once or twice a game or shoot 10 times it doesn’t matter you are still on that same level with everyone.” 

King said Duffy is the kind of coach a player dreams of.

“She is always trying to get the best out of us,” King said. “As a player, you look for a coach that cares and wants you to improve day in and day out.”

While Altia Anderson, Selena Lott, Chloe Marotta, Isabelle Spingola and Van Kleunen have had impressive seasons, Duffy said she’s been most impressed with the growth of the first-year players.

Our freshmen are in a lot of ways hanging tough in everything we ask them to do. This is such a long season for them and that is led by our upperclassmen for keeping them steady,” Duffy said. “We are spending a lot of time together just talking about what we need to do, what our goals are and what every individual needs to do to help our team. I think the big thing as we go through this stretch is (getting) enough rest, staying healthy and putting yourself in (the) position to win some quality games.” 

King said having someone like Duffy, who has played the point guard position, has helped her transition from playing wing in high school to playing guard this season.

“Just her being there when I have questions or her giving advice from the experience she has had is great,” King said.

MU ranks first in the BIG EAST and seventh in the country in rebounding margin averaging at +10.4 per game. The Golden Eagles also rank second in the BIG EAST and 10th in the country in assists per game averaging 18.2.

Creighton women’s basketball head coach Jim Flanery has been impressed with Duffy’s knowledge of the game.

“Coach Duffy has done a great job this season with her team,” Flanery said via email. “Her knowledge of the game has made an impact in the development of her young players and the progression of the upperclassmen.”

Regardless of her players’ performances in the BIG EAST Tournament, Duffy thinks the team has locked in a spot in the NCAA Tournament. In Charlie Creme’s latest bracket, the Golden Eagles are projected as a No. 9 seed.

Regardless of what the bracketology projects, Duffy said she wants her team to focus on what they can control: playing great basketball.

Marquette begins postseason play against Perretta’s Villanova Wildcats in the BIG EAST Tournament Quarterfinals Saturday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.

“It is do or die every single game. You (aren’t) going to play any weak competition anymore,” Duffy said. “It is less about what the preseason said and more about how can you continue to win games and peak at the right time.”

This article was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at john.leuzzi@marquette.edu or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU.