LEUZZI: Marquette has arrived, so why can’t the BIG EAST give them some respect?

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Marquette women’s basketball gathers in a huddle during its practice Sept.15. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

Editor’s Note: This sports column contains opinionated statements.

It is no secret that the partnership between Marquette University and women’s basketball head coach Megan Duffy has been a winning one. But just how successful are the Golden Eagles under Duffy?

Through her first two seasons at the helm of the women’s basketball program, Duffy has compiled the best two-year start of any coach in program history. 

During that span, the Golden Eagles have gone 43-15 (.741) and 27-9 (.750) in BIG EAST play. In addition, Marquette has finished as runner-up in both the regular season and conference tournament the last two seasons.

Marquette’s team numbers have also seen substantial growth from year one to year two under Duffy. 

Duffy has helped improve her team’s scoring averages (69.0 to 70.5), scoring margin (+8.0 to +8.8), field goal percentage (.454 to .460), free throw percentage (.697 to .710), assists per game (18.1 to 19.3), 3FG percentage defense (.313 to .295) and turnover margin (-3.1 to +0.46).

The 2020-21 season turned out to be a historic one for the Golden Eagles, earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the Duffy era. 

Marquette set a new school record with 11 true road wins, which finished top five in the nation.

Of their 19 wins, 13 came away from the Al McGuire Center, including a decisive 85-71 victory over then-No. 24 DePaul at Wintrust Arena that helped the team lock an NCAA Tournament bid. 

After defeating Providence and Creighton in the first two rounds of the BIG EAST Tournament, Marquette advanced to its fifth consecutive conference championship game.

Making five consecutive conference tournament appearances is a tough feat. In fact, UConn and Maryland are the only other high major programs to make five straight conference tournament title games between 2017 and 2021.

But prior to BIG EAST Media Day at Madison Square Garden this past week, Marquette was picked to finish fourth in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches Poll. 

Though the preseason poll is composed of votes from the conference’s 11 head coaches, there remains one question that can be said throughout the entire conference and perhaps country: Why is Marquette not receiving as much attention, credit and respect on a consistent basis? 

There is no question that national powerhouse UConn should be projected to finish first once again with the talent they return and bring in such as the reigning AP Player of the Year Paige Bueckers and Preseason BIG EAST Freshman of the Year Azzi Fudd. However, the problem lies with Marquette being projected to finish behind DePaul and Seton Hall, two teams Marquette finished ahead of last year. 

On a statistical basis, Marquette is the better team coming out of last season in comparison to DePaul and Seton Hall. 

The Golden Eagles ranked as one of the top teams in the country in a number of different categories last season.

Marquette was No. 17 in the nation in field goal percentage, making 46% of its shots on the year. Additionally, the team ranked in the top 20 nationally in assists per game (19.3, 7th), assist to turnover ratio (1.27, 14th) and rebounding margin (+8.1, 18th). 

In comparison to those same categories, DePaul and Seton Hall finished nowhere close to Marquette. 

DePaul finished 96th in field goal percentage (42%), 17th in assists per game (6.6), 29th in assist to turnover ratio (1.17) and 296th in rebounding margin (-5.3) in the country. 

Meanwhile, Seton Hall finished 61st in field goal percentage (43%), 69th in assists per game (14.7), 43rd in assist to turnover ratio (1.11) and 207th in rebounding margin (-1.4). 

Now, it could be argued that Marquette’s losses are the reason for the low ranking. The graduation of leading scorer Selena Lott and transfer of All-BIG EAST forward Camryn Taylor almost certainly played a factor in coaches’ minds.

But it can certainly be argued that Marquette has filled those holes through the transfer portal, adding former Big Ten players Karissa McLaughlin and Kennedi Myles.

McLaughlin arrives to Marquette by way of West Lafayette, Indiana, where she spent four years as a member of the Purdue Boilermakers.

The graduate student guard is a sharpshooter whose ability to shoot the 3-pointer will be a huge addition to the team’s offensive game plan.

McLaughlin, a three-time All-Big Ten Selection who started in 98 of the 105 games she appeared in, holds the program record for 3-pointers at Purdue (244) and ranks in the program’s top 25 with 1,308 points in her career.

During her four-year career with the Boilermakers, McLaughlin notched 66 games in double figures, 12 games with at least 20 points, 34 games with at least five assists and 30 times as leading-scorer. 

Those offensive abilities will easily make an impact and attempt to make up for the loss of Lott in the backcourt.

Meanwhile, Myles arrives to Milwaukee after two seasons at the University of Illinois where she started in all 52 games.

Myles’ experiences with the Illini will bode her well as she is perceived to fill the role of Taylor in the starting lineup for the Golden Eagles.

The 6-foot-2 forward averaged 8.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists during her two seasons at Illinois while shooting 37.4% from the field. 

As a sophomore last season, she was one of three Illini to start in all 23 games, leading the team in rebounding (8.0) and ranking third in scoring (8.7).

Taylor was critical to MU’s success last year, and Myles is hopeful to fill a similar role in the Golden Eagles’ frontcourt.

On top of the two transfers, an unexpected return to the roster is forward Lauren Van Kleunen. Van Kleunen will be coming back to MU for her sixth year due to the extra year of eligibility given by the NCAA due to COVID-19.

Van Kleunen provides veteran experience both on and off the court for the Golden Eagles. 

The Mason, Ohio, native is coming off one of her best seasons donning the blue and gold where she averaged 13.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 26 games. This stat line earned her a spot on the All-BIG EAST Second Team.

On the offensive end, Van Kleunen creates mismatches due to her outside shooting ability. But if she takes on a guard, she has the size and post moves to back them down for an easy layup from the block. 

All of these players provide Marquette with a rather deep roster, which is a luxury they have been able to boast for the past few years as well.

While the Golden Eagles like to use the mentality of being an underdog and blue collar team, it is time for the rest of the league to take note of the success Duffy and her team have built in the last two seasons.

It’s clear that Marquette might not contend for first place in the BIG EAST, as UConn practically has that on lock, but the preseason poll ranking DePaul and Seton Hall ahead of MU is turning a blind eye to just how good Marquette is.

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