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Preview: No. 18 Marquette puts undefeated mark on the line at No. 15 UConn

Is No. 18 Marquette, not No. 15 UConn, the team to beat in the Big East? The Golden Eagles can make their claim with a win over the Huskies on Sunday afternoon.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 18 Women’s - Butler at UConn
With five-straight wins, things are looking up for Paige Bueckers and No. 15 UConn.
Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Heading into the season, it was easy to assert that the UConn, once again, would win the Big East. Rinse, repeat and Huskies on top.

However, non-conference play has raised questions about UConn’s fated, favored status. The Huskies, ranked No. 2 in the country to begin the season, already have dropped three games, in part due to another bout of bad injury luck. But, the Big East does have an undefeated team: the Marquette Golden Eagles.

Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET, No. 18 Marquette (12-0, 1-0) heads to Hartford with an opportunity to prove that they, not No. 15 UConn (9-3, 1-0), are the team to beat in the Big East.

Yet, a look beyond the Huskies’ three losses and the Golden Eagles’ unblemished mark suggests that UConn remains the better team, something reflected in their higher ranking.

While it was shocking to see the Huskies suffer three losses by early December, those three losses came to the teams currently ranked No. 3 (NC State), No. 2 (UCLA) and No. 5 (Texas) in the nation. And none of three losses were at home. At home, the Huskies are unbeaten, with victories over ranked teams in then-No. 20 Maryland and then-No. 18 Louisville, in addition to a win over then-No. 24 UNC at nearby Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Huskies also are riding a five-game winning streak, finding their stride with a starting lineup of senior big Aaliyah Edwards, senior guard Nika Mühl, redshirt junior guard Paige Bueckers, freshman guard KK Arnold and freshman guard Ashlynn Shade, with fifth-year senior forward Aubrey Griffin serving as a super sub.

Marquette’s perfect record, in contrast, masks a somewhat shaky resume. The Golden Eagles have escaped with single-digit victories over then-No. 23 Illinois, Boston College, Illinois State, then-No. 20 Creighton and Appalachian State. According to Sports Reference College Basketball, Marquette’s adjusted net rating, which contextualizes a team’s margin of victory per 100 possessions with the team’s strength of schedule, is 30.18, which ranks 30th in the nation. UConn has an adjusted net rating of 45.68, which is sixth nationally.

In short, the underlying data suggests a comfortable win for the homecourt Huskies wouldn’t be a surprise. That said, the Golden Eagles are more experienced, an edge that could help them pull off the upset. Marquette head coach Megan Duffy has a starting five she trusts. The duo of senior forward Liza Karlen and senior guard Jordan King lead, supported by senior guard Rose Nkumu, grad wing Frannie Hottinger and sophomore guard Mackenzie Hare.

Does UConn head coach Geno Auriemma have a five that he truly trusts? In a close game, expect Edwards, Mühl and Bueckers to be on the floor. Who fills the other two spots? Does Auriemma go with the two starting freshman guards? Does he opt for Griffin’s high-energy defensive playmaking despite her offensive limitations? Do Qadence Samuels or Ice Brady get the call? Of course, the individual excellence of Bueckers can solve any end-of-game issues for the Huskies.

Game information

No. 18 Marquette Golden Eagles (12-0, 1-0) vs. No. 15 UConn Huskies (9-3, 1-0)

When: Sunday, Dec. 31 at 1 p.m. ET

Where: XL Center in Hartford, CT

How to watch: N/A