(4) Marquette vs (47) Butler – 6:30 PM
Butler enters the final weeks of the season hoping to turn the improbable into one of the season’s better success stories as they chase down an at-large bid. Butler sits in fourth in the Big East right now and will be hoping to pick up a few wins down the stretch to force their way onto the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs are the beneficiaries of their earlier upset of Michigan and will be hoping to ride that one amazing result into the field of sixty-four if they can hop onto the bubble. That might take some positive results either on Saturday in the regular season finale or in the Big East Tournament though. Things looked a bit bleak early in the league season with three straight losses, but four wins in five have seen the Bulldogs zoom back up the standings ahead of this showdown against Marquette on Saturday. That includes back-to-back 1-0 wins against Xavier and Creighton, giving Butler some momentum going into this match against league champs Marquette. The win over Creighton last weekend didn’t perhaps come as easy as Butler would’ve hoped, being dragged into extra time despite dominating the stat sheet. Katie Griswold would be golden in that extra frame though, netting in the fifth minute of extra time to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 win. With the defense pitching two straight clean sheets, there’s renewed hope of stopping Marquette’s attack, as Butler had previously not kept a single clean sheet in league play. Butler’s not a club with a ton of firepower though, and they aren’t going to win an offensive slugfest against Marquette. But if the defense can hold their ground, even a draw would go a long way into getting the Bulldogs into the Big Dance.
Big East league champions Marquette go into this one with nothing to play for in terms of league positioning, but they still have plenty on the table in terms of trying to lock up a top two seed. The Golden Eagles have recovered from their stuttering start to the season to win fourteen of their last fifteen. That could have so easily been fifteen wins in a row as well had they not started slowly in the shock defeat to Illinois State in mid-September. Marquette have simply been too good in the Big East, conquering all in their path and taking down the likes of Louisville and Colorado College in non-conference play for good measure. The Golden Eagles have also gone five in the league without conceding and delivered one of their best performances of the season last weekend against Providence. The league champs would hold their opponents without a shot on goal while throwing a whopping sixteen shots on goal the other way. The result was almost predictable, with Maegan Kelly netting two and the Golden Eagles netting six in a devastating rout in Milwaukee. It’s carried the league powerhouse up to giddy heights in the RPI and in with a real shout of earning the right to host at least the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Markus Roeders’ side seems to be firing on all cylinders at just the right time. Still, his side must be wary of any type of letdown on Saturday night. They’ll be facing an energized Butler side that will be looking to lock up their NCAA Tournament place with a result at Valley Fields in the regular season finale for both.
(7) Michigan vs (45) Ohio State – 6:00 PM
Whisper it, but a good portion of the heat in this one probably dissipated when Nebraska sealed the Big Ten title on Friday with their win over Indiana. Michigan doesn’t have anything to play for in terms of the league, having locked themselves in as #2 seeds for the Big Ten Tournament, but they still will be making a final push for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, though that looks like an uphill climb right now as well. The Wolverines appear to have gotten over their midseason hiccup that saw them win one in four, a run that eventually would cost them the league title. But the Wolverines have now won seven in a row in the league, giving up just three in that span while scoring fourteen in those wins, including triumphs over league champs Nebraska and dethroned Penn State. The Ann Arbor side hammered Northwestern for the better part of the first half in their last match but needed Cassie Collins to score late in the period to put the club up at the break. They’d add two more, including one from the spot from Meghan Toohey to ease to victory against the Wildcats. It probably didn’t do too much for Michigan’s RPI in the end, but it at least kept them from dipping out of the discussion for a #1 seed for now. But with other clubs still racking up big wins, the pressure is still on the Wolverines to keep winning to keep themselves in that #1 seed mix. The real fruits of their labor could come in the Big Ten Tournament, but they can’t overlook OSU on their way to Champaign.
Ohio State likely sees a big scalp just as much as they see a big rival ahead of Saturday’s showdown. The Buckeyes are right on the bubble but in desperate need of a big result after defeats to Penn State and Nebraska earlier in the season. Of course, the Buckeyes also aren’t necessarily guaranteed of a spot in the Big Ten Tournament either, and missing out on the league’s showpiece event would all but guarantee an end to their season given their lack of quality results. As it stands, OSU probably needs to either beat or draw with one of the league’s top three teams in the next week or make a long run in the Big Ten Tournament. Obviously, a positive result on Saturday would go a long way in solving OSU’s problems, though the Buckeyes’ form has been far from consistent thus far. They haven’t won back-to-back games since mid-September, and they might need to take three more points on Saturday after beating Iowa in a must win game last weekend. With their backs to the wall, OSU came out on top in a rough and tumble affair, scoring a pair of goals in the first nine minutes before adding a third in the second half. A Hawkeye goal was little consolation for Iowa, and OSU keep themselves afloat for the time being in the NCAA Tournament picture. They’ll start sinking again with a loss to Michigan though, and they might hit bottom with a loss and other results not going their way. The good news is, OSU’s shown they’re capable of giving everyone a hard time on their day. If it isn’t the Buckeyes’ day though, the season might come to a screeching halt in Ann Arbor.
(56) Saint John’s (NY) vs (43) DePaul – 8:00 PM
Two of the more unlikely at-large bid hopefuls in the nation will aim to get all the way there by knocking out a potential bubble rival in the process on Saturday night. The visitors are probably much better placed, in terms of both the RPI and in quality results. The Blue Demons’ draw at Georgetown and win against Butler have seen them rocket up the rankings and very close to feeling pretty safe about their chances come Selection Monday. DePaul has been on a roll in the league winning five of six, with the lone defeat in that stretch coming against league champs Marquette, and the Blue Demons were hardly overrun, losing by just a single goal. All things considered, the club didn’t exactly roll out of the gates in the match after that defeat, facing off against strugglers Xavier. The Blue Demons faced a shot deficit of 13-4 overall and 9-2 in on-target attempts, but Alejandria Godinez did her part in goal, while Erin Pekovitch’s early second half goal got DePaul out of jail in the end, the Chicago club walking away with a 1-0 win. It locked up third in the league for the Blue Demons, though the impact on the RPI was probably more important, namely the victory not seeing the club sink like a stone afterward. The result against Georgetown should mean the Blue Demons have some breathing room going into the Big East Tournament, but just how much could depend on Saturday’s result. A win against the Red Storm might well mean DePaul goes dancing regardless of what happens next week.
Saint John’s (NY) are probably more of a longshot, lagging in the RPI and with a paucity of quality results, but the Big East Tournament also provides the club with a real chance at moving up the pecking order. Truthfully, there’s not much on the Red Storm’s resume at this point. The club doesn’t have a single positive result over an uRPI Top 50 team with bubble losses to Ohio State and Butler and missed opportunities against Marquette and Georgetown. It’s going to take a big run down the stretch, and that likely starts on Saturday night against bubble rivals DePaul. Still, the Red Storm come into this match on the back of the straight victories, both must win for their at-large bid hopes, after a dire run of five straight without a win had pushed the team to the brink. The Johnnies ended up holding Seton Hall to a limited amount of offensive chances in their last match, keeping the Pirates to just a single shot on goal, though they did give up eleven shots overall. They’d leave it a bit late, but rookie superstar Rachel Daly came up big again, netting her eighteenth of the season to seal the three points for the Red Storm. Realistically, Saint John’s probably needs to win on Saturday and then pick off either Georgetown or Marquette in the Big East Tournament to have a claim for a bid. At the same time though, Daly’s fired the Red Storm to some pretty nice heights thus far, and nobody should doubt the Brit’s ability to make some more magic as the regular season comes to a close.