Last night, an article by Marquette beat writer popped up on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's website, and given it's length, I presume it's in the print edition of the paper today as a preview of tonight's game against Butler. In the article, Hunt takes the extreme optimist point of view as espoused by head coach Buzz Williams, and makes the case that Marquette isn't that far from putting themselves into the NCAA tournament.
There's a couple of problems here.
First, Hunt points out what past Marquette teams under Williams have done after a shaky start.
In the 2009-'10 season, they were 14-8 at this point, 5-5 in the Big East and unranked. They finished the regular season 20-10 and 11-7.
Ok, let's play your game. First of all, that's better than this team is at 12-10 and 4-5 in league play. Second, that team had recently defeated #19 Connecticut on the road, and would go on to win three consecutive games on the road in overtime to get to that record. Third, the Big East losses included at #6 West Virginia, at #6 Villanova, and home against Nova when they were ranked #8. Plus, they had a non-conference win over at the time #15 Michigan.
The next year, they were 14-9, 5-5 and unranked. They finished the regular season 18-13 and 9-9, won two games in the conference tournament and made the Sweet 16.
Again, better than this 12-10 team. That 5-5 record included wins over #9 Notre Dame and #9 Syracuse. The losses were at #5 Pittsburgh, at #18 Louisville, at #16 Notre Dame, and at #12 Villanova. They went 1-1 against ranked teams the rest of the way and 3-3 against everyone else, including both of their final regular season games and desperately needed to beat #20 West Virginia in the Big East tournament to barely make the NCAA tournament as an 11 seed.
The point here is this: Forget quality wins, those two teams had great wins on their profile at this point of the season on top of a record that was better than the 2013-14 team's record. All they needed to do was not screw it up. Right now, this year's Marquette team is hanging their hat on a neutral court win over George Washington and a home win over Providence. Not thrilling.
In any case, all of that wasn't actually the part of Hunt's article that drove me nuts. Let's get to that.
Marquette's RPI ranking, one of the selection committee's criteria, has risen lately, but at 78 doesn't put it on the bubble. Williams prefers Ken Pomeroy's rating because he believes it has more credibility. Kenpom.com has the Golden Eagles at 57, just inside the bubble.
Couple of problems here.
1. The NCAA tournament has automatic bids for every conference champion.
That means that all of the traditional 1 bid leagues are sucking up some of those 68 spots in the field. By my count, that's at least 20 conferences right now. That moves the bubble to..... wait for it...... 48. At the lowest. If you want to debate how many spots the Missouri Valley or West Coast conferences are going to get, well, that's fine, because that would move the bubble to 46, still way smaller than the 57 on the KenPom chart that Hunt is enamored with.
2. The KenPom ranking system is not perfect.
Every year, KenPom adds in the NCAA tournament seeds of every team in the rankings. While a handy note to go back and see what seeds a team earned every year, it also makes it incredibly easy to find the highest ranked teams that didn't earn a bid.
2013: #25 Iowa, #29 Baylor, #40 Virginia, #44 Stanford, and #48 Maryland did not make the tournament. #47 Connecticut also didn't make it, but they were banned for a low APR score. There's another two teams between 48 and 57.
2012: #36 Stanford, #42 Drexel, and #47 Minnesota didn't make it in. There are another six teams between 48 and 57.
2011: #44 New Mexico, #45 Virginia Tech, and #47 Alabama didn't make it in. There are another five teams between 48 and 57.
I can keep this up all day, but you get my point. For the record, this is all data that is available without a subscription. You just go to KenPom.com and click on whatever year you want to look at.
So, if you want to believe this team is on the verge of pulling a massive turnaround and landing in the tournament, by all means, believe. Just don't use the criteria that Buzz Williams and Michael Hunt are trying to use to convince you.