We've spent a bit of time recently hashing out exactly what's wrong about the Marquette basketball non-conference schedule over the past week or so. The obviously short version is that it's loaded with seven teams in the bottom 40 of last year's final KenPom.com rankings, and that has the potential to send MU's RPI into a tailspin. That's a problem both for a Marquette squad that has their eyes on the NCAA tournament - multiple players tweeted about the Final Four in Houston in 2016 right after Duke won the title in 2015 - as well as a Big East conference that could use all the help it can get in building their national brand.
This is the first schedule that we can safely say was mostly assembled after Steve Wojciechowski was hired as head coach back in April of 2014. The question looms, then: Is this slate of non-conference opponents based on a mindset that Wojciechowski picked up from his decade and a half sitting next to Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski?
Well, let's put that to the test. Let's do to Duke's schedules what we did with Marquette's schedules: Figure out the average opponent KenPom rank at the end of the previous season for the teams on each of Duke's last five seasons, as well as the median opponent rank, too. "High" is the best KenPom team that they played, and "Low," well, obviously, that's the worst team. As was the case with Marquette, any neutral site tournament were left out. We'll have to start with the 2014-15 schedule, as Duke hasn't announced anything for this upcoming season yet.
Counting backwards, then....
High: Wisconsin (6)
Low: Presbyterian (349 out of 351 teams)
Average of Duke's 11 opponents: 161.5
Median Opponent Ranking: 182
High: Michigan (4)
Low: Florida Atlantic (234 out of 347 teams)
Average of Duke's 11 opponents: 132.3
Median Opponent Ranking: 131
High: Kentucky (1)
Low: Santa Clara (283 out of 345 teams)
Average of Duke's 10 opponents: 127.9
Median Opponent Ranking: 123.5
High: Ohio State (1)
Low: UNC Greensboro (272 out of 345 teams)
Average of Duke's 12 opponents: 105.3
Median Opponent Ranking: 62
High: Butler (9)
Low: Colgate (293 out of 347 teams)
Average of Duke's 13 opponents: 116.5
Median Opponent Ranking: 103
And now, so we've got the comparison right in front of us, here's what the schedule that Wojo signed off on for Marquette in 2015-16:
Low: Wisconsin (3)
High: Grambling State (351 out of 351 teams)
Average of MU's 11 opponents: 254
Median Opponent Ranking: 321
First, a couple of disclaimers about Duke's schedules. As a perennial title contender, Duke tends to almost always get the best possible opponent in the yearly ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and over the last few years, they've also gotten involved in the Champions Classic, which gives them either Kentucky, Kansas, or Michigan State every year. Those may be unfairly tilting the averages and medians in favor of the Blue Devils.
While that might be a good thing for Duke, you have to look at how Coach K reacts to that. In 2012-13, Duke had both Kentucky and Ohio State on the slate, and those two finished the previous season as #1 and #2 on the KenPom chart. Did Duke say, "Hey, we've got this nasty slate of games plus the Battle 4 Atlantis, let's coast through the rest of our schedule?" NOPE. According to KenPom, the WORST team on their schedule that year was a Santa Clara team that finished the previous season ranked #283. In fact, over the past five seasons, Duke has only played a team that finished the previous season ranked #300 or worse in KenPom once: Presbyterian in 2014-15.
In short, what Wojo has done with this year's schedule is exactly counter to what Coach K has done for years in Durham. You could make the argument (and do it pretty easily) that Coach K hasn't been in the situation that Wojo is in: four returning players from an admittedly terrible team. You could also argue that since Duke is generally always in the discussion for a national championship that he's looking to challenge his teams more than Wojciechowski needs to this season in Milwaukee. Both are fair points. But even given the leeway accorded to him by two contracted top opponents, a top flight multi-team event on a yearly basis, and tough competition in a strong Atlantic Coast Conference, Krzyzewski still doesn't dip into the bottom of the barrel to pad his schedule.
Presuming that Wojciechowski gets things on track this season, it will be interesting to see how he attacks the non-conference schedule going forward.