Over the last week and a half or so, Marquette has released the non-conference schedule for the upcoming men's basketball season. Generally speaking, it seems that head coach Steve Wojciechowski and the athletic department staff in charge of these kinds of things have greatly improved the schedule from last season.
The obvious thing to do is to compare the final KenPom rankings of the teams on the 2016-17 schedule to the last few years of non-conference schedules and see how it stacks up against both last year and the few years before that, too.
Here's the data for the last five seasons of Marquette basketball non-conference schedules. "Lowest" refers to the best ranked team according to the previous year's final KenPom.com rankings and "highest" refers to the worst ranked team. Any games not preset on the schedule (namely tournament games that aren't known until after MU wins or loses, like the second game of this year's 2K Classic) are not counted.
Low: Wisconsin (7)
High: Norfolk State (302 of 345 teams)
Average of MU's 11 opponents: 151.8
Median Opponent Ranking: 156
Low: Ohio State (2)
High: UMBC (339 out of 345 teams)
Average of MU's 10 opponents: 163.4
Median Opponent Ranking: 176.5
Low: Ohio State (6)
High: Grambling State (347 out of 347 teams)
Average of MU's 10 opponents: 176.5
Median Opponent Ranking: 207
Low: Wisconsin (6)
High: Tennessee-Martin (313 out of 351 teams)
Average of MU's 8 opponents: 170.8
Median Opponent Ranking: 206
Low: Wisconsin (3)
High: Grambling State (351 out of 351 teams)
Average of MU's 11 opponents: 254
Median Opponent Ranking: 321
So that’s what the last few years have looked like. Yep, last year was bad, but it was also an aberration from years past, too. Well, let’s see what we’ve got this year.
Low: Vanderbilt (31)
High: Howard (332 out of 351 teams)
Average of MU’s 11 opponents: 173.6
Median Opponent Ranking: 188
Hey, that’s pretty good! That average is a little bit on the low side, but it’s a massive improvement on last year. I’ll take a slightly lower average when that median number is above 200. You’ve got an equal number of games above 200 as below 200? That’s pretty good. You’d like to see a schedule where you don’t have to play #70, #108, and #33 in the same seven day stretch, of course, but you also have to take the games where you can get them scheduled.
Look, if I had my way, there wouldn’t be any sub-300 level teams in there. Marquette’s got two of them, but one (Howard) was assigned by the 2K Classic, and the other (SIUE) ended up on the board because the team is coached by a Marquette alum. I can’t really complain about these things, in fact, it’s a-okay by me. The fact of the matter is that, for the most part, your KenPom rankings are going to be relatively consistent from year to year. Intentionally taking on teams that were sub-300 the year before means you’re more likely than not signing up for a sub-300 team when the following March rolls around. If you put teams that are somewhere between 250 and 300, sure, some of them are going to end up below 300 next year. A lot of them won’t, though, and if Marquette’s goal is to always make the NCAA tournament, there really isn’t much difference between playing a 250-300 team and playing a 300-350 team.