Last week, Marquette announced the full slate of non-conference games for the men’s basketball team. We got some surprises along the way, and the general feeling is that the schedule is pretty good. Northern Illinois and Eastern Illinois are pretty decent, and the home date with Vermont might be one of the most underrated non-conference games in the country this season.
That means we have to ask the question: How good is the 2017-18 schedule compared to seasons in the recent past?
We’re going to do what we always do: Grab the final KenPom.com rankings from last season for the teams on the coming year’s schedule and find the best team, the worst team, the average ranking of all of the opponents, and the median ranking. It’s not a perfect system, of course, as teams can fluctuate from one season to the next. There’s not a good way to project schedule strength for games that haven’t happened yet, so this at least gets us close, and it gives us a way to compare things to past seasons as well.
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 and third games of this year’s Maui Invitational) are not counted.
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
Low: Vanderbilt (31)
High: Howard (332 out of 351 teams)
Average of MU’s 11 opponents: 173.6
Median Opponent Ranking: 188
We’re going to change things up ever so slightly here. Normally we’d just give you the rundown for the upcoming season, but the Maui Invitational bracket was announced on Tuesday morning. The rest of the non-conference schedule was announced as of July 13, but thanks to all of The Basketball Tournament and NBA Summer League action over the weekend, we didn’t get around to this annual check of schedule quality before the Maui announcement popped up. Here’s what we’re going to do: First, we’ll do the rundown without the Maui first round game against VCU, and then the rundown with it included.
2017-18 Season Without VCU:
Low: Purdue (19)
High: Chicago State (335)
Average of MU’s 9 opponents: 160
Median Opponent Ranking: 205
2017-18 Season With VCU:
Low: Purdue (19)
High: Chicago State (335)
Average of MU’s 10 opponents: 148.8
Median Opponent Ranking: 134
WELL THEN. The average without VCU in the mix is the best average ranking dating back to the season where Marquette ended up going to the Elite Eight back in 2013. For entertainment value, I tracked down the article where we compared that schedule to years past, and that 160 is better than every season dating back to 2008-09 except for the 151.8 that the 2011-12 season had. Obviously the 148.8 average including the VCU game makes this year’s slate even better than that year’s run.
The 205 median without VCU for this season is slightly misleading. With nine games, whatever game that ranks as the 5th best game is the median. That turns out to be the NIU game. If Marquette had scheduled #64 Texas A&M or #204 Fairfield instead, or any other team in between, they would have been the median. Such is statistics. In any case, a median of 205 is better than three of the last five seasons, although just ever so slightly better than two of them. It’s also better than two of the four seasons before that. The 134 median including the VCU game is obviously even better thanks to VCU’s #48 KenPom ranking shifting things in that direction, and like the VCU average, it’s the best median dating back to 2008-09.
IN SHORT: Without the VCU game included, you can make an argument for the 2017-18 non-conference schedule as the best that we’ve seen in nearly a decade. If you drop the Maui Invitational first rounder against the Rams in, it’s definitely the best schedule that we’ve seen in a decade. Imagine how much better it could have been if the make-good date with Chicago State wasn’t on the schedule.....