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A Late January Check On Marquette Basketball’s NCAA Tournament Profile

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We did one at the start of league play, so let’s do one at the midpoint.

Marquette v Syracuse Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Back in December, we took a look at how the non-conference schedule had set Marquette up for the NCAA tournament. At the time, Marquette was fine. Not good, not bad, just fine. Nothing bad holding them down, but nothing great lifting them up.

With nine Big East games in the book and nine more left to be played starting with the Butler Bulldogs coming to the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Wednesday night, let’s revisit the ol’ profile and see where Marquette stands.

As discussed previously, I remind you that the NCAA is no longer judging teams on RPI top 50 and top 100 wins straight up. They have elected to create a system that rewards teams for winning on neutral courts and on the road as well as trims the benefit of winning at home. Here’s the three quadrants that we need to follow:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs RPI 1-30, Neutral vs RPI 1-50, Road vs RPI 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs RPI 31-75, Neutral vs RPI 51-100, Road vs RPI 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs RPI 76-160, Neutral vs RPI 101-200, Road vs RPI 136-240

Quadrant 4 is literally everything else, and yes, Marquette is undefeated against Q4 teams. That’s good, because it means that the Golden Eagles don’t have to worry about balancing out a bad loss.

That brings us around to how Marquette has performed against the other quadrants. Thanks to the NCAA making the team sheets that the selection committee will use available for free online and updated daily, we know exactly where the Golden Eagles stand in each department.

  • Quadrant 1: 2-7
  • Quadrant 2: 3-1
  • Quadrant 3: 1-0

The good news is that Marquette has picked up two Q1 wins in league play: at home against Seton Hall and on the road against Providence. The semi-bad news is that they’ve also picked up five more losses since December. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to happen when you play in a league as strong as the Big East, and on some level, merely playing nine Q1 games is good for Marquette. Also in the good news department: LSU and VCU have shifted themselves upwards into Q2, joining Vermont and Georgia. It’s kind of fun to wonder where Marquette would be surfacing in various bracketologies if they had zero losses outside of Q1, isn’t it? Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s complete free fall has dropped them down to be Marquette’s only Q3 game, but only just barely. They currently have an RPI of 141 and the cutoff for road games in Q2 is 135.

Everything else on the slate is a Quadrant 4 game, and the Golden Eagles are 7-0 in that one. That’s five buy game wins, plus two home wins against Georgetown and DePaul. I want to focus on the Hoyas right now. Right now, Georgetown is sitting with an RPI of 161. That makes them a Q4 game at home by one RPI spot. The cutoff is 160, they’re 161.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, as you may recall, Georgetown’s non-conference schedule was trash. It currently ranks #347 in the country according to their NCAA team sheet. They went 9-0 against teams with RPI ratings that are currently sub-200, and 5-0 against teams that are sub-320. That choice to play that schedule is part of the reason why the Hoyas are #161 right now, as their opponents’ RPI is part of the calculations involved in Georgetown’s RPI. That choice to play that schedule is why Marquette has seven Q4 wins and one Q3 win instead of six Q4 wins and two Q3 wins. The Hoyas gained nothing from playing the bottom of the Division 1 barrel, but they’re currently creating an ever so slight drag on Marquette’s tournament profile. Georgetown intentionally chose to play half of the MEAC, a conference that is historically weak in the RPI and a traditional choice for the 16 seed games at the First Four in Dayton. They could have played ever so slightly better teams, somewhere in the 275-290 range, and still gotten the reps in that they did against Coppin State and the like. No change in Patrick Ewing’s plan for the season ultimately, but they would be an easy Q3 game at home for the rest of the conference, instead of barely into Q4 like they are now.

Is the NCAA committee going to keep Marquette in or out based on how many Q3 wins they have? Probably not. Is it better to have as few Q4 wins as possible? Almost assuredly. Marquette is getting ever so slightly screwed by Georgetown’s cowardice. This is why I blast the Hoyas for their choice.

Look, maybe playing another 10 Big East games will have a positive effect on Georgetown’s RPI and nudge them back above 160. Maybe we don’t have to worry about this by the time the selection committee actually starts taking this seriously. This was always the worst case scenario for what Georgetown was doing, however, and the fact that it’s playing out this way so far is bad for the Big East, especially when Patrick Ewing has indicated that he is always going to schedule like this.

Let’s move on to more fun topics, specifically Marquette’s path to March. Beginning on Wednesday night against Butler, Marquette has nine games remaining. Using the current RPI calculations, three games will be against Q1 opponents: at Seton Hall and Creighton, and home against Creighton. I believe all three of those games are winnable. There are three Q2 games: home against Butler and Providence, and at St. John’s. All three of those are definitely winnable, and if you want to create a path to 11-7 in Big East play and thus what I believe to be a “the Big East Tournament doesn’t matter” state of mind in terms of an at-large bid, all three of those games are required victories. As you can probably figure out, there are also three Q3 games: at DePaul and Georgetown, and home against St. John’s. Much like the Q2 games, those are probably all required victories if Marquette wants an at-large bid. If Marquette takes a loss in a Q2 or Q3 game, then one of those Q1 games turns into must-win.

One game at a time, though. All Marquette can do is make sure they secure each win as it comes up. First up is Butler on Wednesday night. Fingers crossed......