Did you guys know that the NCAA makes the team sheets that the tournament selection committees use available to the public? AND they do it for every single sport? It’s true! You can find them all right here on this NCAA.org Sharepoint site. Now, some sheets are updated more often than others. For example, men’s basketball gets updated every day. Women’s volleyball on the other hand, only gets a once a week update. Given that volleyball is generally speaking a weekend sport anyway, this is fine.
The NCAA released the first set of team sheets for the 2018 women’s volleyball season on Monday, giving us our first look at how the postseason picture is beginning to shape up. We are, of course, primarily concerned with how things are looking for Marquette, so let’s dig in to what their sheet is telling us.
Strength of Schedule: #12
Opponent’s Strength of Schedule: #21
In short: Marquette’s great and through 16 matches this season, including four Big East contests, they have played a great schedule against teams that were also playing great schedules.
Since 12 of MU’s 16 matches this season are non-conference matches, let’s look at the specific breakdowns for those matches.
Non-con RPI: #9
Non-con Strength of Schedule: #10
Non-con Opponent’s Strength of Schedule: #8
That’s going to go a long way in the eyes of the committee when we get to that part of the calendar. In the matches that Marquette had complete control over, head coach Ryan Theis went out and assembled one of the best schedules in the country. As long as Baylor, BYU, and Wisconsin, MU’s three non-conference losses, keep playing like top 25 teams, that’s going to be a huge boost for the Golden Eagles. It also doesn't hurt that Marquette is going to be headed on the road to play #20 Northern Iowa in a couple of weeks.
It does, however, hurt that Marquette plays 14 more matches in the Big East. The NCAA currently ranks the league as a whole at #10 in the country. That’s not bad, of course, but you can’t really make the claim that the league is a power conference like the Big Ten or Pac-12, either.
Here’s the RPI situation for Marquette’s remaining 14 conference matches.
Butler (x2): #154
DePaul (x2): #239
St. John’s (x2): #117
Seton Hall (x2): #211
Part of Marquette’s current stellar RPI numbers is the fact that they played Villanova and went to Creighton in league play already. Over the next seven weeks, Marquette is going to play five matches against sub-200 opponents and not get a whole lot of help from the rest of the league slate. Merely by going through the league schedule, Marquette’s very shiny RPI numbers are going to take a beating to at least some degree.
Still, we have to address the fact that Marquette has at least a very narrow pathway to finishing the season as one of the 16 best teams in the country in the eyes of the selection committee. That’s incredibly valuable territory, as earning a seed in the NCAA tournament means hosting for the first two rounds. It means you have to win two home games against lesser opponents in order to reach the Sweet 16 instead of beating a team that you’re relatively even with on a neutral floor and then beating a top 16 team on the road to get there. It’s a HUGE advantage.
It’s worth mentioning that Marquette was close in 2013. They finished the season with an RPI of #8 on Selection Sunday and all it took was a record of 25-5, a Big East regular season record of 15-1 (Providence was still in the America East at the time), and a Big East tournament trophy. That was only “close,” though, and MU ended up falling to #13 seeded Illinois in Champaign in the second round.
Is it possible for Marquette to duplicate that? I honestly have no idea. It’s probably more likely that Marquette runs the table between now and Thanksgiving than the rest of the Big East catching boosts from playing MU and Creighton to shift the RPIs to somewhere more favorable for the Golden Eagles (and the Bluejays, if we’re being honest). In 2013, Marquette’s worst in-conference opponent in terms of RPI was Georgetown at #171. Right now, there’s five Big East teams lower than that. That’s not going to help Marquette make an impression on the selection committee to earn a seed, even if they have a 29-4 record.
There’s a lot of volleyball left to be played. Marquette is in a clear position to extend their program record of seven consecutive NCAA tournaments, and that’s very good news. The doorway to a top 16 seed is there for Marquette if a few things break in their favor. Ryan Theis and his team are going to have to make some luck of their own along the way, too.