If you’ve been paying attention, then you know that Marquette‘s men’s basketball non-conference schedule for the 2018-19 season is already pretty much set. It’s even available on the MU athletics website, showing us all of the dates and missing just five of the opponents.
While we wait on the Preseason NIT to make an announcement for two of those games, Deputy Athletic Director Mike Broeker let one of the other three slip during an interview with Andy Katz on the NCAA’s March Madness 365 podcast.
And there it is: UTEP will be occupying the already known home date on Tuesday, December 4th.
The Miners went 11-20 in 2017-18, their second straight season with a sub-.500 record. They went 6-12 in Conference USA action, the first time that the Miners had been below .500 in league pay since 2011-12. There was, however, an explanation of sorts. Following UTEP’s 66-52 loss at home to Lamar on November 27, which dropped the Miners to 0-5 against Division 1 opponents, head coach Tim Floyd followed in the footsteps of Bo Ryan and quit his job. UTEP went 10-15 the rest of the way, so... yay for the assistant coaches?
Well, not too much of a yay, as new athletic director Jim Senter did not hire any of them as the new head coach. Instead, he went with Rodney Terry, who moves to El Paso from Fresno State. This means that Terry will be bringing a team to Milwaukee in the “mid-week game before the Wisconsin game” slot for the second time in three seasons. Marquette beat Fresno State, 84-81, on Tuesday, December 6, 2016.
We can’t say much about how UTEP will play at this point, as it’s not fair to use either Terry’s FSU teams nor Floyd’s UTEP teams to draw any conclusions. What we can talk about, though, is the roster. Both of UTEP’s top two scorers last season, Omega Harris and Keith Frazier, were seniors, leaving Isiah Osborne as the returning leader at 9.4 points per game. In addition to losing those two guys, Jake Flaggert was also a senior, and Trey Wade, Tirus Smith, and Trey Touchet all transferred, with Touchet taking the grad transfer route. None of these guys scored more than Wade’s 7.2 per contest, but they all averaged at least 11 minutes per game while playing in at least 24 games. Terry will have a respectable core on his team with five regulars expected to return, but their depth may be incredibly hampered from there.
One final thing to talk about, and that’s how the Miners fit into the KenPom profile of Marquette’s schedule. Under Floyd (counting 2017-18 as his final season), UTEP never finished lower than 240 in the KenPom rankings, with that ranking coming this past season. Each of the last three campaigns have been sub-200 seasons for UTEP, and the first seasons ranked lower than 150 since 2003. In other words, they have a tradition through four different coaches of being a quality opponent. Terry has only ever been the head man at Fresno State, and he’s had the Bulldogs in the top 100 in each of the past two seasons. They were never lower than #203, so when you combine that with UTEP’s relative success in the KenPom era, the Miners will be somewhere between a benefit to Marquette’s postseason profile and a perfectly acceptable buy game.
A quick preview before we go: Last year, I called MU’s non-conference schedule the best we’ve seen in a decade. If the average KenPom ranking from last year for the final five opponents is better than 187, then this year’s schedule is better than last year’s. If my math is right, that means the four games outside the Preseason NIT semifinals only need to average out to better than 225. Fingers crossed that we don’t see Delaware State’s name pop up....