It’s been about three weeks since we last got an update on the ol’ Marquette men’s basketball non-conference schedule for the 2018-19 season. Last we heard, we were down to two home games attached to the Preseason NIT, as well as two regular home games that were most likely going to be cupcake/buy games.
Well, that ended up being mostly right. I’ll explain as we go along here.
Here’s the official MU announcement of the full home schedule, and afterwards, I’ll point out the games that are new knowledge for us.
The dates at Fiserv Forum were already known, all we needed to fill in was the opponents.
- Saturday, November 10: Bethune-Cookman
- Saturday, November 17: Presbyterian
- Tuesday, November 27: Charleston Southern
- Tuesday, December 18: North Dakota
Those are the games that we didn’t know about up until Monday morning. As mentioned above, we thought we were waiting for two Preseason NIT games and two other games. As you can see from the graphic in the tweet, only the Bethune Cookman game is officially part of the Preseason NIT setup. Here’s the next tweet from @MarquetteMBB to explain why there’s only one.
Event operators unable to secure 4th home game, so Nov. 17 no longer part of Preseason NIT. #mubb received waiver to schedule on own.— MarquetteMBB (@MarquetteMBB) July 30, 2018
As part of a multi-team event like the Preseason NIT, teams are allowed to play as many as four games, but because it all falls under the umbrella of the event, it all only counts as “one game” towards the NCAA maximum for games in a season. The actual Preseason NIT event in Brooklyn will give MU two games, so the organizer of the event — ESPN Events in this case — can organize two more games for each of the four teams that will be headed to Barclays Center. Usually the opponents for those “other two games” end up playing in some kind of event as well, just not at the same building as the rest of the event. Even though we’ve known about MU playing in this event since last November, apparently ESPN Events did not do a good enough job to make sure that their Preseason NIT partners were available enough in early November in order to fit into the limited dates that Marquette has because they share Fiserv Forum with the Milwaukee Bucks.
With ESPN Events unable to make a match for Marquette...... even though that’s their job...... Marquette got a waiver from the NCAA to add their own game to the schedule. It’s fitting into the window that was reserved for a Preseason NIT game, but it’s a game that technically doesn’t count as part of the event, thus the waiver. If you’re confused by all of this, just nod, say “sure, makes sense,” and move on with your lives. Trust me, you’re not missing anything if none of that made any sense.
On to the important parts of this article: Breaking down each new team on the ol’ schedule.
As always, one of the rules for a quality non-conference schedule is “Never play the SWAC or the MEAC.” The fact of the matter is that the quality of the leagues is just not there and they end up turning into anchors on your RPI or whatever metric you happen to like. Bethune-Cookman, as you can guess from the previous two sentences, is in the MEAC.
Last season, they finished at #288 in KenPom’s rankings, their first outside the 300s since 2013. That’s not a great track record, but again, given that we’re talking about the MEAC here, it’s also not surprising. Meanwhile, fellow Preseason NIT competitor Kansas will play Vermont (#76) and Louisiana (#69). Not to offer judgment against Bethune-Cookman here, but that’s a bunch of crap, ESPN Events.
In fairness, Bethune-Cookman did finish in a three-way tie for first in the MEAC last season at 12-4. This gave them a bye to the quarterfinals in the league tournament, where they were bounced by the seven seed. Can’t win ‘em all.
Brandon Tabb was Bethune-Cookman’s leading scorer last season, one of five guys averaging in double digits. The good news is that three of those players will be back, including Isaiah Bailey, who averaged 16.1 points per game. Bailey is a gifted passer, ranking in the top 125 in assist rate last season, and he gets to the line a ton, posting a top 40 Fouls Drawn rate and Free Throw Rate. This game should be a win for Marquette in 2018-19, but the Wildcats aren’t without their charms.
This will be the second all-time meeting between the two teams. MU got the 89-53 victory in Milwaukee in December of 1991.
Okay, look. I don’t like the fact that Presbyterian finished last season ranked #334 in KenPom any more than you do. I don’t like the fact that they’ve never finished better than #251 in KenPom in their 11 years in Division 1, and that was back in 2012. They haven’t been better than #326 since. If you had put your hand into a bag full of Big South teams and blindly pulled one out, you probably would have picked a better opponent for Marquette.
As much as I don’t like that this game is on the schedule, I’m going to give Marquette a pass on it. The whole “got a waiver” situation sounds an awful lot like “we found out two weeks ago that we had to fill our own date on the schedule and Presby was the best option available for the date that we had.” It is what it is. It’s especially bad because of the Bethune Cookman card getting dealt to MU as well as MU going out and intentionally scheduling Southern out of the SWAC, but we’ll just have to make our peace with this one.
In terms of actual basketball things, Presbyterian is losing their top scorer off last year’s team. However, they return three double digit scorers, including Davon Bell, who ranked #24 in the country in assist rate last season. The catch there is that the Blue Hose played painfully slow under head coach Dustin Kerns, ranking #342 in the country. It was Kerns’ first season in charge in Clinton, SC, so we’ll have to wait to see if anything changes in year two.
Marquette is 3-0 all time against Presbyterian with two 30+ point margins of victory. The odd man out there was the most recent meeting, where Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer both posted double-doubles on the way to a 84-66 victory.
Remember what I said about doing a Big South grab bag and being able to pull a better team than Presbyterian? Well, case in point. Under the guidance of Barclay Radebaugh, the Buccaneers have only been sub-300 in KenPom four times since 2006. That’s a pretty solid run, even if the most recent one was in 2016-17. Last year, though, they were #246 in the ol’ rankings, finishing in a four-way tie for fifth in Big South.
Perhaps more importantly, they did that with a roster that allowed them to return their three best scorers. Perhaps more interestingly, they did that with a roster of three returning guys that are going to come after you on defense. CSU had the 12th best defensive turnover rate in the country last year, and that’s partly because Christian Keeling, Phlandrous Fleming, and Travis McConico all ranked in the top 500 in the country in individual steal rate. Presuming they can keep it up again next season, that will provide MU with a fairly unique test. Of course, that’s also presuming that Radebaugh keeps that aspect running, as Charleston Southern is usually a bottom 100 defensive turnover rate team.
Marquette is 1-0 against Charleston Southern, with the win coming back in 1992 by a margin of 73-35.
2018-19 will be the 10th season in Division 1 for the Fighting Hawks, and they seem to be a reliably quality opponent. They’ve ranked better than #240 in KenPom each of the past three seasons, peaking at #168 when UND earned a #15 seed into the 2017 NCAA tournament.
That’s the good news. The bad news, at least in terms of opponent strength, is that North Dakota’s two best scorers from 2017-18 are gone now. Dale Jones was a senior last year and Geno Crandall grad transferred to Gonzaga. That’s 28 points a game flittering away from a team that went 6-12 in Big Sky action, so head coach Brian Jones may have his work cut out for him a little bit.
North Dakota does return their next three best scorers, all of whom averaged at least 10.7 per game last season, and Conner Avants challenged for the team rebounding title, too. I don’t know how much Marlon Stewart remembers about Marquette from his one year at Creighton in 2015-16, but he was at least in the team meetings preparing for MU twice that year.
Marquette is a perfect 5-0 against North Dakota, with the first four meetings all coming before the calendar turned to 1964. The most recent one was back in 2014 where Derrick Wilson’s 15/9/6 night dragged Marquette kicking and screaming to a 67-54 victory.
With those four games on the docket officially, all we’re waiting for now is to find out the official bracket for the Preseason NIT to see which team Marquette plays first. At least based on last year’s announcement, we’re already running a couple of days behind. MU being able to announce the Bethune Cookman game does indicate that maybe, just maybe, we’ll find out if it’s Kansas or Tennessee in the first game very soon.