With the exception of setting the 2018 Preseason NIT Tipoff in stone, we now know the entirety of the Marquette men’s basketball non-conference schedule for the 2018-19 season.
Things kick off with UMBC, there’s a trip to Indiana in the first full week, both Wisconsin and Kansas State come to Fiserv Forum in December, and hosting Buffalo and UTEP will help bolster MU’s postseason profile when March rolls around.
It looks like a pretty solid to strong schedule. That means we have to ask the question: How good is the 2018-19 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 in the rankings 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 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 two contests against the trio of Kansas/Tennessee/Louisville in Brooklyn this coming year) are not counted.
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
That’s what the last five years have looked like during the summer, long before a single ball is tipped. Here’s what this coming season looks like.
Low: Kansas State (42)
High: Presbyterian (334 out of 351)
Average of MU’s 11 opponents: 189.9
Median Opponent Ranking: 239
This is, as you can see, a bit of a step backwards from the past two seasons, and with the exception of the absolutely terrible schedule that MU assembled for Wojo’s second season, it’s a step backwards from the last five years as well. That’s kind of a surprise, as Marquette has either intentionally scheduled or been handed four top 75 teams in their non-conference schedule, and yet the average and median has taken a tumble.
Marquette is also benefiting ever so slightly from not only UMBC’s historic victory over Virginia in the NCAA tournament, but their run to the America East title as well. The Retrievers went into the AE tournament at #199 in KenPom and were #188 when they tipped off against Virginia. They go into our calculations here at #166. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to get a team right around #200 onto the schedule. But the math is ever so slightly better 34 spots higher thanks to their four game winning streak in March.
I want to make this perfectly clear to anyone and everyone who has ever not understood my point when I have shouted from the rooftops about Marquette’s scheduling practices: This average is exactly why it is a bad plan to schedule sub-300 teams. Now, yes, it appears that Marquette got caught in a sticky situation with Presbyterian, the worst team on the schedule, as the Preseason NIT was unable to provide MU a game. That led to the athletic department having to get their own game on something of a last minute notice for a date that was already locked in place through MU’s agreement with Fiserv Forum and the Milwaukee Bucks, and thus: the worst game on the schedule. Fine. It happens. I’m not going to complain loudly about it.
I am, however, going to use this as an example of what scheduling PC as well as Southern, which was an intentional choice by Marquette, does to the schedule. Just for kicks, let’s say that instead of the Blue Hose and the Jaguars, Marquette schedules IUPUI and UMKC. I didn’t pick those at random, those are the teams exactly 50 spots higher in KenPom from last season: #284 and #276.
The average of the 11 opponents jumps from 189.9 to 180.8, which is much more in line with what Marquette has been scheduling over the past five seasons.
The median opponent doesn’t even change, as IUPUI and UMKC are still below the median line.
Yes, I realize it’s a minor change. But it’s also an absolutely non-existent change in terms of the likelihood that Marquette wins those games at Fiserv Forum, and it comes without the handcuff of putting two games on the board that will essentially mean nothing come March. If anything, playing sub-300 opponents ends up being a negative tiebreaker. If things are dead even between two teams in the selection or seeding process, the committee is going to look and say either “Y’know, they didn’t play any sub-300 teams, let’s put them ahead,” or “Y’know, they played two sub-300 teams, let’s put them behind.” Why go out of your way to create the second situation?
I do want to address the other aspect of this, which is that I’m doing the math on the average and median before the Preseason NIT bracket is announced. It would seem that the most obvious bracketing choice is to keep Kansas and Tennessee apart in the semifinals for a potential championship game. Why? Simple.
There’s your end of the year KenPom rankings for the four teams headed to Barclays Center in November. It’s not rocket surgery to give MU either Kansas or Tennessee in the semifinals. If we were to toss Tennessee, the lower of the two potential opponents, into the mix, the average suddenly goes from 189.9 to 175.2, and the median jumps to 202.5. Even with Presbyterian and Southern on the docket, this absolutely is a schedule loaded with opportunities for the Golden Eagles to make an impact before Big East play starts. I don’t want to cloud over that fact.
They’re just going to have to get some wins on this loaded up schedule in order for it to matter.
What will Marquette’s record be in their 13 game 2018-19 non-conference schedule?
This poll is closed
8-5 or worse