I listened to the Anonymous Eagle podcast this morning where Brewtown Andy made a guest appearance, and he made a point that I have also harped on for many years. The tournament round that a team makes it to before exiting does not determine the team’s success from that year.
Yes, the games matter since they’re played, but ultimately the round that a team will make it to is heavily determined by the matchups that they get. You can’t make the argument that Team X was bad because they only made it to Round Y unless you want to seriously make an argument that Loyola-Chicago was legitimately one of the 4 best teams in the country last year. Some teams just get hot and are given favorable matchups.
With that being said, the tournament isn’t completely random, because matchups are intentionally determined to favor teams that proved themselves to be better through the regular season. By being a good-to-great team this year, Marquette has put themselves in a a position where they will almost assuredly face a team worse than them for the first two games of the tournament. Going back to the initial point, though, there are some teams that I do not think will be good matchups for the Golden Eagles and there are some potential second weekend teams that I think give Marquette a better chance to win. I want to go through some of those matchups as we get closer to Selection Sunday.
Teams That I Don’t Want To See In The First Weekend
I’ll be looking at teams hovering around the 6 and 14 seeds for this one. Even though Marquette should win most of these games, I wouldn’t be surprised if they slipped up. There’s a smaller pool here because there are 3 teams in the 6 seed realm that Marquette has already played.
Nope. Don’t want that one bit. Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith could eat my mother alive right in front of me and I’d ask them if they would like a puppy as a palate cleanser in a cockney British accent. They play the traditional 4/5 spots that we don’t see much anymore, but they say phooey to your spacing concerns. They are two of the few people that I would have legitimate concerns of causing a strength disadvantage for Theo John. Anthony Cowan is also one of the more underappreciated point guards in the country. They’d have to finish the season poorly to be in a position to face Marquette in the second round, so I’m hoping they roll through the rest of the year.
As much as I would love to rub Buzz Williams’ bald, ugly, sweaty face at Wojo’s feet and force him to lick the scum from the soles of his shoe, I’d rather not face them. Like at all. Three of their six losses have come with Justin Robinson sidelined, and he is maybe one of the most important players on his respective team in the country. They also just beat Duke without him. They will spread any team out with their elite three point shooting and then use that spacing to give Kerry Blackshear easy 1 on 1 post matchups that he will either convert on or draw a foul. A shootout here heavily favors the Hokies, and it’s the only way the Golden Eagles could win. This is the one possible second round matchup where Marquette would not be favored if Robinson is healthy. If he’s still gimpy then it’s a 50/50 matchup.
I watched the Jackrabbits a lot last year, but not so much this year. They’re going to be around the 14 seed line, and you’ll hear the name Mike Daum shoved in your face the whole week leading up to it. He 100% deserves it, too. He does everything well on offense and could easily take over the game and create that upset. They suck at defense, though.
Oddly enough, UMBC should not have been in the tournament at all last year. They only made it because they hit a buzzer beater against Vermont in the America East Tournament final. The team last year, who Marquette defeated, would’ve been better last year had it not been for Anthony Lamb’s injury, because they had one of my favorite mid major players in point guard Trae Bell-Haynes. Both he and the inside-out forward Drew Urquhart graduated last year, but Lamb and Ernie Duncan have stepped up huge for the Catamounts. They play one of the smaller lineup of any tournament team, so Wojo might not get much out of Theo John and Ed Morrow.
Lamb is a matchup nightmare who would be a huge mismatch for anyone guarding him except for maybe Brendan Bailey. He’s not nearly as good as Mike Daum, but he has the capability to drop 40 in the tournament, which is Step 1 in a tournament upset.
Teams That Marquette Would Love To See In The Second Weekend
I’m going to look mainly at teams hovering around the 2 seed line, since Marquette sits comfortably as a 3. I don’t think Marquette would be favored against any of these teams, but they present matchups that I think they could exploit.
This is actually one of the most interesting teams to watch from an enjoyment perspective. They play with a lot of physicality without being clunky. Their offense flows really well and their points come primarily on post ups and two point jumpers. Normally those are things that should pop up as giant red flags for bracket fillers, but these are sustainable methods of scoring for them. The Vols rank first in the country on FG% for non-rim two point attempts, and look at this graph courtesy of David Hess on Twitter.
The Vols are the highlighted point, duh. This is all Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Williams particularly is one of the best post players in the country with a tremendous knack for getting easy shots and free throw attempts.
All that being said, Marquette can win a shootout with them. Tennessee sucks at shooting threes (at least relative to Marquette) and they can get overmatched on defense, particularly when shot blocking specialist Kyle Alexander isn’t on the floor. This would be a prime game for Markus Howard to go off with the whole nation watching.
I hope they can hold onto the two seed long enough for this to be a potential matchup, because boy is their offense stagnant, and it just got worse now that Charles Matthews is possibly out for an extended time with an ankle injury. They now have one (1) total player who can create his own shot in Ignas Brazdeikis, and even he has been settling for threes more and more lately. The defense isn’t as otherwordly as we once thought, either. Cassius Winston just completely picked them apart last Sunday in a way that had me frothing at the mouth thinking about what Markus Howard could do if Zavier Simpson had an off defensive game.
They’re pretty much locked into the 1 seed, but if Marquette falls down to a 4, I’d like to see this matchup in the Sweet Sixteen. This has nothing to do with their lack of overall tournament success, because that means nothing. I will have absolutely none of your “Their style doesn’t play in March” bupkus. If you win 30 games over the course of a whole year in the ACC, you’re just as likely to do so in March. They just haven’t done it yet.
THAT BEING SAID, Marquette is the type of matchup that a pack line defense doesn’t enjoy. The whole point of the scheme is to sag off a little bit on off-ball wings to prevent point guards from driving, since they’re already in a help position. Wojo would have to completely abandon any screen action from Theo John picking for Markus Howard, because Jack Salt is a tremendous hedger. Markus would need to get space from pick-and-pops, which Sam and Joey Hauser both happen to be very good at. Any of those Virginia wing defenders will be cheating towards the ball, which could lead to some wide open threes from the Brothers Hauser. Even though Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy might be the best guard duo in the country, making those deep threes would at least give us a shot.