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Marquette To Open The 2019 Orlando Invitational Against Davidson

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It should be a pretty good game, but I have questions about the bracketing decisions.

NCAA Basketball: Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Championship-Davidson vs Rhode Island Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The final piece of the Marquette men’s basketball 2019-20 non-conference schedule dropped into place on Thursday when ESPN Events released the bracket for the 2019 Orlando Invitational. Your Golden Eagles will be starting off the event at Walt Disney World’s Wide World Of Sports against Davidson on Thursday, November 28th, aka Thanksgiving. GoMarquette.com’s press release says “6pm or 6:30pm Eastern” for tipoff time, but given that there’s a game at 4pm Eastern, I think saying 6:30 Eastern/5:30 Central is a safe bet.

Let’s talk about Davidson, shall we?

Davidson Wildcats

2018-19 Record: 24-10, 14-4 Atlantic 10
Final 2018-19 KenPom.com Ranking: #85
Head Coach: Bob McKillop, entering his 31st season as a head coach, all at Davidson with a record of 578-350
2019-20 T-Rank Preseason Rank: #50
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 2-1
Last Meeting: It sucked, a lot, except for the ending.

Well, let’s just get it out in the open to start with: Bob McKillop is a super coach who has handled bouncing Davidson from an independent in his first season to the Big South for two years, then to the SoCon for two decades, and then up to the Atlantic 10 starting in 2014, grinding out wins at every level. He hasn’t had a losing season overall since 2000-01, and that was his only losing season since his first three years running the show.

He’s also crap in the NCAA tournament when Steph Curry isn’t wearing a jersey that’s nine sizes too big. 3-9 overall, with all three wins coming in his 2008 Elite Eight run. McKillop has also only put the Wildcats in the NCAA tournament in two of Davidson’s five seasons in the Atlantic 10. That’s a much better rate than when they were in the SoCon, sure, but it’s wildly easier to make it into the field when you’re in the Atlantic 10. Draw your own conclusions there.

As for what they’ll look like in November, uh, well, if you see that #50 in the T-Rank projections, then you already know that Davidson’s probably going to be pretty damn good. They had four double digit scorers last season, and all four are back after top two scorers Kellan Grady (17.3 points per game) and Jon Axel Gudmundsson (16.9 ppg) withdrew their names from the NBA Draft.

Grady might have been the team’s top scorer, but it was Axel Gudmundsson who was the KenPom Player of the Year in the Atlantic 10. The 6’5”, 190 pound Iceland native averaged 7.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists last season, leading the Wildcats in both regards. If you look at his KenPom profile from last season, he kind of looks like an experiment in what would happen if you stretched Markus Howard a little taller and sacrificed a little bit of shooting in the process. He gets to the line a ton, makes a bunch of his freebies, passes incredibly well, and then also rebounds the hell out of the ball on the defensive end thanks to his height.

This game will almost assuredly turn into a three-point shooting contest, as McKillop’s teams have been ranked in the top 25 in the country in three-point attempt rate since joining the A-10, and they’ve been top 70 in the country every season since 2001-02. Steve Wojciechowski has leaned into draining jumpers from outside during the three seasons of The Markus Howard Era at Marquette, so the tendency for next year seems obvious. Of course, the past three seasons also had Sam Hauser on the roster, and once Andrew Rowsey went away, Marquette actually took a step back in rate from 2017-18 to last season.

I’m not going to dive into the rest of the teams in the Orlando Invitational field here, because Marquette is only going to play two of the other six squads, and honestly, only one of four of them. Instead, I want to look at how this tournament’s bracket was set up, because it seems a wee bit goofy.

Here’s what the first round’s bracketing situation looks like:

Maryland vs Temple
Texas A&M vs Harvard

USC vs Fairfield
Marquette vs Davidson

The winners and losers of each pair will face off in their next games. For example, Marquette is guaranteed to play either USC or Fairfield next, the only question is whether it’s in the semifinals or the consolation round.

For me, this leads to a lot of questions about how this thing was bracketed. If you take last year’s final KenPom rankings for each of the eight teams, this is the seeding order:

  1. Maryland
  2. Marquette
  3. Temple
  4. USC
  5. Davidson
  6. Texas A&M
  7. Harvard
  8. Fairfield

If you take the T-Rank projections for the 2019-20 season that are already up, here’s the seeding you get:

  1. Maryland
  2. Harvard
  3. Marquette
  4. Davidson
  5. Texas A&M
  6. USC
  7. Temple
  8. Fairfield

There’s a clear argument to be made that Marquette’s first round game pits two of the top four teams against each other. Why is this happening? Even better question: Why is USC playing Fairfield? The obvious answer here is “Maryland is hosting Fairfield in a non-bracketed game on November 19th” so the Stags have to go somewhere else. Also not helping the seeding situation here: Temple visiting USC on November 22. I dunno, maybe don’t take two of your possible first round games and throw them in a ditch before the event starts?

I want to be clear: There’s not a lot of space between the teams no matter what ranking system you want to use. On KenPom, the non-Fairfield teams are all between #24 and #114. That span gets tighter on T-Rank’s projections, with everyone except for Fairfield coming in between #7 and #88. Maybe it really doesn’t matter what teams play in the first round as a result, because everyone is pretty evenly matched.

Still, USC getting what appears to amount to a buy game as their first round while everyone else has to slog through a top 100 game seems wildly unfair.