It’s been more than a hot minute since the Marquette men’s basketball non-conference schedule was officially released.
We know 10 games on the slate for the Golden Eagles this year, with two more still up in the air. The big games are road tilts against Wisconsin and Kansas State along with a home game against Purdue. We’ve got buy games against Loyola-Maryland, Robert Morris, Jacksonville, Grambling State, North Dakota State, and Central Arkansas. The final known game is the first game of the Orlando Invitational, where the Golden Eagles will play Davidson. The two unknown games at this point are the next two at Disney World, with either USC or Fairfield coming next and then a wrap-up against one of Harvard, Maryland, Temple, or Texas A&M.
With everything locked into place, that means we can ask the big question: How does the 2019-20 non-conference schedule stack up against the non-con slates we’ve seen 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 against opponents that haven’t played a game 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 the second and third game at Disney World over Thanksgiving weekend) are not counted.
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
Low: Kansas State (42)
High: Presbyterian (334 out of 351)
Average of MU’s 11 opponents: 189.9
Median Opponent Ranking: 239
Aaaaaaand here’s this coming season.
Low: Purdue (9)
High: Central Arkansas (302 out of 353)
Average of MU’s 10 opponents: 168.8
Median Opponent Ranking: 224.5
By way of seeing MU’s best non-conference opponent since 2015-16 (aka Steve Wojciechowski’s entire tenure as head coach) and their best ranked team on the back end of the spectrum since 2011-12 (aka Buzz Williams’ second Sweet 16 season), we ended up getting the second best average ranking in the last six seasons. That’s not too shabby.
The median marker is a little bit less impressive than that, but that can be explained somewhat easily. Marquette’s schedule, at least in terms of last year’s KenPom rankings, is heavily tilted in two directions. MU has three top 20 games, as well as #268, #269, and #270 all in a row. Those create some pretty serious anchors on either end for the median calculation, and with three top 20 teams and four in the top 100, it was unlikely that the Golden Eagles were going to schedule between 100 and 200 all that much. I’m not faulting anyone here for that. The schedule is fine tilting towards pretty good the way it’s set up, and that’s without factoring in two games from the Orlando Invitational.
Even a couple of the games in the back end of the distribution are against teams that are expected to be pretty good within the context of their own conference this coming season. That’s all you can really ask for in a schedule.
The big question that we’ll probably never get an answer to is whether or not this was the schedule that Marquette was planning on playing back in early April. How many of these games were locked in place before Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser announced their departure from Milwaukee, and how many were scheduled after that point? Is this the schedule that Steve Wojciechowski wanted to play with a team that was going to be considered a national title contender, or are we looking at a set of contests, specifically the buy games, that are aimed at preparing a roster that has a lot more question marks than you’d like to see coming off a 24-10 season with no senior starters?
We’re just a little more than three months away from seeing how it all shakes out. Thank goodness for the upcoming Euro trip to help us try to answer a question or 17 about what to think heading into this slate of games.