I have grown tired of waiting for the Big East and Big Ten to announce the Gavitt Tipoff Games schedule for this upcoming season. They were announced on May 29th last season. As I type this on Thursday morning, it is June 25th. Marquette men’s basketball announced their full 2020-21 non-conference basketball slate..... other than the Gavitt Game..... back on June 11th. It’s been another two weeks.
And so, it’s time to jump feet first into comparing the non-conference schedule to the recent previous seasons.
It’s a simple endeavor. I take the schedule, and then check every team’s final KenPom.com ranking for the 2019-20 season. Once that strenuous task is completed, I determine the low (aka best) ranking of the future opponents, as well as the high (aka worst) of them as well. Because math is actually fun, I figure out both the average ranking as well as the median ranking. Figuring out the median is important here, because you can get what appears to be a very shiny average by just scheduling a couple of tippy top end teams and then filling up the rest of the slate with back end buy games. That’s where median comes in, letting us know the actual midpoint of the data set.
Anyway, here’s the number sets from the last five seasons.
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: Purdue (19)
High: Chicago State (335 out of 351)
Average of MU’s 9 opponents: 160
Median Opponent Ranking: 205
Low: Kansas State (42)
High: Presbyterian (334 out of 351)
Average of MU’s 11 opponents: 189.9
Median Opponent Ranking: 239
Low: Purdue (9)
High: Central Arkansas (302 out of 353)
Average of MU’s 10 opponents: 168.8
Median Opponent Ranking: 224.5
Aaaaaaaaaaand here’s the data for this coming season.
Low: Wisconsin (22)
High: Chicago State (353 of 353)
Average of MU’s 9 opponents: 186.1
Median Opponent Ranking: 237
Before we say anything else, we have to say that no matter what opponent Marquette gets for the Gavitt Games, that average and median will improve. The worst team in the Big Ten last season was Nebraska, and they wrapped up the year at #162 in the KenPom rankings. If MU gets assigned the worst team in the Big Ten as a game partner, then the median moves to just inside 200 (literally as close as it can get for median, 199.5), and the average improves by about three spots to 183.7. Again, that’s if MU gets the worst possible outcome.
The point I’m making here is that this schedule might be more difficult than it looks at first glance. Yeah, there’s the four games against sub-280 opponents, one of which was assigned to Marquette by the Hall Of Fame Tip-off Tournament. That’s not great, especially with two of them actually ending up as sub-300 foes and one of them — Chicago State — was literally the worst KenPom team in the country last year and has beaten just one Division 1 opponent in each of the past three seasons.
But those games are quite simply there because head coach Steve Wojciechowski is going to have three true freshmen and a redshirt freshman on the roster in 2020-21 in addition to what we presume will be a new starting point guard in D.J. Carton, and they’re going to need wins of any variety. Before the Gavitt Games schedule is even announced, MU has four games scheduled against top 100 KenPom teams from last season. They’re probably going to get a fifth in the Gavitt Games as only two Big Ten teams ended up outside the top 100, and it’s a 50/50 toss on getting another one in the Hall of Fame tournament. Minnesota finished last season at #27, while UCF were #117. If the Golden Eagles figure out a way to go 3-3 against those six opponents — Rhode Island, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, and UCLA are the four that are locked in place — then you’d have to figure that Marquette will be in a prime position to contend for an NCAA tournament berth.
It’s a very good schedule that has some very bad games on it. It’s going to be up to Steve Wojciechowski and his staff to figure out how to activate his newcomers into a cohesive unit as fast as possible. The yet-to-be announced Gavitt Game is Game #3 on the schedule, and MU immediately follows that up just days later with a back-to-back situation in the Hall of Fame tournament. We’re going to find out a lot about the Golden Eagles in just the first two weeks of the schedule. Let’s hope it’s all good news.