A fun guidepost to the start of any college basketball season is the release of the preseason ratings over at KenPom.com. For the 2021-22 season, that happened on Sunday morning! Surprise and Happy KenPom Day to everyone who celebrates..... which should be everyone reading this site?
We’re here for Marquette chatter, so let’s dive right in.
Heading into Shaka Smart’s first season in charge at 770 N. 12th Street, the KP algorithm starts the Golden Eagles out as the #87 team in the country. That’s one spot below South Carolina and one spot above Louisiana Tech. The quick shorthand of “top 50 means you’re in NCAA tournament contention” tells you that Marquette does not look like a tourney contender here in the middle of October, but that shouldn’t be surprising to you.
In terms of where does that fit the Golden Eagles amongst their friends in the Big East, well, let’s hit the full league rundown.....
- Villanova — #9
- Connecticut — #21
- Xavier — #26
- Seton Hall — #50
- St. John’s — #51
- Creighton — #53
- Butler — #55
- Georgetown — #76
- Providence — #85
- Marquette — #87
- DePaul — #140
Yeah, #87 means second to last or, if you prefer, last in the “Not DePaul” department. As you can see from that Seton Hall through Butler range, the middle of the league is projected to be... I believe the technical term is “a mess.” That’s some real “anyone can beat anyone on any given night” type stuff right there, although I have my own feelings on exactly how accurate any of that is.
In terms of each individual side of the ball, the math calculation sets up Marquette as the #106 offense in the country and the #67 defense in the country. That would leave the Golden Eagles as the 10th best offense in the conference and the ninth best defense in the league. This is where we stop to point out that Shaka Smart has not had a defense ranked lower than 40th at the end of a season on KenPom since his second season at VCU. His worst season since then was exactly #40 and that was at his first season at Texas. I’m not saying this to guarantee that the #67 projection is wrong, but I am saying that it would be unlikely for that to happen with a Smart-coached team.
It’s important to remember at this time exactly how the KenPom algorithm works for preseason ratings. It’s a calculation of “well, what have these players done in the past?” which is heavily weighted on last year’s performance along with “what does a team with this head coach look like?” again weighted heavily for last season. There’s also a certain amount of “juniors improve X% on average going into their senior year, etc.” mixed in there as well. Marquette presents an interesting test for the algorithm, as there are just three players on the MU roster — Greg Elliott, Justin Lewis, and Oso Ighodaro — with any experience playing together and only four more players with any college hoops experience at all. I don’t know how much whatever definition you want to throw into the word “continuity” matters to the calculation, but if it affects it at all, then this particular roster’s preseason ratings are definitely suffering from a lack of it.
Let’s move on to the schedule, shall we?
Part of the preseason ratings from KenPom.com are a game-by-game projection of wins and losses as well as a full season overall projection on the W/L record. Neither one is what you would call particularly rosy.
Marquette is currently projected in the full season setup to finish 13-16 overall with a record of 8-12 in the Big East. If you’re doing math in your head, yes, that is missing two games from the schedule because KP doesn’t include games from the Charleston Classic until the opponents are actually known. For whatever it worth: Marquette would be favored against Elon but not against West Virginia in the second game of that event, and would only be favored against Temple out of the four possible opponents for the final game. Boise State would essentially be a coin flip favoring the Broncos ever so slightly, though.
Going game-by-game, things get, uh, worse. In terms of individual game projections, Marquette is favored to win just 10 times based on the preseason rankings, which gives you a record of 10-19 and 6-14 in the Big East.
The reason for the differential there is because anything between 40% chance of victory and 60% chance of victory is a one possession game and therefore pretty much a coinflip in terms of what happens as a result. Marquette is projected with two wins and two losses somewhere between 45% and 55% chance of victory and another 2-2 mark when you go 40% to 45% and 55% to 60%. Only one of those eight games — vs Ole Miss in Charleston, which is a 40% chance game — is a non-conference game.
If you want, you can say that there are three Big East games that can easily be turned to wins, which gets you to 9-11 in a prediction. If you’re a little more glass-half-empty, then there’s four games that Marquette is going to have to fight to keep as wins and that might end up pushing the Golden Eagles towards 2-18 instead.
Shaka Smart himself said that one of his goals for the 2021-22 Marquette team is to lead the country in improvement by March. We’ll get our first baseline reading on the Golden Eagles and how much they can improve on November 9th, when they face off against SIU-Edwardsville. For the moment, MU has a 96% chance of victory.