We’re finally back. It’s been almost two years exactly since we got to publish a How To Watch for the NCAA tournament selection show for Marquette women’s basketball. Back then, it was Allazia Blockton and that crew of stellar seniors crossing their fingers that they might snag a top 16 seed and host games at the McGuire Center. That didn’t happen, as they ended up as a #5 seed and lost a thriller to #4 Texas A&M to fall just barely short of the program’s first ever Sweet 16.
A lot has changed in the intervening two years. Those seniors are gone, obviously, and so is the head coach. We were supposed to get one of these How To Watch deals last year, as Megan Duffy took the Golden Eagles from a preseason pick as the 9th best team in the Big East to the conference tournament title game and clearly in the NCAA tournament picture. The pandemic robbed Marquette of a fourth straight tournament appearance a year ago, as well as swiping away Duffy’s first appearance as a head coach.
But no tournament at all a year ago means Marquette can still make that fourth straight tournament this year. When — and it is a when — we hear MU’s name called on tonight on ESPN, it will match the program’s best run of consecutive NCAA appearances, matching the run that Terri Mitchell put together between 1997 and 2000. There’s a big difference in what Mitchell did then, putting together four straight teams around two of the best players in program history in Abbie Willenborg and Lisa Oldenburg. This time, it’s two different coaches — Carolyn Kieger and Megan Duffy — with essentially two entirely different rosters in a five year stretch, although Duffy’s core rotation here in 2021 are players recruited by Kieger before her departure for Penn State.
Here’s what we’re looking at for Marquette’s selection profile. These are numbers taken straight from the NCAA’s website through games played on March 13th. There are still eight more games to be played on the 14th, but I’m not waiting until the middle of the night on Sunday for the NCAA to update things so I can publish this first thing on Monday morning. Sorry/not sorry. Let’s be honest: There’s not going to be that much movement in the NET numbers as a result of eight games.
Record: 19-6, 14-4 Big East
NET Ranking: #34
NET 1-25 Record: 0-3
NET 26-50 Record: 0-0
NET 51-100 Record: 7-3
NET 101+ Record: 12-0
You’ll notice that the women’s basketball selection committee is not using the weighted home/road Quadrant system that the men’s committee uses. Since this is the first season contested with the NET and it’s incredibly hard to say exactly what a home environment was in a season with somewhere between zero and very few fans, I’m not against this. However, if it’s good for the men’s teams to weight for home and road contests, then that needs to happen on the women’s side going forward.
If the committee was seeding the tournament completely straight up on NET ranking, then #34 would be equivalent to being the second best #9 seed in the field. It’s possible that the committee views the Golden Eagles better than that, as ESPN’s Charlie Creme as them as a #8 seed in his bracket projection that was published verrrrrrrrrrrrrrry early on Sunday morning. At a glance, it seems like Marquette’s biggest problem in terms of their NET records in the various groupings is DePaul’s late season collapse. However, the Blue Demons were #51 in the NET on the morning of February 18th, right before their problems really started. Thus, MU’s 1-1 record against DePaul was in the 51-100 bucket then so it’s not like MU lost a top 50 win. Had DePaul done better down the stretch, maybe they do a bit better and nudge above, but that would have been a gain for MU more than anything else.
Marquette’s sterling record against sub-100 teams is what’s propelling them into the field this season. We are left wondering, though, what would have happened if MU didn’t take their long COVID break coming out of the holidays. That’s one of the three 51-100 losses, on the road against #53 Seton Hall. The second one is the home loss to DePaul. The third is at home to Milwaukee, as the Panthers went 19-7 this year and landed with a NET of #77 at the moment. Sadly for them, they will not be a tournament team this year, as the #2 seeded Panthers went out to #5 IUPUI in the Horizon League semifinals.
Charlie Creme’s projection gives Marquette a first round game against Florida State in the Alamo Region, named as such because the entire tournament is taking place in the San Antonio area this season to simplify travel and other logistics due to the pandemic. The winner of that 8/9 meeting would advance to get the winner of a 1/16 game between Stanford and Utah Valley, both of whom snagged the automatic berths from their respective league. I’m not going to argue if the committee moves Marquette to a seven seed, or just away from Stanford in general, as the Cardinals are Creme’s overall top seed in his projection.
College Sports Madness has a Marquette/FSU matchup in the first round, although they have the seeds flipped around. That’s still staring down the barrel of Stanford in the second round, though. Real Time RPI slots Marquette as a #9 seed against Syracuse in the first round, with a likely second round game against #1 Texas A&M. Russ Steinberg over at The Next has MU as a #9 seed as well, at least as of Saturday night. That would mean a first round game against Iowa State and a potential second round game against #1 seed NC State.
In other Big East news, I think it’s safe to say that undefeated regular season champion Connecticut is getting into the tournament. DePaul is a question mark thanks to their late season swoon, and we’ll have to wait to see if Seton Hall did enough to push their way into the group of at-large teams. It’s possible that the Big East is a two-bid league this season, with just the Golden Eagles and the Huskies representing the conference. Georgetown, Xavier, and Butler all ending up as sub-200 NET teams this year is not helping things along.
2021 NCAA Women’s College Basketball Selection Show
Date: Monday, March 15, 2021
Time: 6pm Central