It’s always in the back of your mind that you want your non-conference opponents to win all of their games other than the one they play against you. That way, you look great for beating a great team, or on the off chance that you lose a non-conference game, then you lost to a great team. It doesn’t always work out that way, in fact it essentially never does, but the hope continues to live.
It’s that hope that has us turning to Marquette’s non-conference schedule at this point of the year to keep tabs on what MU’s opponents are up to. After all, the Golden Eagles appear to be pointed directly at the NCAA tournament right now. If that’s the case, then wins by all of MU’s non-Big East foes are going to be helpful to Marquette in one fashion or another.
That’s what we’re doing here: Letting you know when they’re all playing this week so you can tune in, or at the very least scoreboard watch. Why aren’t we paying attention to the Big East teams here? First, that’s what the What To Watch is for, and second, all the Big East teams playing each other is ultimately a zero-sum game for Marquette’s NET rating. If one conference team wins, the other one loses, so that’s not particularly helpful to MU, now is it?
If you’re curious about what results outside of MU’s non-conference opponents are the most beneficial to the Golden Eagles, may I point you towards BartTorvik.com and T-Rank’s Rooting Guide? That’s only going to be showing you things two or three days ahead, but it’s giving you the opponents of opponents of opponents benefits to Marquette.
We’ll start doing this weekly going forward, so here’s what it looks like for the rest of this week. We’ll go in order of the NET ratings as of Monday morning....
UCLA Bruins (16-2, #10)
UCLA remains the shiniest object on Marquette’s schedule, just not the shiniest win. They start the week on a six game winning streak, but that is very much at risk on Thursday when they visit the Wildcats. The Bruins won 75-59 in Los Angeles on January 25th, so this is a pretty quick turnaround into a rematch. No matter what happens there (it’s a Q1 game for UCLA, so whatever), they have to take Saturday’s game pretty seriously. A road trip to the Sun Devils is a Quadrant 3 game at the moment mostly because ASU has only won one game since beating Creighton in Omaha in December.
Illinois Fighting Illini (15-5, #15)
Marquette’s best win of the season shook off two straight losses by picking up two straight wins this past week, but it’s just straight back into the fire this week for them with a pair of Quadrant 1 games. Getting both wins would be great, but both Wisconsin and Indiana would like to snag the Q1 win by knocking off the Illini, doubly so for the Badgers since that one’s in Champaign. Then again.....
Wisconsin Badgers (17-3, #21)
Wednesday, February 2: at Illinois (15-5, #15), 8pm Central, Big Ten Network
Saturday, February 5: vs Penn State (8-9, #96), 5pm Central, Big Ten Network
..... we’re looking at how these games affect Marquette, and Wisconsin playing Illinois ends up with one of them taking a loss so all MU benefits from is the improvement to each side’s strength of schedule. Penn State’s looking an awful lot like it’s going to be a Quadrant 3 game for the rest of the season, so the Badgers really need to make sure they lock that one up no matter what happens in Champaign.
West Virginia Mountaineers (13-7, #64)
Quadrant 2 is anywhere between 51 and 100 for neutral site opponents, so it certainly seems like the ‘Eers are getting locked into that category. Given the overall strength of the Big 12, I don’t think they’re going to drop out of the top 100 in the NET.... but after five straight losses, it certainly looks like they’re going to try doing that. Playing two Quadrant 1 games isn’t going to make it easy for WVU to snap that losing streak either.
Kansas State Wildcats (10-10, #76)
For a split second there, K-State was a Quadrant 1 opponent for Marquette, partly thanks to its status as a road game, but also partly because the Wildcats beat Texas. They’ve lost three straight since then, and so they’re down in Q2 now. They’re in the same position as West Virginia thanks to being in the same conference, and they have the downside of being the worst NET team in the league right now. OK State is their second best chance at a win for the rest of the season (they still have a home game against WVU), so it would be really helpful to snag that one. Marquette has a little extra leeway with KSU dropping if they keep losing games as away contests can be as low as #135 and still stay as a Q2 game.
St. Bonaventure (12-5, #99)
Tuesday, February 1: vs Davidson (16-3, #48), 6pm Central, CBS Sports Network
Friday, February 4: at Richmond (13-8, #88), 5pm Central, ESPN2
It’s a big week for the Bonnies, who are currently inside the Quadrant 2 cutline by two spots. Given that this is Marquette’s worst NET loss of the season, SBU’s performance is actually somewhat critical to how the NCAA committee looks at the Golden Eagles. If they can stay north of 100 and in Q2, that’s great! If they continue to drop games — like they did at #94 George Mason last week — that’s not going to be great for MU. Davidson is a Q2 game for the Bonnies even though the Wildcats are the top NET team in the Atlantic 10, and it’s even bigger than that since Davidson is currently in first place in the league. They can’t overlook Richmond on Friday night either, and that’s a Q2 game for them as well.
Ole Miss Rebels (11-10, #116)
Two road games on tap this week for the Rebels, so they’re both Quadrant 1 opportunities for them to put some polish on the season. They have won two of the last three after beating K-State at home on Saturday (although this didn’t really help MU), and the other win was against the Gators in Oxford. You don’t just walk into the O-Dome and expect to win though, and the visit to the bayou isn’t likely to go well either.
New Hampshire (6-8, #253)
Wednesday, February 2: vs Hartford (4-12, #296), 6pm Central, ESPN+
Saturday, February 5: at UMBC (8-10, #243), 4:30pm Central, ESPN+
Here’s a bummer for New Hampshire: They aren’t favored to beat UMBC on Saturday according to KenPom.... but a loss could push the Retrievers up over the #240 cutline and into Quadrant 3. But then you also lost the game, and if you win, then that definitely stays as a Quadrant 4 game for you. This is a big week for the Wildcats to try to make some ground in the standings before they tangle with Stony Brook again next week.
SIU Edwardsville (5-14, #276)
Monday, January 31: at Austin Peay (4-11, #281), 6pm Central, ESPN+
Thursday, February 3: vs Eastern Illinois (2-17, #355), 7:30pm Central, ESPN+
Saturday, February 5: at Murray State (17-2, #27), 7pm Central, ESPN+
Big week for the Cougars as they have two quality shots to get wins and snap their current six game losing streak before they stick their hand into the woodchipper that is a road trip to see the Racers on Saturday. They’re pretty much stuck as a Q4 game for the Golden Eagles, so it would be pretty fun to see Brian Barone and his guys add a little bit of flavor to the strength of schedule with a pair of wins.... or even a shock the world upset of Murray State?
Jackson State (4-15, #284)
Monday, January 31: vs Southern (9-9, #194), 7:30pm Central
Saturday, February 5: at Mississippi Valley State (1-18, #356), 4:30pm Central
The Tigers have dropped to 2-6 in the SWAC after two losses last week. Their home date with the Jaguars is a coinflip and they’re heavily favored against the Delta Devils, which gives them two good chances to halt their three game losing streak. They’re probably already out of contention for the conference title, but who can truly say?
Northern Illinois (5-13, #302)
Tuesday, February 1: at Western Michigan (2-15, #337), 6pm Central, ESPN3
Saturday, February 5: at Bowling Green (9-10, #232), 4pm Central, ESPN3
It’s now a five game losing streak for the Huskies as they got clipped by six points at home by Central Michigan on Saturday. Tuesday’s game is a road game against the worst NET team in the MAC, so getting a W there would be pretty important relative to avoiding becoming the worst NET team in the MAC themselves. Saturday’s visit to Bowling Green won’t be a picnic, but the Falcons aren’t lighting the world on fire themselves.