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 (21-6, #13)
Monday, February 28: at Washington (14-13, #123), 10pm Central, ESPN2
Saturday, March 5: vs USC (25-4, #26), 9pm Central, ESPN
The Bruins will wrap up the year with a Quadrant 2 road game on Monday night followed by a Quadrant 1 home game on Saturday night. I’m not 100% sure about the entire Pac-12 schedule, nor am I going to rummage around for it, but the Bruins will need to go 2-0 to have a chance at being the #2 seed in the conference tournament. They’re already a game behind USC in the standings and UCLA lost their road game against the Trojans earlier this season so they might need the tiebreaker just to get to the #2 spot.
Illinois Fighting Illini (20-8, #14)
Thursday, March 3: vs Penn State (12-14, #94), 6pm Central, FS1
Sunday, March 6: vs Iowa (20-8, #18), 6:30pm Central, FS1
Thursday’s game is stuck in Quadrant 3 for Illinois since it’s a home game, while Sunday’s regular season finale will be a Quadrant 1 contest unless they do so much damage to the Hawkeyes that Iowa drops 13 spots in the NET. It’s not impossible, I suppose, but it feels very unlikely. That’s good news for Marquette, since they hold the home win over Illinois. The regular season title is very much on the line this week for Illinois, as they’re a game behind Wisconsin right now.
Wisconsin Badgers (23-5, #21)
Tuesday, March 1: vs Purdue (24-5, #12), 8pm Central, ESPN
Sunday, March 6: vs Nebraska (8-21, #164), 1pm Central, Big Ten Network
The Badgers control their destiny for the Big Ten title right now. They have a full game lead over the two teams behind them.... and one of the two is Purdue. If UW gets both wins, they’re the champ, no matter what Illinois does behind them. They’re probably set on being a top four seed no matter what, but beating Purdue wouldn’t be a bad thing, that’s for sure. No matter what happens on Tuesday, Wisconsin has to take Sunday’s game extremely seriously as the Cornhuskers have fallen below that #161 cutoff and are a Quadrant 4 game for them. Sure, losing would probably bump Nebraska up to Q3, but why take the chance?
Kansas State Wildcats (14-14, #69)
Monday, February 28: at Texas Tech (22-7, #10), 8pm Central, ESPN2
Saturday, March 5: vs Oklahoma (15-14, #48), 3pm Central, ESPN+
K-State briefly flickered into the 70s in the NET after losing at home to Iowa State on Saturday. This is notable because the Quadrant 1 cutoff for road games is #75, and it is quite beneficial for Marquette if the Wildcats can stay up there. It would be nice if they could make it competitive in Lubbock at the absolute worst on Monday night, and wrapping up the regular season with a home win over the Sooners would be pretty good, too.
West Virginia Mountaineers (14-15, #73)
Tuesday, March 1: at Oklahoma (15-14, #48), 6pm Central, ESPN2
Saturday, March 5: vs TCU (18-9, #49), 1pm Central, ESPN+
Six straight losses for the Mountaineers now, and so the dream that they could sneak into the top 50 and become a Quadrant 1 neutral site win for Marquette is pretty much done. That’s fine, they’re solidly a Q2 win with no worries about what happens in their final two games of the regular season. Because they’re playing Oklahoma this week, I don’t think they’re locked into the #10 seed in the conference tournament, but they will be if they lose in Norman on Tuesday night.
St. Bonaventure (19-7, #79)
Tuesday, March 1: at VCU (20-7, #53), 7:30pm Central, CBS Sports Network
Friday, March 4: vs Richmond (19-10, #87), 6pm Central, ESPN2
The Bonnies have been trending upwards, which is good news for Marquette’s worst non-conference loss. Tuesday night is a Quadrant 1 game for them since it’s on the road against the Rams, but their home date against the Spiders to close the regular season is Quadrant 3. A 1-1 week for SBU wouldn’t be too bad for Marquette’s purposes as long as the loss is on the road. A 2-0 week would do them a world of good for their own NCAA tournament reasons, although I’m pretty sure the at-large bus is long gone.
Ole Miss Rebels (13-16, #110)
Tuesday, March 1: at Kentucky (23-6, #4), 6pm Central, ESPN
Saturday, March 5: vs Vanderbilt (14-14, #74), 5pm Central, SEC Network
I would like to see what would happen to Ole Miss’ NET if they keep it close in Rupp Arena against the Wildcats. KenPom says they’re projected to lose by 18, and they’re currently 10 spots away from becoming a Quadrant 2 win for Marquette. If Kermit Davis can get his guys to stay within single digits of the ‘Cats, and then turn around and beat the ‘Dores in the regular season finale? Maybe? They were getting closer and closer to getting into the top 100 — all the way to #102 on 2/25 — and thus getting to Q2 for a neutral game, but their home loss to Texas A&M on Saturday did not help at all.
New Hampshire (12-12, #239)
Tuesday, March 1: at UMass Lowell (11-14, #245), 6pm Central, ESPN+
Just one game left on the regular season schedule for the Wildcats. It’s a pretty big one as they’re currently in a three-way tie for third place in the America East conference standings. I’m not 100% sure how the bracket for the AE tournament works, but I know they play games in home arenas. Thus, ending up as high as possible in the standings is good for their postseason chances. It’s a Quadrant 4 game for them, but then again, most of their league games have been there, so it kind of just business as usual in terms of how it impacts MU’s NET.
Jackson State (8-18, #284)
Monday, February 28: at Prairie View A&M (8-16, #298), 8pm Central, ESPNU
Thursday, March 3: vs Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 7:30pm Central (5-22, #352), JSU Sports Network
Saturday, March 5: vs Mississippi Valley State (2-24, #356), 5:30pm Central, JSU Sports Network
Y’know how I usually object to playing SWAC teams? JSU’s second two games this week are the reason why. They’re against two of the six worst NET teams in the country. This will be their second games this season against APB and MSVU, so it’s a double dip on the back end of MU’s NET calculations. It’s not great.
SIU Edwardsville (9-20, #287)
Wednesday, March 2: vs Tennessee State (11-17, #273), 6:30pm Central, ESPN+
This is the first round of the OVC conference tournament. With their record, the Cougars will be done for the year whenever they next lose. They’re the #8 seed here against #5 seed Tennessee State, and they lost 81-65 on the road against the Tigers on February 17th. This will be a Quadrant 4 game for them, and if they win, they get #4 seed Southeast Missouri State on March 3rd.
Northern Illinois (8-20, #300)
Tuesday, March 1: vs Kent State (17-9, #133), 7pm Central, ESPN3
Friday, March 4: vs Ohio (22-6, #102), 7pm Central, ESPN+
The Huskies get a pair of home games to round out the regular season as well as two cracks to stop a four game losing streak heading into this week. Both games are Quadrant 3 games, so it would stand to reason that a win in either one (Kent State is slightly more likely at 29% per KenPom) would go a long way towards making sure that Marquette didn’t play a single sub-300 team this season. It’s not like that’s a make or break type deal, but when there’s only 56 sub-300 teams, I think it would be good when MU doesn’t play them.