It’s June, so that means it’s also “men’s college basketball non-conference schedule leak season.” Most of the Marquette schedule is pretty much set already (we’ll get to it later), but last week, we got two tidbits, one on top of the other. First, Noted Bracketologist and All Around Basketball Knower Rocco Miller caught wind, or as the case may be, several winds that Marquette will be hosting Rider at some point this fall.
2022-23 Record: 16-14, 13-7 MAAC
Postseason: Lost to Saint Peter’s in the MAAC tournament quarterfinals
Final KenPom.com Ranking: #206
2023-24 T-Rank Projection: #248, with records of 15-14 overall, 11-9 MAAC
Head Coach: Kevin Baggett, entering his 12th season at Rider
All-Time Series: This will be the first ever meeting.
Kevin Baggett has had a largely successful tenure at Rider, even though that hasn’t turned into an NCAA tournament appearance out of the MAAC for the Broncs. With just one exception, they’ve been between #160 and #225 in the KenPom rankings, and we can give him a pass on the exception. That was the 2020-21 season, and while they ended up at #316, it was also The Weirdest Season In Recent Memory and Rider went without playing a game between January 23rd and February 20th. Baggett’s teams have never had fewer than eight wins in MAAC play with the lone 2021 exception, and they’ve had double digit victories seven times in his 11 seasons.
There hasn’t really been much of a trend to how Rider plays under Baggett’s direction. They’ve been up and down in terms of tempo, sometimes they’re good at rebounding, sometimes they’re better on one end of the floor than the other, but never consistently the same end, either. The one true trend in Baggett’s teams over the past seven seasons is that they’re trending towards the back end of Division 1 in terms of how often they shoot three-pointers. Rider has ranked below #300 in the country in each of the last three years in terms of long range attempt rate, and they bottomed out at #357 with less than 26% of their attempts coming behind the arc last season.
The BartTorvik.com projection for Rider has Allen Powell as the top player listed amongst contributors, but it’s Mervin James who’s projected as the leading scorer. Powell’s been at Rider for four years, and the 6’2” guard from Philadelphia averaged 10.4 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game last year. James is a 6’7” forward from the Virgin Islands, and he chipped in 12.9 points, a team high 6.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists a night in 2022-23. Rider will need to find a way to replace the production of Dwight Murray, who led the team in scoring (15.7) and assists (3.0) while shooting 40% from downtown.
Everyone’s favorite Marquette beat writer, Ben Steele from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, took the opportunity of Miller’s schedule news to advise the world that 1) not only is Marquette hosting St. Thomas, but 2) the game in question will be on December 14th.
St. Thomas Tommies
2022-23 Record: 19-14, 9-9 Summit League
Postseason: Lost to Oral Roberts in the Summit League semifinals
Final KenPom.com Ranking: #202
2023-24 T-Rank Projection: #221, with records of 18-13 overall and 10-8 in Summit League
Head Coach: Johnny Tauer, entering his 13th season at St. Thomas
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 8-3
Before we go anywhere else on this, I want to talk about that 8-3 all time series record. That’s three meetings in the 1920s, three in the 1940s, one in the 1950s, two in the 1960s, and two more in the 1970s before the series ran dry in November 1977. I bring this up because I was surprised to find “St. Thomas (MN)” in the media guide because I knew that the Tommies had just elevated themselves to Division 1 in 2021 after the MIAC kicked them out. The Wikipedia page for St. Thomas notes their Division 3 NCAA tournament experience dating back to 1990 and the page for their former conference says that they were an NAIA league up through 1982, which is when they moved to Division 3. I can’t really explain 11 previous games other than things were different in the first half of the 20th century.
As you’d expect for a team making the jump up to Division 1, 2021-22 was not a great season for the Tommies. They started out the year relatively okay, going 8-7 with a trio of non-Division 1 wins and starting out 2-1 in Summit League action. And then they lost 12 straight league games before winning two of their final three contests to land at 10-20 on the year. 2022-23 was a much better season, as it took dropping their final two regular season games to land at exactly .500 in Summit League play. To put some better context on it relative to the Big East: In their season opener, St. Thomas gave up a 17-2 run early to Creighton on the road in Omaha.... and yet they led the Bluejays, 57-56, with about 10 minutes to go. Sure, they ended up losing, but that’s a gutsy comeback no matter what.
The question that has to be answered for St. Thomas heading into next season is “What are they without Andrew Rohde?” The 6’6” guard from Milwaukee led the Tommies in scoring (17.1) and assists (3.6) last season as a freshman, but now he’s in Charlottesville after transferring to Virginia. That makes Parker Bjorklund, a 6’6” forward from Minnesota, their leading returning scorer at 15.1 per night, and the only returning guy who averaged more than nine points a game, too. Bjorklund also led the team in rebounding with 5.5 per game, but they got good contributions from returning guys in Brooks Allen and Ahjany Lee, so Johnny Tauer has some quality components to work with for 2023-24.
With those two games on the board, we know almost the entire Marquette schedule, although maybe not all the pieces in the right places. Here’s what we know:
November 14: at Illinois
November 20-22: Maui Invitational
December 2: at Wisconsin
December 6: vs Texas
December 9: vs Notre Dame
December 14: vs St. Thomas
That’s nine games, with three coming in the Maui Invitational against some combination of Gonzaga, Kansas, Purdue, Syracuse, Tennessee, UCLA and Chaminade. Marquette only played 11 non-conference games last season before Big East action started before Christmas, so it’s a safe bet that we can expect that number again this coming season. That means there’s probably just two non-con games left to announce, and given the high profile nature of everything else, it’s probably going to be two buy games added in there.