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Is Belmont the most important game this season?

Photo by Anthony Giacomino/ Paint Touches

Photo by Anthony Giacomino/ Paint Touches

With the season just a few crab dribbles away, the bracket projections are coming out hot and heavy. The consensus when it comes to Marquette: uncertainty. 

Don’t take my word for it though, here is where Marquette sits nationally on the bracketology spectrum:
SI: Last 4 In
ESPN: Last 4 In
NBC: Next 4 Out
USA TODAY: Out
Bleacher Report:
Out
CBS
: Out

Behold the return of Team Bubble Watch. According to the experts, Marquette will be a fringe tournament team, right on the cusp of the cut line. A game here or there may make all the difference come selection Sunday.

And that leads us to the meat and potatoes. Friday night’s season opener has a good chance of being the most important game of the season for the Blue and Gold. That is not some hyperbolic coach speak or motivational mantra, either. I mean it. Hear me out.

It is a certifiable fact that Marquette’s non-conference schedule is awful. SBN’s bracket guru does a good job of showing why that is, but for the sake of saving you a click, there are two particular reasons for this.

1) The buy games are historically weak

Buy Games averages

To the right is a chart showing this very effectively. There are more sub-300 KenPom teams from last season on the schedule than any in the last 8 years. Having a few of them is not only understandable, it’s necessary. Having 7 sub-300 teams on the books will drag down the entire strength of schedule, and hit the RPI. These are must win games, but even winning them isn’t necessarily positive. It looks timid, and come selection Sunday, may be used against Marquette if it comes down to the last few spots.

2) The non-buy games are too difficult

Ironically, the games Marquette didn’t schedule in the non-conference may be a bit too much for this team to chew off. No one will reasonably expect Marquette to beat LSU or NC State in the Legends classic, or take down Wisconsin on the road. Iowa is set to make some noise in the BiG as well, so while facing them at home will make a difference, Iowa should be a slight favorite. 

Let’s say Marquette takes care of business against the puff pastries (plus IUPUI) and fall against all three of the UW, LSU, Iowa trio of 0 top-100 wins and 8 sub-250 wins. That leaves a frightening potential dance resume. Arizona State will be fine, but it isn’t showing up in preseason brackets at this point, so you can’t really call that a good win, either. That’s it. That’s the entire non-conference slate. 

What are we left with? Belmont. 

The Bruins are favorites to win the OVC this season after making a bit of noise in the Tournament last year. They are well coached, experienced and maybe good enough to even get some at-large considerations, depending on Friday’s result. This is a big, big game for both teams. 

Win and Marquette will head into a brutal first two weeks with some house money. Lose and taking care of business might not be enough. Stealing one or two against LSU, Iowa or Wisconsin may be a baseline necessity for dance considerations.

Look, I know we are getting way ahead of ourselves here. The non-con will only matter to this extent if Marquette is average to good in the Big East. Go 14-4 and it won’t matter. Go 6-12 and it won’t matter. But this team has boatloads of talent. It should and will be hitting its stride come February, as youth takes time to assimilate. That may mean losing a few of the winnable early conference games. It definitely means we will see a different Marquette team in March than in November.

The general consensus from pundits and statheads is that this team will be bubbly. If that does turn out to be the case, Friday’s 40 minutes may be the most important Marquette plays. 

No pressure. 

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Categories: Analysis, Columns

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