What are the seeding stakes at play for MU?


(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

It was all good just 2 weeks ago.

Having won 5 of the past 6 games and rising to top 25 status in both the AP poll and Ken Pom, Marquette had all the momentum and opportunity to start thinking about possibly reaching protected seed (top-4) status in NCAA Tournament seeding.

Sure sweeping 3 of the top 4 teams in the Big East standings, with two games coming on the road probably wasn’t going to happen, but a 2-1 trip was definitely in the cards, and would be enough to keep Marquette around the 5-seed line, on the cusp of breaking into the hallowed group.

Why do I (and most) make such a big deal about being a protected seed? Not only does the committee give these seeds priority in terms of location, but historically, the top 16 teams (4 seeds and better) are much more likely to make the Sweet 16 and from there make a deeper March run.


Using  TRank’s data since 2000, 48.8% of No. 4 seeds made the Sweet 16. That number drops to 35% for 5s and then plummets to 23.8% for 6s. In raw terms, there have been 39 No. 4 seeds to advance to the Sweet 16 compared to only 47 combined 5 and 6 seeds  since 2000. That’s an enormous difference.

Alas, Marquette not only didn’t keep pace, it dropped the ball in all 3 and looked poor in doing so.

A quick glance at Bracket Matrix has Marquette currently slotted into the 2nd No. 7 seed, though still closer to a 6 seed than an 8 by the average. This isn’t exactly the content we want to be discussing, but the initial performance differences between a 6/7/8 are relatively minor, so not exactly red alert stuff.

In the last 19 years, 46 No. 6 seeds won their opening game compared to 48 No. 7 seeds and 46 No. 8 seeds. If the goal is to just get Wojo an NCAA skin, a 6 or 7 or 8 seed doesn’t really make a difference.

However, if we’re talking about an actual presence in the NCAA tournament outside of the first few days, the 8-seed is a cliff.

There have been 19 No. 6 seeds and 18 No. 7 seeds make the Sweet 16. That’s lower than 5 seeds and much lower than 4s, but still around a 23% likelihood. Only 9 No. 8 seeds in the last 19 years have made the Sweet 16, though, a paltry 11.3% of entries.

It doesn’t take much explaining why the 8s (and 9s) fare so poorly in that second game. The bracket pits the winner of the 8/9 game against a No. 1 seed, usually in a location within driving distance of their home crowd. It’s a tremendous disadvantage.

And yes, it’s not like the No. 5 team in the country (a No. 2 seed which you could have to face as a 7 seed in the round of 32) is a slouch compared to No. 4, but the data is clear on how much more success No. 1s have had historically than No. 2s. But the data again is clear, you want to avoid the 8/9 line at all costs.

So now Marquette faces 4 games in which KenPom has designated it as the favorite. However, MU is only predicted to finish 2-2 in this final stretch, as it will only be slight favorites against both Hall at home and DePaul on the road.

A quick trip to TRank’s TeamCast tool gives us a pretty dim picture of what’s to come. Lots to lose, little to gain. Currently projected as a 7-seed here are the new projected seeds depending on Marquette’s record in the next 4 games:

4-0: 7 seed
3-1: 7 seed
2-2: 7 seed
1-3: 8 seed
0-4: 9 seed

Yea I’m not buying that math either. If MU finishes 0-4, giving it 7 straight losses to end the season, I don’t think they’d end up finishing as a single digit seed, no matter how much I love this math.

And if they go 4-0, I do think they can hop back into at least the No. 6 seed line, too many teams ahead of it will lose to not see some action.

The overall point is that most of the resume has been built in, and you can’t take that away, good or bad, with 2 weeks of games. (Of course, there is still the Big East tournament, and the seeding implications that come with a worse finish, but we’ll wait to go over that until next week.)

Basically, Marquette missed their opportunity to move up in the world the last two weeks, but the season is far from over. It still has an opportunity to help (and hurt) itself come March and beyond. The ball is squarely in their court.

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