Is Marquette really the Big East Title favorite?

That’s a question that feels presumptuous to ask at any time in January, let alone when Marquette doesn’t even hold the best record in the conference. But after a thorough demolishing of a Seton Hall team that had just beaten UConn in that same arena days before, it wasn’t just Marquette fans that were starting to think these kinds of thoughts.

Computer Love

As satisfyingly as non-partisan love feels, I don’t tend to put much stock into single game (or even small sample) overreaction, simply because we (humans) tend to let what’s happening directly in front of us cloud out judgement. I complain about players having bad games all the time after keying in a few possessions that went poorly, only to see their ORtg or some other measure be perfectly adequate or even good.

Which is why, as a Marquette fan first and foremost, the current love from mathematical models has me quite shocked.

Here’s how TRank sees the Big East odds based on his ratings:

It’s not just that MU is currently a favorite according to his model, but they are significantly ahead of the team behind them.

Trending the weekly WinMatrix odds on his site also puts into play some mind-bending numbers. Like the fact there’s a 50.1% chance that Marquette finishes the regular season with 16 or more Big East wins.

The odds of that happening in the preseason? 0.2%

It isn’t just one outlier site that I’m currently cherry-picking from either. KenPom is projecting that Marquette finishes at 15-5, while Xavier, Providence, UConn and Creighton all have their projections capped at either 14 or 13 wins.

How Can This Be?

Marquette is really, really good. I know I’ve been the holding back on that statement the last 2 weeks, but a very difficult stretch saw this team come out even stronger than when it went in.

Here’s where the computer models have MU ranked nationally:
TRank: 8
KenPom: 8
Haslam: 8

If you want to take a look at an even larger selection of datapoints, Massey’s composite rankings puts Marquette right up there with UConn and X.

It’s not a small sample. It’s not recency bias. It isn’t even homerishness.

But the biggest reason why it’s time to take Marquette’s Big East title odds seriously is that it has the most favorable schedule remaining of all the possible competitors.

I built this Big East schedule/result map, sorted by NCAA NET Quadrants, last season and had to bring it back again. Look at the bottom of the map in particular. Marquette has 6 of its 7 Q3/Q4 games remaining, compared to only 3 for Xavier, 4 for Providence and 4 for Creighton.

That isn’t to say that Marquette will automatically win all of those games. We saw last season how a favorable schedule down the stretch didn’t materialize into a lot of Ws and see that Xavier already lost one of these games themselves. Good teams lose games they are supposed to win all the time and MU is not immune.

But even projecting a “bad loss” in there, notching 5/6 wins there gets Marquette to 13 wins with 4 difficult to very difficult ones to grab one or two Ws from. And that isn’t factoring in any other surprise results that X/PC/CU/UConn might succumb to as well.

All of this is to say, while I understand being hesitant to shift into a mentality that has brought nothing but pain the past decade, this squad has reached heights that no team since the 2012 Sweet 16 squad has reached analytically. It’s ok to believe.

A Big East championship is really in play.

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Categories: Analysis

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