"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Who has Marquette beaten this year? More ranked teams than anyone but UConn

The most ludicrous argument I’ve heard in many a year is the “Marquette hasn’t beaten anyone” argument that has been repeated so many times this year it is being taken as Gospel even among some of our own fans. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I knew from my past research that MUs 5-1 start against ranked teams going into Tuesday’s game at Villanova was the best record against ranked teams in the history of the program. I couldn’t believe there were many other teams in the country that had beaten more ranked teams that MU this year, so I went back through the week-by-week ESPN rankings to see how the current Top 25 had done against ranked teams each week. Guess what, if “who we have beaten” is your criteria, Marquette is now the No. 2 team in the country.

The only other team to beat five ranked teams this year is the No. 1 team in the land, UConn, which is now 7-1 against ranked teams. As I noted a week ago, UConn is the only team in the country with six future NBA players according to the latest NBA mock draft, so I won’t argue with any UConn fan who claims we haven’t beaten the teams they have.

But the rest of the Top 25? Why isn’t any criticism being handed to Memphis, UCLA or Kansas, who are ranked despite still not winning a single game against a ranked team this year? Not saying these teams don’t have great talent and don’t deserved to be ranked, buy let’s get the analysts on them instead of Marquette about who they’ve beaten. If we reordered the current ESPN Top 25 based on how many ranked team’s they’d beaten this year (with fewest losses against ranked teams as the tie-breaker), the following would be your new Top 25:

Connecticut 7 1
Marquette 5 1
Oklahoma 4 0
Syracuse 4 4
Wake Forest 3 0
Louisville 3 1
Michigan State 3 1
North Carolina 3 1
Washington 3 1
Duke 3 2
Gonzaga 3 2
Pittsburgh 3 2
Minnesota 3 3
Clemson 2 2
Illinois 2 3
Purdue 2 3
Texas 2 3
Villanova 2 4
Arizona State 1 0
Butler 1 1
Utah State 1 1
Xavier 1 1
Kansas 0 2
UCLA 0 2
Memphis 0 3

It's true we have knocked four teams out of the Top 25 by beating them, and that adds to another question. Is it more impressive to beat a team when they are ranked or to have beaten a team that later gets hot and gets into the Top 25? This is where I differ with a lot of the analysis that is done. Clearly Georgetown is a much easier team to beat right now than they were when they were ranked. Just ask UConn, Syracuse and Memphis, who all lost to the Hoyas while they were ranked before MU ran them off the court and exposed their weaknesses.

West Virginia isn’t ranked now, but they came into Marquette confident coming off a three-games stretch of a 28 points win at Ohio State, a 26 point win at Seton Hall, and a narrow 6 point loss to UConn. The fact that we destroyed them by 75-53 to send them out of the Top 25 means they weren’t ranked AFTER we exposed weaknesses and broke their confidence.


I think a fair criticism, and one that MU really needs to address in scheduling for future RPI ratings, is that Marquette does play too many really bad teams – but that’s different than NOT playing good teams. We need to replace a few of our games against non-Top 200 teams with a few teams that rank in the middle, somewhere between the Top 25 and the bottom 143 of 343 teams. Seven of the teams we’ve played are really bad, and by really bad, I mean teams not in the Top 200 according to www.kenpom.com. We are talking going out to play scheduling teams that aren’t even Mid-Majors, or terrible, terrible teams like Tom Crean’s Indiana (ranked 210th).

The teams currently in ESPN’s top 25 are 127-0 against teams not in the Top 200, so these really are free wins. So the average ranked team played 5 of these “cream puffs,” and Marquette has played two more than the norm, seven teams not in the Top 200. Only Utah State (10), Purdue (9) and Butler (8) have played more cream puffs than MU. This is an issue moving forward, because no matter how badly you kill these teams, just playing them really hurts the team’s RPI. We would have a much better RPI if we had dropped two or three of these teams from the schedule this year.
My contention is that these freebee wins should simply not count toward your ranking at all. Let’s just throw those games out of consideration completely and pretend they never happened. If we take away each teams freebee wins, and just reorder the current Top 25 based on their winning percentage against Top 200 teams, the new Top 25 looks like this:

Connecticut 18 1
Oklahoma 17 1
Utah State 13 1
Pittsburgh 19 2
North Carolina 18 2
Butler 13 2
Xavier 17 3
Duke 16 3
Memphis 15 3
Clemson 14 3
Marquette 13 3 (would be 6th without USF)
Wake Forest 12 3
Louisville 15 4
Michigan State 15 4
UCLA 15 4
Kansas 14 4
Villanova 13 4
Arizona State 13 5
Syracuse 15 6
Gonzaga 12 5
Illinois 12 5
Minnesota 11 5
Washington 13 6
Purdue 8 5
Texas 9 7

So throwing out every team’s creampuffs, we have the 11th best winning percentage. If Lazar’s stickback had fallen against USF then we would move up just behind UNC in 6th.

I’m not ignoring the loss to the 103rd best team in the land, USF – yes it hurt. But even No. 2 Oklahoma lost to a worse team in 114th ranked Arkansas. The key is obviously how the team bounces back against a Villanova team that www.kenpom.com gives us only a 30% chance of winning on the road. But win or lose that game, to say MU hasn’t beaten anyone this year is simply a ridiculous claim that every MU fan should be combating any place we can.

Repeat to everyone you know that Marquette has beaten more ranked teams than anyone in the US - except UConn. Case closed on that ridiculous attack.

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