"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, March 06, 2011

Bubble Breakdown: Where Marquette Really Stands

CS Team prologue:  Please welcome Brewcity77, the newest member of the CS writing team!


On my way out of the Cincinnati game, I heard a Marquette fan behind me saying "Well, now they need to beat Seton Hall, and probably get two in the Big East tournament to get in." Unable to help myself, I interjected "I really don't think so. One win would certainly be enough, though they may have a good enough resume even if they lose out." A brief discussion followed as we exited, and I think I reassured him that Marquette's situation isn't as dire as many fans and online gurus may indicate. When you look at Lunardi's Bracketology, Marquette still hasn't fallen to his Last Four In. Before the Seton Hall loss, the general consensus was that Buzz's team was in as a 10-seed. Even if that loss drops them a seed line, they should still be in.

However, there are a number of worrying criteria that do cast a shadow of doubt on Marquette's resume. RPI, total losses, all of these factors swirl around the collective heads of the Marquette team like a grim specter of doom. I've been of the opinion that these factors aren't as dire as many say for quite awhile, and to prove (or disprove) my own feelings, I did a breakdown of Marquette and 29 other teams that are either considered securely in, on the bubble, or on the outside looking in. The criteria I used were current RPI, projected Strength of Schedule (hereafter SOS), out-of-conference (hereafter OOC) RPI, out-of-conference SOS, wins against RPI top 50 opponents (quality wins), losses against RPI 101+ opponents (bad losses), the plus/minus rating comparing quality wins and bad losses (all taken from RPIForecast.com), total current losses, and ratings from both kenpom.com and Sagarin. Of the 30 teams I compared, 18 should get bids, meaning that for Marquette to be "worthy" in a category, they need to be in the top 18.

The teams I am comparing Marquette to include all projected at large teams from the latest S-Curve and includes the following: Utah State, Old Dominion, Tennessee, UCLA, Michigan State, Georgia, Illinois, Virginia Tech, Gonzaga, St. Mary's, Butler, Clemson, Boston College, Michigan, Richmond, Missouri State, UAB, Alabama, Colorado State, Colorado, Oklahoma State, Washington State, Penn State, Virginia Commonwealth, and Baylor. I also included USC, Memphis, Nebraska, and UTEP because they were recently added to Lunardi's Last 8 Out. While some of these teams, notably Utah State, Gonzaga, St. Mary's, Butler, and Missouri State, are in a position to qualify via an automatic bid, I included them because they will likely be compared to Marquette if they fail.

With 30 teams, I have also broken down the categories into three color classifications. Red means Marquette is in the bottom ten of the category and that it is bad mark on their resume. Orange means we are in the middle ten, which will likely yield 5-8 bids, but while not a negative also isn't an overwhelming positive. Green means Marquette is in the top ten of the category and that it is a positive on their resume. The numbers I am using have been taken on the morning of March 6. Now, finally, to the numbers...

RPI (24/30)

Marquette's RPI of 68 ranks 24th of the 30 teams and is one of their most troubling numbers. A slight positive is that there are 4 teams ahead of them that are also in the 61-67 range, which is comparable to Marquette's rating and would put them in the top 20, just outside the bid-worthy range. If they managed to win two games in the Big East tournament, that would move them up to an approximate 55 RPI, which would put them at 17th in RPI, right around where they need to feel somewhat secure. If they win one game, they will likely stay around where they are at, or possibly climb one or two spots. If they lose to Providence, they will fall to around 80, which would leave them at 28th of the 30 teams and in severe danger in this category.

SOS (6/30)

Marquette's SOS of 31 ranks 6th of the 30 teams and is a definite positive. Despite what was considered a weak OOC schedule, the grueling nature of the Big East was such that Marquette has gone through one of the tougher roads in the country. And no matter what happens in the Big East tournament, this isn't likely to change much. If we lose to Providence, we might drop a couple places, but certainly not enough to drop us out of the top ten of the 30 teams in this study.

OOC RPI (28/30)

This is even more damaging to Marquette than their actual RPI. Marquette ranks 28th of the 30 teams with a 122 OOC RPI. Playing a weak schedule, coupled with losses in their four biggest games, was very damaging. The only positive is that Bucknell and UW-Milwaukee both played their way into the top 100 RPI, giving them a pair of decent non-conference wins, even if they won't count as true "quality wins".

OOC SOS (20/30)

This one surprised me considering how much has been made of our weak non-conference schedule, but Marquette checked in right at 20th of the 30 teams. A little bit outside the range of where we'd like them to be, but still at least respectable. While this won't help them, it also isn't nearly as bad as we might have expected.

Quality Wins

Only 3 teams did better than Marquette in this category. Tennessee has a very impressive 7 quality wins, while both USC and Colorado are tied for second with 5. Marquette is tied with Memphis and Butler at 4 apiece, but it may be important to note some factors for those two teams. Three of Butler's quality wins come against the same opponent, Cleveland State. The other comes from a Florida State team that sits at 47 in the RPI, a position that could see them fall out of the quality win territory. For Memphis, two of their quality wins come from Southern Miss, a team that is teetering right on the 50 mark.
Any falloff by those Golden Eagles could easily see Memphis' four quality wins reduced to two. Either way, Marquette is in a great position in this regard.

Bad Losses (T1/30)

Marquette and Georgia are the only two teams without a single bad loss in the bunch. While most viewed Seton Hall as a bad loss, the Pirates' RPI was already at 97 after they beat St. John's, and climbed to 91 with the win over Marquette. This is a great mark for Marquette and one that will certainly be one of the most favorable points that their supporters in the Selection Committee can make.

Plus/Minus (T1/30)

It's easy to disregard this stat as a simple composite of the two previous stats, but only Marquette and Tennessee have a +4 differential. What makes this significant is that when you look at teams like Colorado (+2) and USC (-1), their 5 quality wins seem a lot less striking when compared with the number of times they were tripped up by "bad" opposition. When you look at the relative quality of Marquette's wins coupled with the quality of the opponents that beat them, it shines brightly in our favor.

kenpom.com Rating (5/30)

How much will the computer ratings play in to the Selection? It's hard to say, but we do know that the Committee is provided both the kenpom and Sagarin ratings. They may not be relied on as heavily as the RPI is, but Marquette's tendency to keep their margin of defeat narrow ensures that they will always be ranked much higher in these ratings than they will be in the RPI.

Sagarin Rating (3/30)

Similar to the previous rating, Sagarin also finds great favor with Marquette. With two exceptions, Marquette only loses to very good teams, and with two exceptions, Marquette only loses by close margins. Score another big point for Buzz's boys.

Total Losses (T27/30)

First, the reason I include current total losses rather than including the expected loss that would make these teams bubble teams is to keep everyone equal. Any team on the list that manages to go without a loss will be in regardless, so I'm sticking with current numbers. Clearly Marquette's 13 losses won't be a positive, as it is tied for worst of the 30 teams. And if Marquette does make the tourney as an at-large, they will obviously go in with 14 losses. However, this category is one where we may benefit from the Committee members that use RPI as their primary factor in picking teams. 11 of Marquette's 13 losses come to teams in the top 35 of the RPI. Of the other 29 teams, only one even played against that many top 35 RPI teams, that being Georgia, who played 12. So while this will likely be a negative, Marquette can draw some solace out of the knowledge that this could turn into a positive for those that focus strictly on the RPI.

Aggregate Numbers

Quite simply, that's a lot of data. Some of it favors Marquette, some of it could work against them. So I suppose the bottom line is where they rank amongst these 30 teams that are scrapping for the last 15-18 bids the Selection Committee will hand out. While it's unlikely that all of these factors will be considered equally by the Committee, that's what I did to determine where these teams stood. I assigned each category a point value from 1-30, with the top team getting 30 points per category, ranging down to 1 point for the bottom. In cases of ties, I assigned all the tied teams the same amount of total points. Marquette finished 12th of the 30 teams. I actually expected them to be higher, but huge hits from their RPI and total losses keep them on the bubble, but seemingly on the right side.


77ncaachamps said...

But does it pass "the eye test"?

That's all that will count to the committee. Not sure if they sift through the numbers of have a monkey in the backroom fling dung at the teams selected at large.

TB said...

Great post, BrewCity. Thanks and welcome to the Cracked Sidewalks team.

Alan Bykowski said...


There was a great article posted recently by Seth Davis, and also a related one by Andy Staples, in which media members got to do a mock NCAA selection committee. Davis included this excellent point from Joe Lunardi as to why the "eye test" should be thrown out:

Thus did we digress at one point into a discussion on the so-called "eye test." If you're comparing teams, at what point should you throw all those RPI numbers aside and simply ask yourself, "I've seen both of these teams play. Who do I think is better?" ESPN's Joe Lunardi made an eloquent argument against it. "Let's say you look at a finely sculpted baseball player who's hitting .220," Lunardi said. "Then you see John Kruk, who doesn't look like he belongs anywhere on the field, and he's hitting .320. Who would you rather have on your team?"

Here's a link to both the Davis and Staples articles. They're a bit lengthy, but great reads.