Today, Joe Lunardi from ESPN, the most well-renowned (though not necessarily most accurate) bracketologist tweeted out that Marquette had moved into the "Next Four Out" category with their win over Xavier yesterday. This has been a season of falling skies for Marquette fans, with many writing off the season before the New Year and most others (this writer included) feeling that this team was virtually DOA a month later after the February 1 loss at St. John's.
Clearly the current three-game winning streak has changed things, so I decided to take a look at some resumes to see where Marquette really stands and what they need to do to get into the tournament. I have assembled the resumes of 15 teams. Included are the current "Last Four In", "First Four Out", "Next Four Out", as well as the other Big East bubble teams that are currently all projected as in the field -- Xavier, Georgetown, and Providence. I compiled the relevant numbers for all the teams and randomized them. For the records by ranking, I used the Pomeroy numbers as I feel they are a better reflection of team quality. Here is the blind resume table:
That's a lot of data. But on average, these teams have a record of 16.6-8.6 (6.6-5.3), a RPI of 53.3, a SOS of 53.3, and a KenPom rating of 52.4. For the first reveal, Marquette is Team 7. Their record is right in line with the other bubble teams, their conference record is better than most, their RPI and SOS are lagging behind the others, and their Pomeroy rating is a bit better than average. While this hasn't been the season most expected, these numbers at least tell us that despite many claims otherwise over the past 2 months, the season is not yet over. Marquette is still on the outside looking in, but they absolutely belong in the discussion. Here is the full reveal, as well as listing where teams currently stand:
1) Southern Miss (First Four OUT)
2) Baylor (Next Four OUT)
3) Tennessee (Last Four IN)
4) Providence (IN)
5) West Virginia (First Four OUT)
6) Georgetown (IN)
7) Marquette (Next Four OUT)
8) Richmond (Last Four IN)
9) BYU (First Four OUT)
10) St. John's (First Four OUT)
11) Dayton (Next Four OUT)
12) Xavier (IN)
13) Clemson (Next Four OUT)
14) St. Joseph's (Last Four IN)
15) Missouri (Last Four IN)
There are two main questions for Marquette fans. The first is how MU compares to the other teams in the field. The most disturbing numbers are RPI and SOS, where we are clearly outside.Marquette's 75 RPI is the worst on the bubble, and their 75 SOS is third-worst. The Pomeroy number is okay, with 50 being just ahead of the average.
The rest of the numbers are okay. Not including the Big East teams that are in, only West Virginia, Dayton, and Baylor have more top-50 wins than Marquette, and no team on the bubble has more top-100 wins than Marquette's 6. While the Butler loss is a blemish, the only two teams without a sub-100 loss on the table are Baylor and Providence. One bad loss is not at all damning.
So what does Marquette need to do? I feel the number to guarantee an at-large berth at this point is 5 wins. I do not think it matters who those wins are against. If Marquette wins 5 regular season games, no matter the opponent, their RPI will finish 44-45 and their SOS will finish 49-50. Even a first game loss at MSG shouldn't drop them too far because a 5-1 finish would virtually lock up the 3-seed, meaning they would be playing another top-60 RPI team on a neutral court. If Marquette wins 4 regular season games, they will probably have to win one in MSG to guarantee a bid. And again, who they beat doesn't make much difference. 4 regular season wins would mean at worst Marquette finishes with 3 top-50 and 9 top-100 wins.
If Marquette wins 3 or fewer regular season games, they would likely need to win the tourney. While that could go against my 5-win theory, part of that is based on the committee usually weighing recent play a bit more heavily. If Marquette has won at least 7 of their last 10 going into Selection Sunday, that will reflect well on the team. But if they are coming in with a 3-3 record in their last 6 games, especially if they don't have another top-50 win on the resume -- possible if they beat DePaul, Georgetown, and Providence and get an "easy road" to the final, the "hot team" argument goes right out the window.
A few additional thoughts. If Marquette beats Creighton Wednesday, I expect they will move into quite a few bracketologists' fields. That would be a significant RPI and SOS boost while also giving them more top-100 wins than anyone on the bubble and leaving only 3 bubble team with more top-50 wins, 2 of which are currently projected as being in.
As far as Big East bids, this league could still finish with as many as 7 bids. It's unlikely, but if Marquette wins 5 of their last 6 and all the other bubble teams are able to sweep DePaul, Seton Hall, and Butler while winning all their non-Marquette games at home, that will give the league 6 top-50 teams with St. John's just outside the top-50. Will it happen? Probably not. But I do think that 5 bids this year is very realistic with 6 not at all out of the realm of possibility. And the better Marquette plays, the more likely this league finishes with more bids rather than less.