"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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Grinch Sagarin Gives MU 3.2% chance at NCAA Appearance

Christmas gifts include dominant twin towers, a 8-game winning streak, and three top 10 teams from the Big East to give MU's improving young team many chances for signature wins. In addition, MU is the top team in the nation at keeping teams off the foul line DESPITE putting up great steal and blocked shots numbers - and MU is one of only 15 teams to be both one of the 50 best shooting teams AND the 50 best at shooting defense (eFG%).

The bad news is that analytics give MU only a 3.2% chance of making it to the tournament, based on current Sagarin ratings and the schedule ahead (virtually the same percentage as if we used www.kenpom.com ratings).

ScenarioScenario Resulting in March Madness AppearanceSagarin%RPI, SOS, Over, BE
I20 wins or fewer but win Big East Tournament (e.g. beat SJU, Providence, Xavier, Villanova)0.8%55, 80, 24-11, 9-9 (or worse)

II21 wins plus two tournament wins (e.g. beat Providence, Xavier, lose to Villanova)0.4%55, 75, 23-11, 10-8

III22 wins plus one Big East tourney win (e.g. beat Providence, lose to Xavier)1.0%55, 83, 23-10, 11-5

IV23-8 or better regular season (12-6 Big East even if 1st round loss in BE tourney)0.9%52, 96, 23-9, 12-6 (or better)

BID: Chance of either 23 wins for at-large bid, or BE title (rounding of above reason for 3.2% rather than 3.1%)3.2%any of above

VNO BID: Chance of anything else happening96.8%22 wins or fewer, no BE title

The premise of my calculations is that MU needs 23 total wins for an at-large bid, because anything less leaves MU so far from the top 50 in RPI and potentially outside the top 100 in Strength of Schedule after a "play-in" game in the Big East tournament.

Both Sagarin and Pomeroy project Marquette to finish the regular season 18-13. Using the tool at RPI Forecast, there is an 89.8 percent chance MU finishes the regular season with 20 or fewer wins, and if that is the case MU simply must win the Big East tournament to get a bid.

SCENARIO I - BIG EAST TITLE DESPITE 20 or FEWER WINS - That path would most likely entail winning four games such as St. John's (80% chance of win on neutral court), Providence (39%), Xavier (15%) and Villanova (21%). Multiply those chances together and Marquette would have a 0.94% chance of winning those four to take the title. So under the 89.6% chance of 20 or fewer wins, multiplied by the 0.94% chance of following that effort with a Big East title, there is a 0.8% chance of a bid under this scenario.

SCENARIO II - 21-10 PLUS 2 TOURNAMENT WINS (Providence and Xavier) - If MU wins 21 or more games, the 10-8 or better Big East record should result in a 5th seed or better. There is a 6.8% chance of 21 regular season wins, and a 5.58% chance of then winning at least two tournament games - so a 0.4% of this scenario (add to above and we are up to a 1.2% chance of playing in the tournament.  I always assume getting upset once in six "easy" games, so even hitting 21-10 would entail two wins over currently ranked teams and going 5-1 against Seton Hall, Creighton and Georgetown - then having to won two more at the Big East tournament.

SCENARIO III - 22-9 WIN PLUS 1 TOURNAMENT WIN (Providence) - If MU wins 22 games (11-7 in Big East play), then a win over someone like Providence should be enough for a bid.

SCENARIO IV - 23-8 REGULAR SEASON EVEN IF NO TOURNAMENT WINS - Even a 12-6 Big East season and 23-8 mark coming into the tournament would leave Marquette outside of the RPI Top 50 in addition to being outside the top 100 in strength of schedule going into the Big East Tournament. However, I can't see MU being left out with a record that good in a conference that has played this well out of conference. Even a first round tournament loss against a team like Providence would give MU an RPI of 52 and push MU to a SOS of 96.

The fact is I do believe MU is much better than the current ratings reflect. But the six games against teams outside the RPI 300 leave MU with virtually no margin of error. Even assuming no problems with the final cupcakes (Presbyterian Sunday and Stetson later in the year), games like the Big East opener at home against Seton Hall become must-win games.

I believe MU passes the eye test as a tournament team. The way Wojo has them trained to block shots without fouling are building the base for continued improvement, and experience could cure the turnover issue that is holding the team back. The analytical Grinch says MU has almost no chance, but Santa could have the last laugh again with a strong finish and return to March Madness.

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