"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

Monday, February 19, 2024

Well that was unfun

Boy that did not go the way we had it planned in our heads. #mubb took a drubbing against clear #1 in the country, UCONN. So we talk about the game, what happened, what went wrong, what takeaways for the season as a whole, and is Marquette as far behind as that game might indicate. We then look to the week ahead with the hopes that the team having a chance to come home for a bit and play some not as awesome teams will have restorative powers. Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/yfknym/ScrambledEggs_Editted_021824.mp3

Bracketology: Monday Morning Point Guarding the Top-16


The Selection Committee released their top-16 on Saturday morning, and for the second year in a row, our projections from 6 days before the release were more accurate than the day before. While David Worlock reported the Selection Committee didn't begin their meetings until Wednesday, they seemed to again disregard the results of Monday through Thursday. UNC's loss to So what were the lessons learned? Here's what we took away: 

Conference Titles Matter: North Carolina was thought to be 7th, but finished 5th. In fact, the top-5 were all teams leading Power-6 conferences, and the team who was the highest compared to our projection was SEC leader Alabama. San Diego State also showed up after beating New Mexico Friday, the one result that did seem to matter from the week as San Diego State was at 19 on our S-Curve going in yet showed up 5 spots higher for the Committee.

NCSOS Matters: Iowa State's productive conference play (6 Q1 wins, including 3 Q1A on the road) wasn't enough to get them to the 2-line where we thought they deserved to be. Instead, they were the third 3-seed. This could be problematic for Big 12 bubble teams that largely played terrible non-conference schedules, and factored into the final spot in our new S-Curve.

Metrics Over Results: Tennessee ahead of Marquette despite a better collection of wins for the Golden Eagles, Alabama ahead of Baylor and Iowa State despite multiple more Q1 wins for the Big 12 teams, and Auburn and Illinois ahead of Wisconsin despite 6 Q1 wins for the Badgers and 6 combined for the Tigers and Illini. When it came to seeding, predictive metrics were highly prioritized.

Aztec Uprising: The highest NET team in the potential 6-bid Mountain West landed not just a protected seed, but 14 overall. A few things stand out. First, this likely means for the Mountain West, the Committee ignored BPI, which rates Mountain West teams significantly lower than the other predictive metric, kenpom. Second, this reinforces that NCSOS matters. The Aztecs #14 NCSOS was better than Auburn, Wisconsin, Creighton, Dayton, or Clemson that they finished ahead of.

Ultimately, this all led to a pair of major decisions. The first was a change not to make. After the UConn rout of Marquette and Purdue loss at Ohio State, many bracketologists moved UConn to #1 overall, but we're sticking with Purdue. For now, they still have the better NCSOS, metrics, and top-end results. Putting UConn ahead feels like a prisoner of the moment move, not a review of the entire season, though if the metrics did shift in UConn's favor that change would be made.

Second, on the bubble, Gonzaga moved into the field. The Committee has historically punished teams on the cut line with weak NCSOS, and Ole Miss was slated to be the last team in with a #324 NCSOS while Gonzaga is 300 spots better at #24. They still have to go through Dayton, but there's just enough there to put Gonzaga on the right side of the cut. More than other bubble teams, though, they can't afford slip-ups because their remaining conference slate doesn't give them much opportunity to improve (they really need the win at St. Mary's).

As far as how the Committee did, we try to remember that when you come up with the official seed list, you can't be wrong. Marquette at #7 overall was a surprise because they had the better body of work than North Carolina or Tennessee, but given that information and the rout at UConn, they've now fallen to #8 on our S-Curve. Alabama was even more shocking at the top of the 3 line, as was the separation between Alabama and Auburn, who came in with virtually identical resumes including splitting the season series with each other. That speaks strongly to the importance of conference championships because that's really the only place the Tide stands out over the Tigers. The same goes for San Diego State, who doesn't have the overall resume of teams they are ahead of but moved into the Mountain West champs position Friday night (likely the contingency the Committee mentioned). Finally, Illinois was a mild surprise. Every number indicated they belonged in the top-16, but so often the Committee has valued overall resumes that compare to Clemson rather than metrics with minimal top-line wins like Illinois.

Here's the full S-Curve and bracket:

Multibid Leagues

Big 12: 10

SEC: 8

Big East: 6

Big 10: 6

Mountain West: 6

ACC: 4

Pac-12: 2

WCC: 2

Friday, February 16, 2024

Bracketology: Top-16 Contingency Plans


Thursday on Twitter, NCAA Director of Media Coordination David Worlock reported that the March Madness Selection Committee wrapped up their meetings on Thursday and had contingency brackets built based on the potential results to come Thursday and Friday night (likely referring to Purdue/Minnesota, which Purdue came from behind to win). This is vastly different than last year, and with that in mind, we decided to dig back in on the Top-16 and try to get a better forecast for Saturday, because there have definitely been changes since we posted our expected list on Monday. We won't do a full S-Curve and bracket breakdown, but are instead going to focus just on what we think will be revealed on Saturday.

Photo from The Athletic

1-Seeds: 1-Purdue (Midwest) / 2-UConn (East) / 3-Houston (South) / 4-Arizona (West)

Purdue remains a lock for the #1 overall seed. UConn remains our expected #2 due to more overall Q1 wins than Houston and a better top of the resume win (North Carolina on a neutral vs a BYU road win). Arizona edges out the teams on the 2-line because of 7 Q1 wins and an excellent pair of top line wins, having beaten both Alabama and Duke away from home.

Where we're prepared to be wrong: The UConn/Houston order could be flipped, but both will be 1-seeds. It's possible Arizona could miss the top line. If they do, expect to see Marquette there on the strength of a better Q1 record than Tennessee and better resume/predictive averages than North Carolina.

Photo by Associated Press

2-Seeds: 5-Marquette (South) / 6-North Carolina (East) / 7-Tennessee (Midwest) / 8-Iowa State (West)

Marquette beating Butler coupled with North Carolina's loss at Syracuse moves the Golden Eagles to the top 2-seed. Both UNC and Tennessee are solidly on this line. Iowa State jumps up to the 2-line thanks to their third Q1A win on the road over Cincinnati. It's tough rewarding the Cyclones' #324 non-conference strength of schedule, but their Big 12 play has reinforced their quality metrics.

Where we're prepared to be wrong: Iowa State was moved up here late due to a metric edge and better road performance than Kansas. But the Jayhawks have some of the best wins in the country and a tougher SOS than the Cyclones, so it's possible they could remain a 2-seed.

Photo by Kayla Wolf | USA Today

3-Seeds: 9-Kansas (Midwest) / 10-Baylor (East) / 11-Duke (West) / 12-Wisconsin (South)

Kansas has the best top-line wins of anyone in the field, Baylor has solid metrics and more Q1A wins than anyone else in consideration here, and Duke's 5-2 Q1 record overshadows their Q2+3 losses. The hardest decision was the last 3-seed. Despite their recent fade, we're going with Wisconsin. There are teams with better metrics, but none of them have a winning Q1 record and 6 Q1 wins.

Where we're prepared to be wrong: The computers like Alabama and Auburn more than Duke or Wisconsin, but the SEC schools are 3-6 and 2-4 in Q1, respectively. Traditionally, teams need to have .500 records or better in Q1 to be 3-seeds. If the committee values metrics over Q1 performance, either or both SEC schools could find themselves here, knocking Duke and Wisconsin down in the process.


Photo by Jeff Hanisch | USA Today Sports

4-Seeds: 13-Alabama (West) / 14-Creighton (Midwest) / 15-Auburn (East) / 16-Clemson (South)

As mentioned above, Alabama and Auburn have the predictive metrics to be much higher, but fall here due to their lack of Q1 production. Between the two of them, they only have two wins against top-25 NET teams, and that's because they split the season series with each other. Creighton was a tough call here, but makes the 4-line because of their win over Alabama, 4-4 Q1 record, and 6-4 road record. Clemson gets the last protected seed, though this may be controversial. The Tigers are the only team in the country with two road wins over top-15 NET teams (Alabama and UNC). They are 4-4 in Q1, 2-2 in Q1A, and 5-4 on the road. Their resume warrants it, even if the predictive metrics do not. Regional placement here was largely to try to balance the regions, especially as the West was shaping up to be particularly weak.

Where we're prepared to be wrong: If anyone else shows up here, it is most likely Illinois. The Illini have all-around metrics of a 3-seed, but 3-5 in Q1 with zero Q1A wins makes us suspect. Their best win is FAU on a neutral court, and their best road win is at Ohio State, a team so far from at-large consideration they just fired their coach. The committee may also mention Dayton and San Diego State, but neither have the overall body of work to be included. It's worth mentioning San Diego State hosts New Mexico Friday night, which may be another contingency the Selection Committee planned for.


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

National Marquette Day Hits Different

This is gonna be an intense one. #mubb is back after a brief layoff with a heart pounding win against St John's on National Marquette Day. We talk about the vibes, the crowd, and the game to start off the pod. We then turn to the big week ahead. Marquette is on a 7 game winning streak but face to tough road games this week if they hope to extend it. First is a revenge game against Butler in Hinkle, surely Marquette won't shoot so poorly again? Then there is the top 5 showdown in Hartford against #1 UCONN. What will it take for Marquette to win, how does this game impact the rest of the season, we discuss. Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/s4b6wg/ScrambledEggs_Editted_021224.mp3

Monday, February 12, 2024

Bracketology: Breaking Down the Top-16

Tristen Newton & Tyler Kolek are battling for 1-seeds in the NCAA Tournament
 Photo by Patrick McDermott | Getty Images

A year ago, the Selection Committee ignored the results between the Super Bowl and Selection Sunday in revealing their mid-season Top-16. With that in mind, our expectation is that this upcoming Saturday's reveal will likely come closer to what we see right now than whatever results occur between now and then. With that in mind, we have a new S-Curve and bracket, but will focus on those Top-16 teams today.

1-Seeds: Purdue, UConn, Houston, Arizona

Purdue is a lock for the top overall seed with an 8-2 Q1 record, 15 Q1+2 wins, and a perfect 7-0 record against Q1A teams. The order could be debated for UConn and Houston, but the Huskies have one more Q1 win and Houston doesn't have any wins over the top-16 while UConn has a win over North Carolina. Arizona edges Kansas for the last 1-seed due to far superior metrics and one more Q1 win. There will be a 5-loss team on the 1-line, and there's a case to be made for Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, or Marquette as that team, but we're going with Arizona.

2-Seeds: Kansas, North Carolina, Marquette, Tennessee

All of these teams could make a push over the next month for the last 1-seed. Kansas is closest for now due to their 5-2 Q1A record and three wins over teams on the top-two seed lines. North Carolina edges Marquette due to slightly better metrics and one more Q1 win. If bad losses mattered as much as good wins, Marquette's lack of any losses outside the first two Quadrants (Arizona, Kansas, and UNC all have a Q3 loss) would matter more, but what they really need to do is increase their Q1 win totals, particularly in Q1A. Winning at Butler and UConn would be a massive start. Tennessee has hurt themselves with recent losses, but there is still a significant gap between the last 2-seed and the first 3-seed.

3-Seeds: Iowa State, Baylor, Alabama, Duke

Iowa State's non-con left questions as to whether they were just beating up on bad competition, but wins over Houston, Kansas, and both Texas and TCU on the road have diminished those criticisms. Had Baylor won at Kansas there would've been an argument for them to be in the last 1-seed discussion, but for now their metrics and lack of really standing out keeps them on the outside. Alabama will be an interesting test case as they have every metric edge on Duke, but their 3-6 Q1 record is atypical for a team in the 3-seed discussion. If any of these fall to the 4-line, it's more likely Alabama than Duke despite their S-Curve placement. The Blue Devils are here largely because of their 5-2 Q1 record and the Committee's historic valuing of Q1 wins over Q2+3 losses (Duke has 3, more than any other team in the top-3 lines). If anyone crashes the 3-line, it is most likely Wisconsin, who despite their recent swoon still has a 6-5 record against Q1.

4-Seeds: Wisconsin, Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina

The Badgers lead the way here due to that 6-5 Q1 record and solid computer numbers. That could even push them to the 3-line, though 8 total losses is more than anyone else on the top-6 seed lines, so the Committee could also leave them out for that entirely. Auburn's computer numbers indicate they should be a 2-seed, but they are the only team in our top-16 with fewer than 2 Q1A wins, so they get knocked down a couple lines for that. Clemson rocketed up our list from 32 to 15 thanks to adding a Q1A win over North Carolina. The Tigers have been a yo-yo team up and down the seed list, but they have true road wins over UNC and Alabama while non-con wins over TCU, South Carolina, and Boise State have aged well. Speaking of South Carolina, they round out our top-16. The Gamecocks are a bit of a reach here due to weak predictive metrics, but they have a 3-2 Q1 record backed up with a win at Tennessee and they are tied for the lead in one of the traditional power leagues. The Committee has rewarded teams with strong resume metrics but weak predictives on the 4-line in past reveals (Providence and Wisconsin in 2022) so we put them here despite not having typical 4-seed numbers.

Also Considered: Creighton, Illinois, Dayton

The Committee always gives us hints by mentioning the next few teams, and these are the three whose names will either surprise us by showing up in the top-16 or be mentioned as contenders. All three have strong enough metric numbers but lack the signature wins to be among the elite. Creighton's best win is over Alabama at home, but they have no other wins against single-digit seeds. Illinois' best win is probably FAU on a neutral, but they are 0-3 against the protected seeds. Dayton has respectable numbers and no losses outside Q1, but they also don't have a single win against a projected at-large team.

Let's dig into the full S-Curve and bracket:

Multibid Leagues

Big 12: 9

SEC: 9

Big 10: 6

Mountain West: 6

ACC: 5

Big East: 4

Pac-12: 3

Missouri Valley: 2

Monday, February 05, 2024

Bracketology: Resume Fine Lines

Tyler Kolek floats a shot over Creighton's defense

Photo from gomarquette.com

After a chaotic weekend, Marquette finds themselves at #7 on our overall S-Curve and are a safe 2-seed, but the difference between the last 1-seed (#4 Kansas) and the first 3-seed (#9 Wisconsin) is razor thin. All of the teams between 4-9 can be argued for any position and have pros and cons to their resumes that give them 1-seed upside depending on what the Selection Committee values. Kansas came out on top because despite not having the best metrics, they have 2 wins over other 1-seeds (UConn, Houston) and an additional win over a 2-seed (Tennessee).

If Marquette keeps winning, they can certainly get to the 1-line, though they likely cannot afford more than 1 loss between now and Selection Sunday, including the Big East Tournament. Another factor that could help would be seeing the quality of their current wins improve. Here are some Marquette opponents that could help the resume look better by moving up in the NET rankings (which matter more for your opponent than yourself).

Creighton Blue Jays (NET 16, 1 spot from Q1A): A week ago, Marquette had 4 Quadrant 1A wins, but Creighton being at 16 instead of 15 due to the Butler loss takes them out of the Q1A category. They could start that progression up on Wednesday when they travel to Providence.

St. John's Red Storm (NET 43, 3 spots from Q1A): The Johnnies were a Q1A win last week, but their heavy loss to UConn took them out of the top-40. They remain in Q1, but fell out of both Q1A and the field due to mounting losses. Thrashing DePaul on Tuesday would help get them back on the right side of 40.

Villanova Wildcats (NET 45, 5 spots from Q1A): Beating Providence soundly took Villanova from 51 to 45 and has them close to Q1A territory for Marquette's road win at the Finn. Next up is a trip to Xavier, where a win might be enough to get the road game back into Q1A.

Texas Longhorns (NET 31, 1 spot from Q1): Texas was flirting with Q3 earlier this year, but winning 3 of their last 5, including double-digit wins on the road over Oklahoma and TCU have them on the verge of Q1. This would be a big boost to Marquette, pushing them ahead of Kansas and North Carolina in terms of total Q1 wins.

UCLA Bruins (NET 124, 24 spots from Q2): The young Bruins have won 5 of 6 and seem to be figuring things out. It's easier to make big moves when you are outside the top-100, so if they can beat Stanford and California on the road this week, it could be enough to turn this into a quality win. If Marquette could add a 9th win in the first two quadrants, it would match or exceed every other team on the 2-line (along with 1-seed Kansas).

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (NET 168, 8 spots from Q3): This is the least important of these, but if UCLA moved up, it would be nice to have one fewer game in Q4, especially as the upcoming DePaul home game will certainly add a Q4 game to the schedule. While the Irish have lost 8 of 9, they have been more competitive than they were at Fiserv and keeping it close this week at Duke and against Virginia Tech could move them up a quadrant.

Let's check in on the updated S-Curve and bracket after a wild weekend of basketball:

Multibid Leagues

Big 12: 10

SEC: 9

Big 10: 6

Big East: 5

Mountain West: 5

ACC: 4

Pac-12: 4

It's all starting to come together

Don't look now but #mubb has won 6 in a row and is starting to get healthy. We talk about the roller coaster that was Villanova and a bit of a laugher in our nations capital against Georgetown. We then look ahead to National Marquette Day and what we think of the rematch against St Johns. We also spend a little bit of time looking ahead and whether the regular season title is out of sight yet or not. And we close with some free advertising for the university and NMD. Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/riqswu/ScrambledEggs_Editted_020424.mp3

Friday, February 02, 2024

The Practical Application of Culture and Connection in a Basketball Setting (Introducing Breaking Eggs)

Here at Cracked Sidewalks, we're trying something new. This is a first effort, open to critism, and ridicule but we are soft launching a video content series called Breaking Eggs. The idea is to do video breakdowns Marquette plays, players, and strategy so fans can get a little more understanding of the team and how it operates. No idea how often/much we'll do this but here is the inital offering in Breaking Eggs, let us know what you think in the comments


Monday, January 29, 2024

Despite the Injury Bug #mubb finds a way

 Don't look now but Marquette is on a 4 game winning streak. #ScrambledEggs is back to talk about this past week where Marquette pulled together to beat a bad DePaul team and a short handed Seton Hall team to win two games this week. We talk about player development, rain praise on Oso Ighodaro, and talk injuries. We then turn to the week ahead where we hope there is some continued Shaka magic in Philly despite some heavy head winds and talk about Georgetown being bad so even short handed we hope for a win. Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/i692tq/ScrambledEggs_Editted_0128247xa5o.mp3

Bracketology: Big East Check-In

Marquette & UConn are in excellent NCAA position
 Photo by Porter Binks | gomarquette.com

With the exception of DePaul and Georgetown at the bottom of the league, the Big East still has 9 teams that could realistically be considered to have NCAA expectations as we come to the end of January. Today we're going to check in on where they are and what they have to do to get to the NCAA Tournament.

UConn: The Huskies are currently #2 on the S-Curve and in position for a 1-seed. They picked up right where they left off last year and even if they slip should be in position for a protected seed in March. Their final six games will determine their destination, as they face Marquette twice, road games at Creighton and Providence, and a rematch with Seton Hall, who gave them their lone Big East loss.

Marquette: Marquette is a solid 2-seed at the moment, moving ahead of Kansas even before this past Saturday when MU had a decisive win over Seton Hall while Kansas lost at Iowa State. With 4 of their next 5 on the road, this is a pivotal time. Barring collapse, Marquette probably has a floor of a 3-seed at this point. If Marquette can go 2-1 against Villanova, Butler, and UConn, while taking care of business, they will solidify their place as a 2-seed. Win them all and they might push their way into discussion for a 1-seed. To get there and stay there, Marquette can likely lose no more than one Big East game from here on out and probably needs at least one Big East title in their hands on Selection Sunday.

Creighton: The Jays are currently a 3-seed and will play a big part in shaping the Big East's Selection Sunday. They played the two toughest and two easiest road games in the league but still have Providence, Butler, St. John's, Xavier, and Villanova away. If they want to stay where they are or get in the mix for a 2-seed, they need to go 3-2 or better in those games. If they slip up, their seed could fall, but the league as a whole might benefit from those programs getting resume wins.

St. John's has separated themselves from the bubble pack...for now
 Photo by Wendell Cruz | USA Today Sports

St. John's: The Johnnies sit at #28 on the S-Curve, our last 7-seed. Not playing this past weekend helped as so many teams ahead of them lost. St. John's needs to get to 11-9 in Big East play to feel confident of a bid, meaning they need to go 6-5 the rest of the way. The good news for St. John's? They can get four of those wins against DePaul and Georgetown, whom they haven't face yet. They could use another signature win as well, so winning one of their three shots at the big boys would really polish the resume. That starts Saturday when UConn visits MSG.

Providence: The Friars looked to be falling out of the field after losing 4 straight without Bryce Hopkins, but a 38-point win at DePaul and 3 game winning streak has them back in the field as a 10-seed. Like St. John's, they probably need to go 6-5 the rest of the way to feel comfortable. With wins over Wisconsin and Marquette, they have the quality part covered, but adding another road win that isn't Georgetown would also help.

Seton Hall: This is the last team currently in the field from the Big East, sitting in a play-in 11-seed position. With wins over UConn and Marquette, the quality portion is covered, but Seton Hall didn't need a 3-game losing streak. The good news is their next two are DePaul and Georgetown. Their lackluster non-con means they need to out-perform their Big East rivals to get a bid. The Pirates need to go 6-4 down the stretch to stay in the mix.

Butler seized NCAA momentum from a fading Villanova
 Photo by Grace Hollars | IndyStar

Butler: Sitting at 6-5 in the league with wins over Boise State, Texas Tech, and at Marquette, the Bulldogs are in position to get into position. But as 5-5 in league play hasn't been enough to get them in, they probably need to be slightly better in the back half of their schedule. The drawback is that 3 of their 5 wins are against DePaul and Georgetown, so they only have one of those left. 6-4 will do it, which means protecting home court and beating DePaul on the road. There's still a path for Butler.

Villanova: If you're looking for Villanova on the S-Curve, you can stop looking. The loss at Butler dropped their resume average to 63.5, which is significantly lower than 2022 Rutgers, who set a record with the lowest resume average to get in at 56.5. If the tourney started today, the Wildcats would not be in, full stop. The loss took them from the top 10-seed to our 12th team out. Comparing them to that Rutgers team, 2022 Rutgers was 7-7 against Q1 with 4 wins in Q1A and 3 losses outside the first two quadrants. Nova already has the losses, but probably needs to go 7-4 the rest of the way, but more important 4-2 in their six remaining Q1 games. That starts Tuesday against Marquette.

Xavier: The Musketeers are lying in a coffin, waiting for their last rites after a 33-point beatdown at UConn. With a pair of bad losses, they need wins over tourney teams if they are to have a chance. If Xavier got hot and finished 8-3, they would likely move into the field, but more important they need wins over teams in the field. No one will hold the 4 losses to 1-seeds (Purdue, Houston, UConn twice) against them, but their only wins over teams currently in are St. Mary's, Seton Hall, and Providence, all on the 9-line or lower. Xavier has 4 games left against teams currently in and in addition to going 8-3, probably needs to go 2-2 in those to have a shot.

Let's look at the updated S-Curve and bracket:

Multibid Leagues

Big 12: 10

SEC: 8

Big East: 6

Big 10: 6

Mountain West: 5

Pac-12: 4

ACC: 3

American: 2

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Bracketology: Fans are Down but Marquette is Up

Marquette is rising in the latest bracket

Photo from Marquette Athletics

After a 2-3 stretch that included upset losses to Providence, Seton Hall, and Butler that snapped a record 20-game home Big East winning streak, it seemed like Marquette was on a downward trajectory. While a dominant win over Villanova helped ease fears, the palpitations fans felt as St. John's stormed back to almost erase a 13-point deficit coupled with a win over a pesky DePaul team that never quite went far enough away caused angst on message boards and social media. And yet as we look at today's bracket, Marquette has moved up to the 2-seed line.

As I rescrubbed the seed list today, some clear lines were formed. The 1-seeds are all very solid at the moment. Tennessee is strong at #5, but there's a gap between them and North Carolina because of the Tar Heels' winning Quadrant 1 record and head-to-head victory over the Volunteers. The first major question came up at 8/9, which is the last 2-seed and the first 3-seed, and that debate was between Kansas, who was at 8 earlier this week, and Marquette, who was the clear next team in line. Let's check the resumes:

Last week we talked about how unimportant NET is, but we still use it as a sorting tool and in this case, it couldn't be any closer. Kansas has a slightly better record, resume average, and Q1+2 record. Marquette has a slightly better metric average, more Q1 wins, no bad losses, and more wins against the field. I rarely factor in head-to-head as it's one of my least favorite tools to use, but Marquette also has a head-to-head win over Kansas. The last factor that really swayed it was Marquette's 4-2 Q1A record. Elite wins are highly valued, and the only teams with 4 Q1A wins are Purdue, Arizona, and Marquette. The first two are both on the top two lines, so it seems fitting that Marquette and not Kansas join them there.

I can hear the skeptics. "Okay, fine, they have a slight edge on Kansas, but a 2-seed? There are a ton of other candidates for that spot!" But honestly...there aren't. Let's look at some of the teams on the 3, 4, and 5 lines:

A few things jump out. First, Marquette's Resume And Predictive (RAP) Average is on par with everyone except Auburn, but as the Tigers have zero Q1 wins they really aren't in consideration for the 2-line. In terms of quality wins, no team has more Q1 wins and obviously no team has more than half the number of Q1A wins. What really jumps out is performance against the field. Marquette is 6-2, only one other team is over .500 (Creighton) and barely so at 5-4. Oh, and that's another team Marquette has a head-to-head win over (like Illinois). There has been a lot of talk about Kentucky, but ultimately their entire resume is the North Carolina win, and with their universally mediocre metrics, home loss to UNC-Greensboro, and altogether too many instances of coming up short in big moments, they just aren't contenders for the 2-line right now.

It isn't all seashells and balloons, though. A big part of why Marquette is on the 2-line is because teams are not differentiating themselves. Creighton, Illinois, Alabama, Auburn, and Kentucky have come up short more often than not in their biggest games. Dayton simply hasn't made the most of the few opportunities they've had against tourney-level competition. Which leaves Baylor, who is...fine, but there is questionable validity to the quality of their best wins (BYU, Auburn) and they've looked underwhelming against teams close to the bubble (Michigan State, Texas, K-State). Marquette has an opportunity in this moment to solidfy their position. Keep winning into February and they will have a good shot to cement their position as a 2-seed. Find a way to knock off UConn and Creighton again while winning the Big East from behind and a 1-seed isn't out of reach. It's a long season. Enjoy the ride, and take a breath because we're in better shape than you might think.

Let's look at the S-Curve and bracket:

Multibid Leagues

Big 12: 10

SEC: 8

Big East: 7

Big 10: 6

Mountain West: 5

ACC: 3

Pac-12: 3

American: 2

Monday, January 22, 2024

Bounce back week for #mubb

 Phew, that was a real gut check week for #mubb given how things were going the last couple of games. However, the team passed the gut check with a strong win over Villanova on MLK Day and a real roller coaster of a game at MSG against St Johns. We talk about both games, any general trends that we see as a result, and the emergence of Zaide Lowery. We then talk about the week ahead which includes what should be a laugher in Chicago against DePaul (emphasis on should) and a rematch against Seton Hall. As always, enjoy!





Bracketology: Forget About NET

As rankings, seeding, and brackets are discussed, we come to the part of the calendar where the NET is argued over and complained about. The NET replaced RPI in 2018-19 and has been misunderstood ever since. Pundits repeatedly respond to the NET rankings as being flawed. They talk about how any system that ranks <Insert Team Here> at <Insert Rank Number> must be broken. But every year when Selection Sunday comes around, there are vast discrepancies between the NET Rankings and the official seed list. Last year, NET #9 Kansas was #3 on the Selection Committee's S-Curve. NET #13 FAU was down at #33 on the S-Curve while NET #18 Utah State barely made the field as #40. In the other direction, #24 Kansas State was #11 on the S-Curve while #67 Pittsburgh was the worst NET but earned #44 on the S-Curve.

What does that mean? Yes, the NET is flawed, as is every other ranking system that tries to evaluate college basketball teams. But the point of the NET is not to be perfect, it is to put data in context and make it easier for human eyes to evaluate.

This is the case every year and has been going back to the RPI. The reason for seeding discrepancies is because while the NET does order the teams in the list, it is not used like a ranking system by the NCAA. If it were, we could just punch the tickets of the 32 league champions, then take the top 36 non-champs from the NET rankings, sort them in NET order, and we'd have a Tournament Field. This whole Bracketology project would be much easier, that's for sure. But that's not what the NET is for.

The NCAA has said it repeatedly: the NET is a sorting tool. But what they don't say often enough (and should) is they actually use it for sorting opponents. NET doesn't get you in or out, it tells you where your opponents fall in Quadrants (the boxes on the team sheets where teams are sorted). When I build out a bracket, I only use NET when I am putting together my candidate list because Team Sheets are listed in NET order. Once I have teams on the spreadsheet, a team's individual NET loses all meaning. The only way NET is used beyond that point is for what your opponents' NET rankings are, which is how teams are sorted into Quadrants.

Looking at Marquette, their NET of 17 doesn't matter nearly as much as the NET rankings of teams they play. When the NCAA calls NET a sorting tool, it is sorting teams into the four Quadrants at the BOTTOM of the team sheet, and subdividing Quadrants 1 and 2. More important to Marquette is the ranking of opponents like Illinois, Creighton, and Kansas, who are their best wins, because it is the rankings of those teams that give Marquette three wins in Quadrant 1A, which are the best wins a team can get. Similarly, Butler's #66 NET is a negative for Marquette and if it continues to fall, having a Q3 loss would be more damaging to Marquette's resume than whether their NET #14 or #24, particularly as last year the team ranked #14 was 5-seed San Diego State while #24 was 3-seed Kansas State. Why was that? San Diego State had just 5 Q1 wins while K-State had 9. Their individual NET rank didn't matter.

NET is also primarily an efficiency model. So, like kenpom, its rankings are based primarily on how efficient a team is on offense and defense. So if you score a lot and don't allow many per possession, you will be rewarded, especially if you do that against quality opponents. It does also reward teams that run up scores on lesser opponents. I know some people have a problem with this, but because NET is opponent-focused, all it needs to tell you is when you beat that team in that Quadrant, what does that team look like on the average night? It weights the efficiency of performances, averages them out, and then ranks teams on that basis.You might get the occasional outlier like an Alabama whose NET is higher than their record would indicate, but as that doesn't give them a seed-line boost (#8 NET Alabama is #22 on today's S-Curve) so the only people it actually benefits are Alabama's opponents. The teams that beat Alabama did beat a team that on the average night plays really well. A team like Creighton might benefit from that win over Alabama, but as that single result only accounts for 1/18th (so far) of Alabama's overall season and NET ranking, it really isn't statistically significant that Creighton benefits from Alabama's overall performance against a top-5 schedule.

Another complaint about NET is how much teams move. The reason teams move like they do is because NET has a team score, just like kenpom uses Adjusted Efficiency Margin to order his teams. But unlike kenpom, we don't see what those team scores are. Let's look at the current top-20 in kenpom as of January 21:

Let's say that Marquette had a massive victory that moved their Adjusted Efficiency Margin up 3.0 points. Looking at the AdjEM column, that would push them to 24.22, which would take them from #17 to #9, an 8-spot jump (tied with Illinois). However, if #2 Purdue were to do the same thing and move their AdjEM from 30.25 to 33.25, they would still be ranked #2 because the gap at the top is that much wider. If you go further down the rankings, that 3.0 difference makes for even wider gaps. If Brian Wardle's #75 Bradley (10.99 AdjEM) bumped up to 13.99, they would jump 25-spots. It's even more stark in the middle of the rankings, where #195 Northern Colorado (-2.44 AdjEM) would skyrocket 42 spots to #153 if they saw a 3.0 bump to 0.56.

With kenpom, we see those differences. But with NET, while those numbers exist, they are hidden so we only see the ranking. That's how this past weekend you could see Creighton win by 3 at #56 Seton Hall and move up 5 spots from 16 to 11 while Marquette won by 1 at #36 St. John's and stay the same at #17. While we don't see a rank change, behind the scenes, the odds are both teams moved a similar amount in terms of their hidden rating, but because of gaps like we see above, the same movement that pushed Creighton up 5 spots kept Marquette in the same place. In addition, NET is influenced by the teams around you, so if Creighton moved past 5 teams but 3 of them lost that day while 2 didn't play, it was easier for the team that started a little bit ahead to make a big move while a comparable move didn't have a similar impact.

What are the takeaways? First, NET does not correlate to the S-Curve or Seeding, so don't overstate its importance. Second, the NET of your opponents is far more important than your own because it will determine what quadrants your wins and losses are, which actually does impact seeding. Third, don't pay close attention to the movements because while you might see a rank change, that doesn't give you context of the associate rating change or what happened to the teams around you.

Enough about the NET, let's get on with where we stand today:

Multibid Leagues

Big 12: 10

SEC: 8

Big East: 6

Big 10: 6

Mountain West: 5

ACC: 4

Pac-12: 3

American: 2

Thursday, January 18, 2024

A Good Run of Bad Luck

At the risk of getting an “OK Boomer” from the 30 and under crowd I’m going to a semi-obscure mid-90s reference as the entry point to this blog post. 

The early 90s was the start of the “hey this IP worked 20-30 years ago we should rework it and cash in on those sweet, sweet nostalgia bucks” which is why Richard Donner (Superman, Goonies, Lethal Weapon series) ended up directing a movie called Maverick which was a remake of a late 50s black and white show of the same title. The movie stars Mel Gibson (peak his movie making but pre-his being notably insane), Jodie Foster, James Gardner, Graham Greene, Alfred Molina, James Colburn, and a Danny Glover cameo. It’s silly and not exactly Oscar bait, but it’s fun in a way only the 90s can be. The point of all this is that Maverick is a card shark and a con man who’s trying to scrape together enough money to get into a big poker tournament. Now before you walk away thinking this is a blog about “Phil ‘members things”, the point is that for the majority of the movie you don’t know whether Maverick has a plan, is he falling victim to bad luck, is the con man getting conned, etc. In fact, there’s a song for the movie by Clint Black that is where I got the title for the blog that’s all about what happens when your luck turns bad. And that, my friends, is what brings us to the meat of the article. We find ourselves at the point of the Marquette season where #mubb folks are wondering if the team has been figured out, maybe Shaka is a long con, teams are packing the paint, or we just really miss OMax. All reasonable takes worth examination, but I think the real culprit is….we’ve had a good run of bad luck.

By any measure that counts (wins and losses, shooting percentage), Marquette has struggled since early December. They are 6-4 in that stretch and are shooting 44% overall, 55% from 2 and 30% from 3. Compare that to last season when 95% of this roster shot 46/58/35 respectively. In the last month and a half it's safe to say the team has left points on the court compared to what they are capable of. The question is what is the cause of this? Rationally, we want there to be a tangible reason something isn't working because generally speaking people don't want to believe in things like ghosts (shouts to Lazar Hayward) or bad luck because it's not something you can do anything about. That means there HAS to be something more than Marquette has had bad shooting luck but I think that's exactly what we're looking at. The offensive process is good to great, it's just bad luck/outcomes that have cost us some games of late. Let's dig into the data that I think backs up the conclusion. 

The internet is a wonderful and scary place and nestled within it is a website called Synergy Sports that friend of the blog, Paint Touches, often references. The tl;dr explanation for Synergy is that it’s a website hosting basketball data that uses traditional box scores as well as analysis of game tape (human and automated) to develop advanced analytics giving you deeper insight into the game. One of the key elements that Synergy provides is the classification of shots taken: was that a mid-range or a runner, how many shots did my team take at the rim, long 3 or naw, and was that 3 guarded or unguarded? Why this feature of Synergy is key is that Marquette specifically has a philosophy around what kind of shots the team should be taking. Shaka Smart and Nevada Smith have spoken in the past about MU's offense having shots categorized into three tiers: Tier 1 is shots at the rim and unguarded 3s(take these whenever possible), Tier 2 is guarded 3s and runners(think Oso push shots), and Tier 3 is mid-range jumpers, hook shots, etc. It's not that MU can never take a Tier 3 but it is seriously frowned upon and if you take it I bet you are STRONGLY encouraged to make it. With that background in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of “what is wrong” hypothesis that have been floated

Teams are forcing Marquette to play slower

As the theory goes, Marquette is a fast-paced team and when teams limit possessions overall MU can’t generate enough offense to be successful. Here’s where we’re going to refer to data from Synergy first. I pulled the raw shooting classification numbers, including the total number of attempts for each game of the season:




Keep in mind this is shots taken so it excludes any FTs taken as a result of 7+ team fouls but we’ll use it as a metaphor for the offense as a whole. Marquette has averaged a shade over 62 shot attempts per game. Marquette’s record in games taking 63 shots or better:

        7-2 with the loss coming at Seton Hall and Butler

Record when taking less than 62 shots a game:

        5-3 with the losses being at Providence, at Wisconsin, and Purdue

OK, so nothing conclusive jumps out there. Marquette has lost with and without a lot of shot generation. Some other observations from this data:

1. Marquette generated a TON of shots against Butler (more on this later) 

2. Marquette hit a lull in shot generation in the @Wisconsin through @Providence games by taking less than 60 shots in each of those games which was the start of our ride on the struggle bus. However, Marquette generated it's fewest shots against both UCLA and St Thomas (52) so even if you argue that Marquette can be slowed down they can still be efficient and "Win Anyway". Additionally the volume of shots at the rim was largely unchanged.

3. The lull coincides with the first in a string of injuries for the team (Stevie Mitchell) so there may be more correlation between pace of play and player availability than there is other teams deliberately slowing the pace.

Packing the Paint

Now let's look at it as a percentage for each shot classification for the season (# of shots/# of total attempts):




What we’re looking for here is are there any significant changes in the amount (%) of shots being taken at the rim, significant move from guarded to unguarded 3s, and/or increase in number of runners taken. What jumps out to me here is that in the last 10 games there aren't hugely obvious variances from what we've seen all season in terms of what looks the offense is generating/taking. 12-19% of their shots are unguarded 3s and 40+% of their shots are at the rim. Two games do stand out: Providence had a season low in unguarded 3s by a long shot and Bucky gave us a large percentage of unguarded 3s and took away at the rim shots. More on Providence later, but that Bucky result stands out as an indicator that Gard said "hey shoot 3s with our cold gym and weird ball, we're not letting you go to the rim" and it paid off. But if teams as a whole are packing the paint in the last 10 games it doesn't seem to bear out in the shots that Marquette is generating. Plus some of the games where MU had the fewest at the rim shots (Texas, Kansas, UCLA, Creighton) Marquette is winning anyway.

If teams are packing the paint as a general rule, they aren’t very good at it.

“Figured Out”

 If we group shots based on tier and look at it for all of last season, the beginning of this season, and the last 10 games this is what that looks like:



First of all, holy cats did the offense know what the heck it was doing to start the season. Yes there's buy games in there but the schedule strength wasn't that appreciably different as the average opponent KenPom ranking in the first 7 was 93 and the last 10 was 73 (thanks Mick Cronin for dragging it down for everyone, you really are the worst). Second of all, yes from a shot selection standpoint the team has come back to earth somewhat but they are still at the same pace as last year for great shots and have converted a fair number of their bad shots into good ones (all without OMax I might add).

Let’s look at the game-by-game shot “quality”:






What stands out here is that while there is variation in Tier 1 shots (great) coming during loses and close wins, those shots are by and large being converted into Tier 2 shots (good). In fact, Texas was the game where our shot selection was the "worst" on the season whereas our shot selection was solid against Purdue, Butler, and Seton Hall and resulted in a loss. The point being, if teams have figured out Marquette's offense it’s not consistently figured out and really only at the margins in that we take a few less great shots and a few more just good shots. Look at those tier 3 numbers, even in the last 10 games the team has significantly improved on taking good shots instead of bad ones.


Wrong shooters shooting

The next argument is "well Phil, you silly, teams are sagging off bad shooters", ok well, I have a chart for that too:




This chart breaks down who is taking 3s regardless of "type". Prior to December Tyler, Kam, and Jopwagon(David) were taking 52.3% of the 3s but in the last 10 games they are taking 63.4%! And that's with Ben Gold more than doubling the 3s he’s taken this season in the last 10 games (33 out of 51 taken). So in the first 7 games Marquette was taking more tier 1 shots but they were generally coming from our less capable shooters and in the last 10 games when we've thought the team isn't playing well they are not only outstripping last seasons shot selection but are also significantly increasing the amount of 3s that our best shooters are taking....that should be an ideal outcome but it clearly isn't!

 All of this is really just a long throat clearing to say, I don't think the offense has been figured out as they are still taking the shots they want and with who they want.


OK Smart Guy, What Is The Problem


Let's get to the part where I Perry Mason a point that blows your mind......remember all those unguarded 3s and shots at the rim they are generating as part of tier 1 shots? Whadya think Marquette is shooting on those on a game by game basis?






Stare at that in all of it's HP Lovecraftian glory. On 2s, Marquette has not been shooting well during key games in the last 10 like Providence and Butler but generally as well. Last season they shot 55% from 2 and during this stretch, 4 out of the 10 games they shot under that mark (and went 1-3 in those games). They generated shots at the rim (3 out of 4 were at or above season average) but they simply did not make them at a high enough rate.

When it comes to unguarded 3s however, its not a case of Marquette not shooting well during the swoon, they just flat out can't shoot unguarded 3s except when they are playing Texas! For a little context, we go back to Synergy where they conveniently allow me to search team's shooting percentage based on unguarded shots. The median team (181 out of 362) in NCAA Division 1 basketball this season is shooting unguarded 3s at a 37.5% clip. Marquette hit or exceeded that rate just 4 times all season. Marquette shot 3s last year at a 35.3% clip and they hit or exceeded that rate just 5 times all season. Overall, Marquette is shooting a paltry 33% on unguarded 3s and that's held aloft by Shaka's blood feud against Texas, without that game it drops to 31%! I'm presuming you want to know where Marquette ranks this season out of 362 Division 1 teams since you've made it this far in my rambling.......


I put that in large font so it would really pop. Marquette has been inexplicably bad at shooting unguarded 3s this season! 3-point defense is often thought of as containing significant luck because so much can depend on the shot, rims, the ball, etc. Now the whole point of unguarded shots is that there is no defense; it's no different than putting shots up in the gym after practice, so a make/miss becomes almost entirely skill/luck. Even Steph Curry has some shooting variance and gets slumpy at times but 31% on unguarded 3s is just cray cray. There is no way teams have figured out how to guard us into ignominy on unguarded 3s, it’s just not a thing



To start to bring this to a close, let’s revisit a couple of the "more on that later” from earlier cause it is now very much later. First, that Butler game should go directly into the Basketball Infamy Hall of Fame. Given what Marquette did on both ends of the floor (season best 70% of tier 1 shots, most TOs on D, 24% of shots are unguarded 3s) they should have won that game by a million. But instead they shot 50% from 2 and 17% from 3…..like, sometimes basketball just sucks ya know. Second, the Providence game stands out as maybe a game where the opponent outclasses Marquette as opposed to it shooting itself in the foot. In that game Providence forced MU to take a season low amount of tier 1 shots and outside of Texas (LULZ) forced Marquette into the highest volume of bad shots. Some of that might have been the physicality and poor officiating (Win Anyway) but there is a non-zero chance Kim English has Shaka figured out which would have been an impossible sentence to imagine coming into the season. Hopefully it's non-repeatable with Bryce Hopkins out for the season, but it's something to keep an eye on.

 OK, I know this blog has taken forever to get here but let's get to the conclusion phase. I think we've walked through the process part of the Marquette experience, what they are trying to do, and validating the process is working. There’s a game or two where Marquette got away from it but it’s not wholesale or some sort of coaching blind spot being exposed. If the offense is doing what it wants and we’re getting the ball in the hands of the folks we want, the only thing left is luck. Just to show you the impact of unguarded 3s of which variance is almost exclusively luck, let’s look at every game this season where Marquette shot less than 35.3% on unguarded 3s (their overall 3pt% last season) and assume a world where they actually got to that rate. This is very conservative since the median team 3pt% on unguarded is 37.5%s. If we adjust the score by "giving" Marquette extra based only on the unguarded 3 shooting result, this is what the season would look like:








The big takeaway is Marquette would win the Butler and @Seton Hall games and get in spitting distance of Wisconsin (which would strengthen my argument that had Jeff Anderson not pulled his pants down on national TV for calling a foul on Jopwagon when the Badger he was guarding forgot how to walk for a couple of seconds, MU wins that game but I digress) and we'd all feel better with 14 wins now right? What if MU got to 40% on unguarded 3s (top 100 unguarded rate):





So we beat Bucky as well, cool.


Bottom line, if we are at all less unlucky our record is even better than it is now and the only losses where Marquette was clearly outplayed were Purdue, @Wisconsin and @Providence, I can definitely live with that. No guarantee our luck turns or we "positively regress" to the mean, but it also means we haven’t been figured out which would be way worse IMO. You know what else is unlucky? We've had significant injuries to 3 key players in the rotation. So yes, they've struggled some in the last 10 games but between shooting and injury luck is that really a surprise?

 I get it, as my father would say(who speaks 95% of the time in colloquialisms) "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride", you might say this doesn't matter because we can't change anything. That's of course correct, but also the whole point is that Marquette, no matter how frustrating or how much you might be changing expectations, is very much the result of misfortune as opposed to anything “wrong”. It’s a keep the faith sort of situation. Likely the team will see if the law of probability bends back in our favor. As Clint Black sings:

 "Til it's time for a windfall and not a single minute too soon
I've been too long overdue, now I'm gonna shoot the moon
I'd bet it all on a good run of bad luck"


We just gotta keep betting on that luck to turn.