"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, May 19, 2024

Schedule Talk with Mike Broeker

With the 2023-24 season behind us, it's time for Marquette fans to look ahead to the next season and life without Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro leading the way. A quiet transfer portal saw Marquette finish as the only high-major program without any transfers out while adding 7-foot freshman Josh Clark to fill the thirteenth and final scholarship. Marquette has begun to release scheduling information, so we thought who better to talk to about the schedule than Deputy Athletic Director Mike Broeker?

Dwyane Wade led Marquette to the 2001 Great Alaska Shootout title
 Photo by Mark Lester | Anchorage Daily News

Marquette has a long history of involvement in Multi-Team Events, better known as non-conference tournaments or more simply as MTEs. From the Great Alaska Shootout championships in 2001 that put Dwyane Wade on the national stage to multiple appearances in the Maui Invitational to Orlando, Charleston, New York, Puerto Rico, and numerous other destinations, Marquette has been a fixture in these November contests. But with the dissolution of the Pac-12, the face of MTEs seems to be changing.

Cracked Sidewalks: "I was curious about the future of MTEs and it sounds like Marquette is looking at a home MTE next year. Would you be able to confirm it?"

Mike Broeker: "I would say we are going to host our own MTE. We're going to get three games out of it. Next year's MTE is really a factor of a desire to play an additional home game or two and the best way to do that. Is it an every year thing? I don't think we can say that. I've said this, historically, your schedule has to do two things. One, it has to reflect your roster and what you're capable of doing. And then two, it always has to feed your competitive expectation for the program, and obviously, our competitive expectation is pretty clear and Shaka has been open about it."

CS: "With the competitive expectations I was looking at some of the home MTEs that programs did this past year. Duke, Kentucky, and Nebraska all had something along that line and from a scheduling perspective, ended up with, between those three, a total of seven Quadrant 4 [Ed. note, NET 161-362] and two Quadrant 3 [NET 76-160] games. Is that the sort of model you'll be looking at?"

MB: "I think you end up with a mix of teams that can skew top-end Quadrant 2 into Quadrant 3, or Quadrant 3 into Quadrant 4. It ends up in that window you identified."

CS: "Cincinnati and Ole Miss shared an MTE where both of them hosted the same non-high-major opponents. Has there been any thought of a rotating MTE, maybe with a couple local high majors? One year, Marquette would be able to host, with the same group of teams the next year. Maybe a Northwestern or Minnesota, that sort of program to allow for a little big higher quality game while also guaranteeing some home games for all the teams involved?"

MB: "The model exists where two high-major teams host, but you have to remember it's problematic year-over-year because the provision in the MTE states that 75% of the teams year-over-year have to be different. We couldn't partner with Wisconsin and say let's combine efforts and host them where we're cycling two teams because now it's only 50%."

While Marquette's MTE opponents have not been announced at the time of this writing, these comments seem to indicate the MTE will likely be three games that historically would be considered buy level games. For comparison by final NET rankings in 2023-24, Duke hosted #195 La Salle, #277 Bucknell, and #329 Southern Indiana; Kentucky hosted #92 St. Joseph's, #333 Texas A&M-Commerce, and #355 Stonehill; Nebraska hosted #80 Duquesne, #174 Stony Brook, and #220 Rider. One of those teams, Stony Brook, has been confirmed as being on Marquette's 2024-25 schedule, though there is no indication whether or not they are part of the MTE:

CS: "It does sound like Marquette is still going to pursue the prominent destination MTEs. Obviously Maui and Atlantis are the two that come to mind. Are there any target dates on those?"

MB: "We have no MTE commitments for 2025 or 2026. You asked a very interesting question to start this discussion. What is the future of MTEs? Let's take it away from Marquette and look at it in general. I think we all want to play high quality games on our campuses. One, it's good for college basketball. Two, at a basketball school like Marquette, the more home games we can play the better. And three, as much as we love our television contracts, our season ticket holders and our ticket buyers are the lifeblood of what we do from a revenue standpoint. The challenge for the MTE is moving forward, and this is my opinion, I think giving up three games away from home is going to be a hard ask for coaches in the future. The interesting thing will be to see how those MTEs evolve to maybe there's still eight teams, but there are two four-team brackets that play two games with a day off in between. Maybe Maui evolved, or Atlantis evolved, because I think the destinations are still important to building a quality experience for your kids and your programs."

Broeker's comments here felt a bit prophetic. As mentioned above, the dissolution of the Pac-12 will be a partial driver in this. With few exceptions, MTEs traditionally feature teams that are all from different leagues. In an eight team event like Maui or Atlantis, this was traditionally accomplished by including one team from the ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC, then adding in a couple of prominent mid-majors from leagues like the A-10, Mountain West, or WCC. The contraction of the Pac-12 makes this far more difficult because MTEs would not be able to include Stanford and North Carolina, who played each other in the Battle 4 Atlantis last year but are now both ACC members, or UCLA and Purdue, both of whom were Marquette opponents in the Maui Invitational but are now both in the Big 10, or Utah and Houston, who played each other in the Charleston Classic but now both call the Big 12 home. All of which led to this change in the ESPN Events Invitational, a tournament in Orlando that Marquette has frequently participated in:

This shouldn't be a problem for programs in the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC, or Big East like Marquette. They will likely either end up participating in 2-game events against other high majors, or when they do play in a premier 3-game event programs like Gonzaga, Memphis, San Diego State, and VCU will will out the field. Who this really hurts are the mid-majors who count on these events as their some of their only shots against high-major competition. It remains to be seen if these events when trimmed to two fields of four will add campus games that allow these teams to play the high-majors regardless, or if a team from a mid-major even wants a road game against a high-major that might hurt their resume more frequently than help it.

Sam Hauser's 19 points led Marquette to a road win over Georgia in 2016
 Photo from Marquette Athletics

One potential downside to more home-court MTEs like Marquette plans this year is a reduction in neutral site games. However there is already a solution in place for that in 2024-25 as Marquette will play in the Bahamas against Georgia on November 23rd, incidentally at the same location where the Battle 4 Atlantis will be played a few days later.

CS: "Speaking of Atlantis, there's the Georgia game that's been mentioned. I like any time we're able to play an SEC school, but that seems like a long way to go. Is there any greater plan around that game?"

MB: "We wanted a quality neutral site game that would add to our resume. We're hosting our own MTE but we wanted a destination neutral site for our kids and our fans."

CS: "I also wanted to talk about league challenges. For the time being, the Gavitt Games have been discontinued. We're going into the last year of the Big East/Big 12 Battle. Is the Big East pursuing any other such series?"

MB: "We are looking at everything with the intent of building resumes with the best advantage for our teams for March. With the [league] challenges, one of the challenges is they were built before we went to 20 games from a conference schedule. I've always felt at Marquette, we've done a very good job historically and had the opportunity to schedule those games on our own. I've never believed that we wouldn't be best positioned to find great teams to play us."

CS: "So you feel confident in being able to replace that level of quality? We had six high major games in the past three years from those series, do you think those will be able to be replaced?"

MB: "Shaka is very much 'let's play two high-quality home games, two high-quality road games' every year. Then let's figure out what our MTE situation looks like and how does that impact the rest of what we do? If you think about 11 non-conference games this year, we're going to play five, what I would say, high-quality neutral or series games. I think in the future most teams oscillate between five and six high-quality games. The difference will be the home games, the more home games we play the better that positions us financially."

CS: "It's obviously good for the fans because we love being able to go see great games at Fiserv."

MB: "We have Purdue at home this year. We're very close to finalizing another home-and-home this year. So we'll have two high-major home games in the non-conference, we'll have two high-major road games in the non-conference, and then we'll have the neutral game with Georgia."

Maryland is that aforementioned home-and-home

Image from @marquettembb

Marquette will play Iowa State on the road in the Big East/Big 12 Battle and added a road game at Maryland as that second high-major road game. They will host Wisconsin and Purdue at Fiserv. Georgia will fill out the neutral site game. There are also rumors Marquette may be considering another neutral site game, with Andy Katz reporting that NC State could show up on the schedule. While no location has been discussed, Broeker's comments would indicate that if this were to happen, a neutral site would be most likely based on what's already scheduled for both 2024 and 2025 (Wisconsin, Purdue, Maryland).

With all of this in mind, we have a picture of what the Marquette non-conference schedule is starting to look like. Using the projections at barttorvik.com we can get an idea of what next year will look like, both in terms of quality and quadrant. If we view the known and suspected opponents using T-Rank as a proxy for NET Rankings, we have Marquette playing at Iowa State (#2, Q1A), Purdue (#12, Q1A), Wisconsin (#37, Q2A), at Maryland (#46, Q1B), neutral against Georgia (#70, Q2A), and Stony Brook (#292, Q4). If N.C. State were added on a neutral (#68, Q2A), that would be another quality non-con game, and Marquette's six high-major opponents would match that five to six target Broeker mentioned, indicating that Marquette can indeed replace the non-conference quality even with diminishing conference challenges and having a non-destination MTE. We turned to more general scheduling topics.

Markus Howard's 45 points led Marquette over Q1A Buffalo in 2018
Photo from Sports Illustrated

CS: "There is discussion about the difficulty that mid-major teams having games, like James Madison and Indiana State. In the past, Marquette has brought in those types of programs, Fresno State in 2016 was coming off a tourney bid, Vermont in 2017 and Buffalo in 2018. Is there any focus on bringing those types of mid-major teams in that might be scrapping for a bid?"

MB: "It all depends on where you are at that moment in time and scheduling. That's all driven by where you think your resume is at the time, where you sit, and what are you capable of building on your resume? We see high quality Q1/Q2 games as great opportunities. We also know we have to function as a business here and play a certain number of home games. Those are those quad four opportunities you see across college basketball. You look at resumes more than most when you do your bracketology. I think the teams that hurt themselves are those that try to overthink it. You should play the best games that fit your roster that you have a chance to win and then you need to play games that give you an opportunity to build confidence that don't put you at a whole lot of risk, and allow you to build a 16, 17, 18 game season ticket package. I think where teams get themselves into trouble are when, and this is Mike Broeker's opinion, how can I game the system so to speak to take advantage of all the numbers on the team sheet?. We play enough high-quality games in the Big East conference. Take the opportunity to play five to six quality non-conference games, that's more than plenty. That's more than most."

CS: "I swear, it's almost like you're looking at my question sheet. The next thing I wanted to ask about, there was a lot made up around Selection Sunday of some of the Big 12 scheduling. You look at Iowa State, Texas Tech, TCU, they were all sub-300 in non-conference strength of schedule, BYU was close to that, and a lot of discussion of how that impacted bids, how that affected other leagues. I think you could just as easily look at Oklahoma and Cincinnati not getting in as maybe it hurt some other teams. How do you think that is for the sport? Is there any worry of non-con mismatches as non-conference schedules start to shrink?"

MB: "I think we've got to be careful making assumptions on one year's selections. I think very clearly for multiple years, the Committee has shown through their selections that it's in your interest to play the best games you can play, away from home, and in the non-conference. You're a data guy, there's so many data points on the team sheet based on the argument you're making, and like you said, I can make a reverse argument for Oklahoma and Cincinnati. You can find the data point to justify your argument. So for me, going back to our league, I try to get away from the data points and look at it this way. How can, if we were to perceive or data determined to be the second best team in the Big East conference, how can a team that won 13 games in our league [Seton Hall] not be in the NCAA Tournament? We can point to other things on St. John's and Providence who are left out, we can point to data to make our argument. The Seton Hall one for me is the one that's intuitively just the biggest struggle. So where do I go on non-conference scheduling? We're going to go where the Committee continues to tell us to go. I think it says 'challenge yourself.' We work with a group called HD Intelligence. They do projections based on team roster, returning players, relative strength of that team against the rest of college basketball algorithm that determines percentage chance to fall within the different quadrants. We try to get ourselves to a place where twenty to twenty-two of our games are quadrant one or quadrant two. That includes our league. Now you have to win enough games within that to get to that point, or you have to put yourself in a league like ours, to get within that range of games."

Cracked Sidewalks saw Q3 potential in Rider, but they fell into Q4
Photo by Jeff Hanisch | USA Today

CS: "There's always just the difficulty of trying to predict anything. Last year, looking at Rider, looking at Northern Illinois, I thought those had good shots at being quadrant three games and it didn't work out that way."

MB: "Exactly. The team we predicted number one two years ago, the surefire quadrant one that ended up being a quadrant three, was North Carolina. So things happen. That's why again, for me, it's going back to about the Q3s and Q4s, I don't believe the Committee looks deeply at the individual quad four games as much as they look at the volume of quad four games. If you go look at teams, that's where you'll see the correlation between their selection versus not their selection, or their seed versus what they perceive their seed should've been. And that's the difference between six and seven, or five and six any given year based on what your non-conference schedule looks like."

In the 2023-24 regular season, Marquette played fifteen Q1, six Q2, five Q3, and six Q4 games. That 21/11 split of Q1+2 vs Q3+4 fits exactly what Broeker is aiming for. That occurred with five non-conference games being in the first two quadrants. Both UCLA and Notre Dame fit the high-major profile but ended up as Q3 games. With that in mind, Marquette should be right on track for a similar quality schedule in 2024-25, which is incredible considering Marquette's schedule ranked #7 in the nation last year.

Another topic that has received a lot of discussion lately is interest in non-conference play. With the number of games that are mismatches and the sheer quantity of buy games on a nightly basis, coupled with many other programs not challenging themselves to the level Marquette is, many pundits have discussed how to improve the non-con season. When you add in considerations such as the seeming demise of conference challenges and the slimming down of MTEs, this problem only seems to be one that will grow. Quite simply, on a weekly basis the vast majority of games from November through December just aren't very interesting, and there are many nights where there isn't a single high-profile college basketball game on the calendar.

Former Sports Illustrated writer Andy Glockner floated the idea of a College Basketball Champions League in 2013 that was expanded on by Paint Touches in 2019. Since then, some fans, including some Marquette diehards, have pushed the idea of an ultimate non-conference tournament. Beginning with play-in games among the low and mid-major league champions and carrying on to include top-tier high-majors, the CBBCL would be primarily played on home courts for the best atmosphere while also providing consistent quality college basketball content throughout the non-conference season. Anonymous Eagle has continued this discussion, posting annual CBBCL articles to show what the format would look like in any given year. 

Click here to see what the 2023 CBBCL would have looked like

Photo by Nick Potts | Getty Images

CS: "I know you're aware of the College Basketball Champions League idea that's been floated online in the Marquette culture. It feels like a pie in the sky idea, but it would be awesome if it could happen. Do you think there's any interest in a larger scale non-conference tournament to push early season interest in the sport?"

MB: "You know, I think we're open to anything. What can we learn from others around us? Like you call pie in the sky, I worked at the NBA years and years and years ago; if someone said in-season tournament when I worked there, they might have said the same thing. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but I think we have to look at what's best for the sport? What continues to create interest in a way so that we can all create value both collectively as a conference and on our own campuses? What best positions teams to play in the post-season? What gets lost is the economic reality for us. The more home games we play, the better it is for us financially and that's resources we can turn around and continue to grow our program. It's just absolutely mission critical to how we look at men's basketball. How do those business boundary conditions factor into some type of College Basketball Champions series? And then you have media contracts, so sharing those opportunities, not every high-major league has a media contract that's the same. Some have multiple partners, some have single partners, so how do you get those groups to work together? But anything that continued to deepen the public's interest in college basketball is a great thing."

CS: "I think what I always run into is just he number of games you would have to have to make it a reality. At least, if you're talking about 32, or now 31 leagues it feels like a massive ask, but at the same time, the college basketball fan in me loves the idea of it."

MB: "But that's where great ideas come from. Great ideas don't come from 1,000 feet, they start at 50,000 feet, but by the time you get to 25,000 feet you probably have a workable solution. If it adds great value, creates interest, supports programs financially in the way they need to be supported, honors media agreements. But if you don't, if you start with all these boundary conditions as to why, then it doesn't happen. I think one of the good things we're doing in our league right now with the [league] challenges going away is we're taking one step back and looking a little broader at scheduling to say 'how can we build competitiveness, build attractiveness from a media standpoint, help our teams put better games on campuses? What does that look like and what are we capable of doing?'"

CS: "The last thing I would ask you, is there anything that as fans, we should be thinking of or paying attention to?"

MB: "You guys are great. I say this and mean it with all sincerity, we're really fortunate to have the fans we have. We do not take that for granted. I mean, Shaka and our team, you hear that ad nauseum from them. Continued support is great, our fans have always answered the bell when it comes to filling our buildings, supporting our excellence funds, to now NIL. We're fortunate. When you think about uniforms, scheduling, if it's meaningful to you, it's meaningful to us so long as we can make it a reality. Buy tickets, fill up Fiserv, make it a really hard place to play because it's the best thing you can do."

Here's the 2024-25 Marquette non-conference schedule so far as we know it:

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