After a heartless second half effort in a crucial game against St. John’s on Tuesday, Marquette now finds itself in desperation mode regarding their 2011 NCAA Tournament hopes. At 6-7 in Big East play with five regular season games remaining, history tells us the margin of error is incredibly slim if the Golden Eagles hope to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
By: David Kay
While there have been plenty of rumblings about 11 Big East teams making the NCAA Tournament field, it appeared to be unlikely as at least one team figured to play themselves out of contention for an at-large bid. So far, that team has been Marquette.
Their stretch-run schedule still sets up pretty favorable for the Golden Eagles to win four of their last five games and finish with an above five-hundred conference mark which should earn them an invite to the dance. Theoretically, most experts think a winning record in the rugged Big East is bid worthy, but recent history has told us otherwise on one occasion.
Since the Big East expanded to an 18-game schedule for to the 2007-2008 season, only one team has finished with a winning record in conference but not made it to the dance. That was Providence in 2008-2009 who finished 10-8 in Big East play, 19-13 overall. That Friar team did win one game in the conference tourney as well. According to statsheet.com, Providence held an RPI of 72 though which pretty much killed their chances of getting chosen to the field. (A team with an RPI above 60 usually never gets an at-large bid.)
Prior to the league adding two games to their conference schedule, three teams finished with winning marks in the 16-team Big East and somehow did not find a spot in the brackets. Syracuse finished 10-6 in conference, 22-10 overall and did not get in during the 2006-2007 season. That same year, DePaul (9-7, 18-13) and West Virginia (9-7, 22-9) also had their bubbles burst.
Assuming the Golden Eagles lose at UConn and manage to beat Seton Hall, Providence, and Cincinnati at home, and also win at Seton Hall, they would enter the Big East Tournament with a 19-12 overall record, 10-8 in conference. They would likely need at least one victory in the conference tourney to get to that ever important 20-win plateau to feel somewhat safe about their post-season destiny.
If Marquette slips up twice during the final five games and finishes 9-9 in conference, their NCAA Tournament hopes take a major hit. Since the Big East expanded to 16 teams in the 2005-2006 season, only one of the six teams to finish with a five-hundred record in conference play made the NCAA Tournament. That was the 2007-2008 Villanova Wildcats that ended the season with a 20-12 overall record and only won one game in the Big East Tournament. (Statsheet.com says that ‘Nova team ended up with an RPI of 54 which puts them on the border of questionable entrance in.)
The other five teams that finished at .500 but did not get an invite to the dance were South Florida (20-12 overall) and Seton Hall (19-12) last season, Syracuse (19-13) in ’07-’08, Providence (18-12) in ’06-’07, and Cincinnati (19-12) in ’05-’06.
If MU ends up losing three of their next five games, get used to saying, “NIT.” Only once since Marquette entered the league has a team finished with a below five-hundred conference mark and made the tourney. That was the 2005-2006 Syracuse team that caught fire in the Big East Tournament behind Gerry McNamara and earned the league’s automatic bid.
Depending on where you look, Marquette enters Saturday’s meeting against Seton Hall with an RPI in the mid-sixties and a strength of schedule in the upper twenties. From here on out simply stated, they need to win games. If anything is in their favor though, this year the bubble is fairly weak with a lot of teams having questionable resumes. Still, MU fans should root for all bubble teams to lose every time out (especially Cincy) and hope there are not any Cinderellas making runs in their conference tournaments thus stealing an at-large bid.
They call it March Madness for a reason, and hopefully Marquette can take care of their business and make the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight year. If there are bumps along the way, be prepared for a very stressful and probably deflating Selection Sunday.
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a fomer contributor at The Washington Times Communities. You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.