Author: Gary Leverton, email@example.com. Photo: Marquette Athletics.
While Marquette has struggled to put together a good game so far, there is no reason to panic. With a non-conference schedule like Marquette’s, opportunities are going to be presenting themselves left and right for the Golden Eagles. The question will be whether their youth can take advantage this early.
The first opportunity comes this Thursday against Iowa. The Hawkeyes are a quality Big Ten opponent with a potential returning star in Jarrod Uthoff and youngsters like Brady Ellingson and Dom Uhl ready to take on bigger roles.
Marquette, a team that is consumed by the campus come basketball season, doesn’t want to hear about progression and building until conference time comes around. Marquette needs to get a signature non-conference win and this Thursday is an excellent chance to do so.
Why? Because if Marquette wants to be considered a tournament candidate in this early season, they need to start making some noise. Playing close games against good teams won’t be enough come tournament time. Improving, but getting zero quality non-conference wins isn’t going to cut it in the selection committee’s eyes. Marquette needs wins and they need quality, resume building wins if they want to consider playing past the Big East tournament this year.
With LSU and Wisconsin also on the docket, non-conference time is the best chance for Marquette to start building that resume for the tournament. Marquette doesn’t want to be those teams that start trying to secure signature wins come conference time, and instead end up being forced to win the conference tournament to get in. Winning a big non-conference game or two can be the difference between anxiety or relaxation come Selection Sunday.
Need proof of the importance of good non-conference wins, see the 2013-14 tournament. BYU received a bid after beating Stanford and Texas, both tournament selections as well, over a team like Arkansas, who missed opportunities to beat a tournament selection in Gonzaga. This isn’t the only example though.
How about Dayton versus California or Minnesota. Dayton had a win against Gonzaga and one of its competitors in the battle for a bid. California and Minnesota could only use Arkansas as their best win, and that wasn’t enough in the committee’s mind. And a barely-good win usually isn’t.
Of course, there is a lot that goes into making the tournament and quality non-conference wins isn’t the only criteria that needs to be filled. Both Florida State and Georgetown in 2013-14 had better non-conference wins in VCU than Dayton in BYU, but they had other problems with their resumes like too many losses (Georgetown) or lack of quality conference wins (Florida State). A team can’t just excel in the non-conference or win a big one but lose the games they should. Instead, a team like Marquette needs to play consistent basketball, avoid too many losses, and pick up good conference wins. Still, sometimes the difference between making and missing the tournament comes down to that big non-conference win that happened way back in November.
Iowa could be one of those teams. They have the potential to either be a tournament team or even more dangerous, vying for one the last spots. Beating them now would go a long way in the end if they square off for one of the last spots. Non-conference wins and losses seem to be one of those criteria that goes unnoticed by many college basketball fans until it’s the reason they don’t get in. Then the majority of those fans and teams look back to those games they played way back in November and wonder what could have been if they had just won that one non-conference game.
Nobody wants to see Marquette be that team at the end. In a season that seems to be destined for ups and downs throughout the conference slate, the teams that make the tournament always seem to have that key non-conference victory in their back pocket. So don’t worry about losing to Belmont, who looks like a quality team of their own, or struggling against IUPUI, because winning some of these upcoming non-conference games, starting with Iowa, could be the difference between watching the tournament this year, or playing in it.
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