This article compares two teams currently on the NCAA tournament bubble with comparable RPI and overall credentials. Think of it as a virtual play-in game; two teams who could potentially meet in a First Four matchup.
Marquette (17-11, 8-7 Big East)
Gonzaga (20-9, 10-3 WCC)
Common Opponents: Notre Dame (MARQ split, GONZ lost)
Head-to-head: Gonzaga won 66-63 (in Kansas City)
Why Marquette Gets In
Marquette acquired their long-awaited marquee road win on Thursday night, with an overtime win against 14th ranked Connecticut, in Hartford.
The win puts Marquette above .500 in Big East play.
If they can stay above .500 and finish at least 10-8, there seems to be no way Marquette would miss the field of 68.
With the win over UConn, Marquette now has four wins over the RPI top 25—Notre Dame, Syracuse and West Virginia being the other three.
There are very few teams outside the Big East who have that many wins against the Top 25. That should help to prove not only that Marquette belongs in the NCAA tournament, but that they can win there as well.
In addition to the four wins against the RPI top 25, nearly all of Marquette’s losses have come to the very same group of teams.
All but two of Marquette’s 11 losses are to teams in the RPI top 25, and one of the other two was to Villanova—currently 27th. That is a staggering number of games played against the very best teams, and Marquette has certainly held their own—even in losses.
Speaking of those losses, Marquette has lost just one game by more than ten points the entire season.
That came last week to St. John’s, one of the very hottest teams in the nation.
The Golden Eagles lost by just five to both Duke and Wisconsin, and one to both Louisville and Vanderbilt—on the road.
All those teams could very likely end up in the Sweet Sixteen or beyond.
Why Marquette is Left Out
One of the glaring holes on Marquette’s tournament profile is their lack of quality non-conference wins.
Despite playing high profile teams like Duke, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt, Marquette was unable to win any of these games.
Their best win outside the Big East, in terms of RPI, is against Bucknell (79).
Outside of that, there are no other non-conference wins for Marquette against teams within the top 100. That fact will not be ignored by the selection committee, despite the quality wins against Big East teams.
Including the win over Connecticut this week, Marquette still has just four wins away from the Bradley Center this season.
While their 3-5 road record in the Big East is not terrible, the other two wins came against Rutgers and South Florida, two teams who will be lucky to survive the first day of the Big East tournament.
It took a monumental late comeback for the Golden Eagles to escape with a win over USF.
In addition, Marquette did not win a single non-conference game outside the state of Wisconsin—the one road win they had was over UW-Milwaukee.
Unfortunately for Marquette, there are no NCAA tournament games in Wisconsin this year.
Why Gonzaga Gets In
Gonzaga moved back into a tie for first place in the West Coast Conference after a gutsy 89-85 overtime win at Saint Mary’s.
They are now tied with the Gaels for first place with one game to go.
The win proves yet again that Gonzaga has the toughness necessary to win a crucial conference game late in the season, in a game with NCAA-tournament-like pressure on both teams.
Once again, Gonzaga loaded up with quality opponents on their non-conference schedule.
Mark Few’s team played ten teams outside the league with an RPI in the top 100, and won four of those.
The win over Xavier is clearly the most significant, as the Musketeers are a tournament lock and potential Sweet Sixteen team once again.
In addition to beating Xavier, Gonzaga’s win over Baylor in Dallas will hold some significance, even though Baylor is just a bubble team themselves. Another key win is over the very same Marquette team discussed here. The game was in the CBE consolation game back in November, in Kansas City.
With a head-to-head win on a neutral floor—just like games in the NCAA tournament—it will be tougher to dispute that Gonzaga has the advantage over Marquette in the selection process.
Why Gonzaga Is Left Out
Gonzaga may not even be in this discussion if they had taken care of business in games in their own state, as they have done so well in previous years.
A loss to San Diego State at home is nothing to fret over, but losses to Illinois (in Seattle), Memphis (in Spokane) and Saint Mary’s (at The Kennel) brings some extra doubt as to just how strong this year’s Gonzaga team actually is.
A typical Gonzaga team, and a typical NCAA tournament team, should win at least two of those three games.
Unlike Marquette, Gonzaga has just one win over an RPI top 50 team (Xavier).
Even if you count the win over a Baylor as a key win (ranked No. 9 in the nation when Gonzaga beat them), Gonzaga still has just half the number of key wins that Marquette possesses (four).
The 1-5 mark against the top 50 could be hard to look past, since it shows that the Bulldogs had plenty of opportunities for quality wins.
In order to get an at-large bid, Gonzaga would have to lose in the WCC tournament.
That would mean a tenth loss for the Bulldogs.
In a league with only three teams in the RPI top 100 (St. Mary’s and Portland the other two), four losses against WCC teams might be just one too many.
Despite the strong non-conference schedule, the Bulldogs may just simply have more losses than the committee feels comfortable with in taking a team from the WCC—even if that team is Gonzaga.
Who Gets In?
This one is a bit tricky to deliberate over.
Marquette has the advantage with their signature wins in the Big East. They also look like they belong in the tournament when you see them play.
Gonzaga, however, beat them in a head-to-head matchup on a neutral court.
That has to count for something.
The win over Marquette helps give Gonzaga a stronger non-conference profile, which will be a big part of deciding each team’s fate.
Gonzaga’s overall profile though is not quite as strong as it probably should be, given some questionable losses both in and out of conference.
The edge goes to Marquette, though Gonzaga has a very good chance to get in by winning the WCC tournament.
Other matchups to consider:
Boston College-Colorado State: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/626211-boston-college-vs-colorado-state-which-team-will-make-the-ncaa-tournament