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UNGER: MUBB’s postseason chances saved by victory over Georgia

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UNGER: MUBB’s postseason chances saved by victory over Georgia

Jajuan Johnson had five steals in Marquette's victory against Georgia.

Jajuan Johnson had five steals in Marquette's victory against Georgia.

Photo by Maggie Bean

Jajuan Johnson had five steals in Marquette's victory against Georgia.

Photo by Maggie Bean

Photo by Maggie Bean

Jajuan Johnson had five steals in Marquette's victory against Georgia.

The phrase “tournament resume” is an important one in college basketball. Even with Selection Sunday still over four months away, “bracketologists” are already active on social media analyzing wins and losses for potential NCAA Tournament at-large bids.

It’s simply the reality of college basketball in 2016. November and December non conference scheduling has become critical to postseason aspirations. Including top-100 KenPom teams is a must. Over the past few years, the selection committee has looked fondly on teams that go out of their way to schedule tough opponents. Add some bonus points if it’s a true road game.

That is why Sunday’s victory over Georgia for Marquette men’s basketball was an important one. In fact, it may have saved their entire season.

While saving the entire season may sound like a stretch, history suggests otherwise. Let’s take a look back at last season’s at-large bids that got in and more importantly, at the bubble teams that failed to make the cut.

St. Bonaventure and St. Mary’s were two teams that were considered tournament snubs in 2016.  For these two squads, a lack of quality non conference wins during the holiday season came back to bite them in March.

St. Bonaventure had the most glaring holes on their tournament resume. Although the Bonnies shared a three-way tie for the Atlantic-10 regular season crown, boasting an impressive 14-4 record in a stingy conference, they were excluded from the big dance.

The Bonnies in conference success simply didn’t make up for their lack of a top-50 KenPom win. Their only opportunity to score that much-needed victory was a true road game at Syracuse, which they dropped 79-66. St. Bonaventure’s only top-100 win came against Binghamton, who finished the season at No. 98 in KenPom rankings.

The other two teams that split the regular season A-10 regular season crown, Dayton and VCU, both earned at-large bids. The Flyers earned two top-25 non conference KenPom wins against Iowa (No. 22) and Vanderbilt (No. 25). On the other hand, the Rams failed to earn a top-50 win. Despite their lack of quality wins, the selection committee rewarded them for their tough winter schedule that featured Duke (No. 17), Cincinnati (No. 32), Wisconsin (No. 38) and Florida State (No. 48). Although St. Bonaventure had a legitimate gripe, it was on them to schedule better.

St. Mary’s is another prime example of the quality win conundrum. The Gales finished the 2015-’16 season at 27-5 and ranked No. 34 on KenPom but didn’t get the opportunity to put on their glass slippers. The reason was simple: St. Mary’s had only one top-100 KenPom win and failed to defeat California (No. 28) on the road.

There were a few teams that eventually punched their ticket to the big dance that were deemed questionable or even “indefensible.” Syracuse ended non conference play with two top-50 KenPom wins and another top-100 victory. Michigan finished their non conference slate with two top-100 KenPom wins and three top-26 KenPom losses. Tulsa lost three top-100 games but nudged their way in to the final field with a win over No. 13 Wichita State and No. 98 Oklahoma State.

Keeping last year’s selection committee in mind, Marquette added a huge boost to their tournament resume with their 89-79 road victory at Georgia. At this point, the Golden Eagles can boast two wins over top-100 KenPom teams (though the win over Vanderbilt is looking less impressive as the Commodores have already lost four games).

That is why the Georgia game may end up becoming even more important down the line. As made evident by the selection committee this past March, top-100 non-conference wins carry a lot of weight. Without a victory over Georgia, Marquette could very well have ended non-conference play with zero wins over top-100 KenPom opponents (depending on how the Vanderbilt situation plays out). As recent history suggests, that probably would have prevented the Golden Eagles from potentially earning an at-large bid come March.

So yes, I would say that Marquette just saved their season.

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