ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi says Marquette is a lock for NCAA Tournament

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Photo by Isabel Bonebrake

Marquette men’s basketball in a huddle during its 64-56 win over Butler Feb. 26.

With Selection Sunday less than two weeks away, there is a good chance you either hear in reference to or see ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi discuss his predictions for how the Field of 68 will shape out when you turn on ESPN.

Lunardi first began predicting the March Madness field in 1989 for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. Then in the mid-1990s, ESPN began running his predictions and would not look back.

“They needed content,” Lunardi said. “A friend of a friend met someone (and said) ‘Hey, why don’t you run Lunardi’s brackets and see what happens?’ And it was pretty quick because no one was even remotely getting inside the head of the committee at that point. It literally was a mystery.”

In his Feb. 24 bracket, Lunardi projected Marquette as a No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region. The Golden Eagles’ first round matchup would be against the University of Michigan.

“They have seven solid wins against the field and are overachieving in a BIG EAST that might send seven teams to the (NCAA) tournament,” Lunardi said. “It’s not just feel-good overachieving. It’s take this to the bank overachieving.”

Lunardi said the Golden Eagles have head coach Shaka Smart’s personality in terms  of “competitiveness” and “fearlessness.”

“This is not a havoc type of team from the VCU days but much to his credit, he’s adapted more to his personnel,” Lunardi said. “Right from the jump, they started knocking people off. Maybe they caught Illinois when the big guy (Kofi Cockburn) was out. Okay, they still should not have won that game based on preseason expectations and there were others like it. Both conference and non conference, they have held their own.”

As of Feb. 24, Lunardi said Marquette is a “90% or above” lock to make the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season.

Lunardi mentioned that the Golden Eagles’ stretch between Feb. 8 to Feb. 20, where they lost three of their four games, affected its chances of maintaining a higher seed than No. 7.

Following Marquette’s 83-73 win over Villanova Feb. 2, Lunardi moved the Golden Eagles up to a No. 4 seed and the No. 16 overall seed in the tournament.

“They’re losing in generally road games against other tournament teams (and) that’s what happens. They’re (also) finding their true level. They’re not one of the 16 best teams in the country and there’s nothing wrong with saying, admitting or acknowledging that.”

But are they one of the best 36 available that don’t have automatic bids three weeks from now? Looking at the totality of their season, it would be really hard to argue that they’re not,” Lunardi said.

The Golden Eagles have six wins on the season against ranked opponents including Illinois, Providence, Seton Hall, Xavier and Villanova twice.

Lunardi said Marquette’s “best win” this season came against Villanova at Finneran Pavilion Jan. 19.

“Since the re-constitution of the BIG EAST in 2013, it’s been pretty dominated by the team (Villanova) up the road  from me,”  Lunardi said. “Their success is extraordinary and to get two (wins), I don’t know how often that’s happened in these 10 years. ”

Meanwhile, Lunardi said the Golden Eagles “worst loss” in “retrospect” is St. Bonaventure Nov. 21 in the Shriner’s Children Charleston Classic.

Based on the NCAA’s Net Rankings, Marquette is tied with Villanova and Texas for the fifth most Quadrant One  — wins vs. Top 30 teams in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) at home, Top 50 on neutral courts and Top 75 on the road — victories in the nation with six, trailing only No. 3 Baylor with 10.

With the BIG EAST Tournament at Madison Square Garden eight days away, Marquette would be the No. 5 seed and face No. 4 seed Creighton in the Quarterfinals March 10 if the season ended today.

If the Golden Eagles experienced an early exit or a “bad” loss in the conference tournament, Lunardi said it might “ding” them a half-seed from a neutral zone Quad 1 loss.

“The conference tournament rarely mean as much as we think because the longer the season is the smaller episode percentage that is of their results. In a way, it’s just math,” Lunardi said.

In his Feb. 24 bracket prediction, Lunardi has seven BIG EAST teams — UConn, Creighton, Xavier, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence and Marquette — dancing.

He said the “only concern at this point” could be Creighton as first-year guard Ryan Nembhard suffered the season-ending wrist injury when he collided with St. John’s Posh Alexander during the Bluejays’ 81-78 win last Wednesday.

Since the restructure of the BIG EAST in 2013, Lunardi said the league this year is deeper than it has been in past years.

“It’s a great league because they care about basketball,” Lunardi said.

This article was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at john.leuzzi@marquette.edu or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU.