Marquette's record doesn't look pretty. The Golden Eagles are 11-8 and 2-5 in the Big East, which puts them just above conference punching bags Rutgers and St. John's in the conference standings. If you merely glanced at Marquette's profile, you'd assume the Eagles were having the sort of down year you'd expect after the losses of seniors Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews.
But it isn't true. Marquette isn't having a great year, to be sure, but they're not nearly as bad as their record would allow. In terms of efficiency margin, Marquette is actually outplaying opponents by a half a point per game, which puts them even with Connecticut and a tenth of a point behind Pittsburgh, one of the surprise teams of the season. The Eagles are ranked No. 20 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings, ahead of a host of probably NCAA tourney teams. So why is Marquette's record so bleh? John Gasaway helpfully explains:
The numbers here suggest that the Golden Eagles are a solid NCAA team, but at just 2-5 in the Big East Buzz Williams' group is tied with the likes of South Florida and St. John's in the eyes of the committee. Marquette lost by one at West Virginia, by two to Villanova, by two at Villanova, by one at (brace yourself) DePaul, and by five at Syracuse.
None of these are particularly bad losses, but viewed in sequence, you get a team with a mediocre record and a bad at-a-glance NCAA resumé. It also doesn't help that Marquette's nonconference schedule was filled with RPI downers like Centenary, North Florida and Presbyterian. To be fair, Buzz Williams' team didn't get any help from Michigan's collapse (the Wolverines were No. 15 in the country when Marquette handily beat them) and Xavier's rebuilding year, but still, that's not a tough schedule, and Marquette didn't do itself any tournament favors before Big East play began.
Had Marquette won a few of their close games, the story would be much different, and the nonconference foes wouldn't really matter much. But the slimmest of margins has Marquette looking like a tournament long-shot already, even though they're playing some pretty darn good basketball.
And people say the college hoops regular season doesn't matter. Right. Tell that to Marquette fans.