"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"I don't know how good we'll be"

With more time to reflect, there was one particular line from the Chicago Coaches Luncheon that's been sticking with me. Coach Buzz Williams repeated a few times during the Luncheon that he "doesn't know how good the team will be."

Let's start by saying that we get what Buzz was trying to do. The majority of his remarks at the event were about how he tries to focus on the present. It's all very zen and I appreciate that. Plus, he's working to manage expectations for this year's squad; expectations that are justifiably high. Still, despite the obvious guard strength and senior leadership, the team is weak in the post (but what else is new?) and they have a brand new coaching staff and system to learn. However, the elephant in the room remains.

This year's team HAS to be good.

The Warriors return one of the strongest senior classes in school history, led by three 1,000-point scorers who are complemented by another veteran starter in versatile junior Lazar Hayward. The team was the #11 Pomeroy Team in the nation last year, racking up 25 wins along the way. And of course, they were a last-second miracle shot away from making the Sweet Sixteen.

How could this year's team not be good? It's a gift-wrapped opportunity for any coach to step in and succeed. Conventional wisdom is that it would take a screw-up of major proportions to not compete for the BIG EAST title and make a run in the NCAA tournament.

For now, MU's recent successes are paying dividends on the recruiting circuit. Rather than focusing on the great unknowns surrounding Marquette's new head coach -- and there are plenty of them -- Coach Williams has the benefit of of selling kids on the recent trajectory of the program, the promise of what he hopes to do at MU, on what he thinks the program will look like, how he intends to develop players and execute his system. Selling against that promise during a honeymoon period as a new head coach is an additional benefit. By any measure, he has been doing a great job in this area, taking full advantage of the state of the program. If he doesn't have a watershed recruiting class already, Buzz is likely to grab that when he closes out the 2009 recruiting in the coming months.

Signing a breakthrough 2009 class is not, however, a luxury. It's a requirement. Regardless of how highly ranked the 2009 class will be, Marquette's fortunes on the hardwood will almost certainly take a downturn in the 2009-2010 season. That's to be expected. A program simply does not replace three four-year starters without taking a hit. It's not unreasonable to think that a .500 record could constitute a good year in 2009-2010.

What does it all mean? The 2008-2009 Warriors squad must win, and win big. If Buzz Williams leads a team that underachieves this year, the honeymoon will end quickly. It could be over in December with a slow start in three challenging non-conference games.

Detractors and doubters, who've been fed a large dose of crow based on Buzz' effectiveness as a recruiter this off-season, will once again point out the unnecessary risks that Marquette made in hiring Williams. An underachieving team and the perception of a coach being out of his depth at what has become a high-major program would also make recruiting an even greater challenge.

How good will the team be this year? For Buzz' sake and the program's sake, they had better be good.

*Joint effort between NYWarrior and Henry Sugar

15 comments:

John said...

And if they are not up to all the naysayers expectations, we will shoot the coach and then put the program in a real downward spiral? This is more pathetic than all the Crean bashing when he was coach.

NY Warrior said...

Most programs have precious few opportunities to deliver breakthrough seasons. This is one of those times for MU, and the burden of these expectations happens to fall on a new coach.

It could be several years before MU enters a season with such lofty expectations. With acute graduation losses looming, failure to win could hurt the program's trajectory in the short to mid-term, and the coach would take the blame.

Is this really a surprising observation?

Henry Sugar said...

Thanks for reading.

What are your expectations for the team this year? How many total wins, conference wins, and NCAA wins do you expect?

John said...

This is his first year. Yea, one can say, "well, he shouldn't be at this level if he can't coach out of the gate". We all know how brutal the BEAST is. We have Lazar at the 4 who is talented but no one to speak of behind him and he is playing out of position. The 5 is really weak. What if Dom, Jerel, Wes, Lazar or Burke gets hurt during the season? We also aren't that deep. The defection of Trevor was a huge blow and the fact that all our gem recruits for this year defected. I think if we perform similar to the first three years in the BEAST we have accomplished a lot. I really reserve judgement of Buzz till the team is full of his recruits which is I would say two seasons after this upcoming one. Why put Buzz under the microscope immediately in an ejection seat with him looking for a better gig than Marquette? Sound familiar?

Henry Sugar said...

John, your response is totally reasonable and I appreciate it. My expectations are about the same as yours (team performs similar to the last three years). Certainly, if someone gets hurt then that changes things.

However, I feel very strongly that he should not have been put into this position if he can't coach. Waiting three years to find out means that we're hosed, so I want to know this year how well he can coach.

We are an established program coming off of three straight NCAA appearances. Coaching hires should not be experiments for Marquette.

Nathan said...

If the Traitor were still here, i would say my expectations would be at least 25 wins (same as last year), Beat Wisconsin and get at least a 3 seed in the Big East Tourney.
Then at least a sweet 16 appearance in the tourney.

If we had The Traitor and didn't accomplish those 4 things, i for one (and i think many Warriors fans) would call 2008-09 a disappointment.

Therefore my expectations of the Buzz are exactly the same. If they shouldn't be the same, then The Buzz shouldn't be our coach and we should have a coach we can expect success from.

Thanks for all the great articles and insight Henry and NY!

John said...

Whatever. The transition in coaches cost Marquette a key player for 2008 and Marquette's two top recruits. Crean would of had all of them. Also Buzz is pulling in a top 5 recruiting year. Betcha if Buzz is gone quickly we start a downward spiral. Just a coincidence?

Richard said...

This is precisely what I've been saying on this blog since April. Buzz may be a fabulous guy..and I hope he works out...but there is no way we should have gambled with the head coaching hire. It's inexcusable. This team has a chance to be really, really good and we hired the guy who walked out on New Orleans. Now, I don't really care about the circumstances. But let's just think about that, though. He was at New Orleans. New Orleans. Prior to Marquette University hiring him as their head coach, he was thought of highly enough to be hired by a program that has been desperate for years.

Now he's our CEO...the face of the program and the university.

I've said it once and I'll say it again...this is an absolute disaster waiting to happen. I predict he will last exactly three seasons. And it's a shame considering the quality of players (and individuals) we have returning this year. They deserved better and the fans who support the team through thick and thin most assuredly deserved better.

John said...

I will bet if Buzz lasts less than three years, he will be better than his successor. Hello 80s & 90s.

John said...

I will bet if Buzz lasts less than three years, he will be better than his successor. Hello 80s & 90s.

Championships Matter said...

This is so depressing. Seems like everyone blogging this site thinks we're headed back to the Dukiet malaise with 13 to 14 wins. No wonder Buzz doesn't read it.

People, people, people. Let's look closely at what we have. We have a Top 25 team returning, with three of the best players in recent school history back.

We have a new coach who has proven he can recruit.

We play in the best conference in college basketball and have proven we can play with the best.

Times are good. It seems like everyone in this blog thinks that unless we find a way to raise Al from the dead and bring him back as MU basketball coach, we're doomed. Faced it -- that's only happened once in recorded history and the guy in question the last time had more important things to do than coach college basketball.

I like our chances this year -- and beyond. I was doubtful about our new coach but he's sold me. I'm anxious for the Buzz era to begin and I'm anxious for the day in the not too distant future when Buzz and the Boys are hanging a blue and gold banner in the NE corner of the Bradley Center.

Let's get with it people! We're good and we're gonna stay that way!

NY Warrior said...

Great post, Championships. Look, reasonable people can agree to disagree on this. But given that Buzz Williams has yet to coach one game at MU or finish a season there, I can't blindly say that "I was doubtful about our new coach but he's sold me."

He's impressed me with recruiting, which is refreshing. Good for him, and the program. However, plenty of coaches "win the off-season." Just ask Pat Kennedy.

Regardless, making a questionable hire begets increased scrutiny. Look at the avalanche of negative fallout surrounding West Virginia football right now. The Mountaineers' hiring process left them open to first and second-guessing. Now, the team's unexpectedly slow start has created waves of fear, uncertainty and doubt among the WVU faithful (and many pundits). Stewart, a favorite son, is taking loads of heat right now -- not to mention the folks who hired him.

Here's hoping Buzz can exceed expectations. He has the talent to do it.

Oliver said...

This team will be about the same as last year, but will have a lower ceiling. They will see slight improvement in guard play due to experience and a dropoff in post play due to the lack of players. That leaves us with a team that can be good, but only as good as a guard-dominated team can be.

Next year will be a step down due to the loss of the amigos, but the good recruiting class will keep them from falling too far and the jucos help to ease the transition. Buzz is unproven, but he has done everything well to this point.

Gene Frenkle said...

It's like the Point/Counterpoint scene in Airplane: They bought their tickets in advance...they knew what they were getting in too. "They" being Marquette.

When you hire an unproven coach, but a proven recruiter, and you have a loaded, senior-laden team, there better be high expectations. That's what would happen at premier programs. And again, it does go back to MU putting themselves/Buzz in this situation in the first place.

I've been overly thrilled with the recuits he's gotten for the coming seasons. But this year, it's all about his coaching ability. What can he do on the sidelines?

While it's not necessarily fair, Buzz is getting a head start from a "being open to criticism" standpoint. Instead of taking over a young team, getting three-years grace period and THEN fans seeing how well he's improved his players...no. He gets a senior-laden team that's going to be favored to improve over last year.

All this does is up the stakes for Buzz from a risk/reward standpoint. He stands to reap big rewards this year (and he's set up to do so barring injury). But should this team "fail" (i.e. lose in round one NCAA), it will let all the naysayers (including myself) jump out again at the administration for making what many believe a way-too-ballsy-decision (especially when men's hoops is the MU bread and butter).

Again...they bought their tickets in advance. They knew what they were getting in too. Fair or not, they set themselves up for this.

(Side note - I do think they'll be successful this year. Sweet 16 minimum, third place B.East. Should be a fun year)

Matt Quandt said...

Great stuff all around. But a little too much introspection, I think. The time to strike in the Big East, in my opinion, was a year or two ago, when UConn, Louisville, Pitt, etc., were down. They're all on their way up right now, and we have virtually the same core we've had, that couldn't leapfrog those teams when they were down. Even with Coach Crean, I was looking forward to another year in the top six of the BE, and a shot at the Sweet Sixteen. Those expectations, based on what we've seen from this core, the non-conference schedule (did anyone pick us over Tennessee before the coaching change, really?), and the new coaching situation seem realistic. To me, anything beyond that seems based more on hope than the reality of where we are in the BE spectrum. If the team's core couldn't get by those juggernauts last season, I have no reason to believe they can do it this year. It'll be a fun season, no doubt, but the bottom line is the team has regressed in the conference each season since entering the BE. Progress would be to STOP that regression. Stopping it AND moving up would be a tremendous accomplishment. Aspiring to a BE title is obviously everyone's goal, but there are some Everests in the way. Going from sixth (I can't remember exactly where we finished last season) to first would be a miracle. It seems more realistic at this point to hold the Three Amigos up to their body of work so far, not what we all think they should achieve. That body of work suggests another top four/five/six conference finish and a shot at the Sweet Sixteen.