"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

Friday, December 26, 2008

Matthews Explosion Very Similar to Tony Smith’s Senior Year

Guest Blogger John Pudner has been itching to write about Wes this year. Merry Christmas:

Wesley Matthews 33 game pace

Tony Smith final total













1st 3 yrs.













Sr. year


























Like Smith, Matthews in on pace for 37% of his contributions his senior year.

An already very good guard gets a new coach for his senior year and explodes. Certainly the best example of this in Marquette history is Tony Smith, who put up very solid numbers through his first three seasons, then set the all-time scoring record with 23.8 points per game in his All-American senior year (1989-90). Smith was then taken in the 2nd round of the NBA staff, where he became a great advocate for Marquette.

After watching Matthews once again rise to the occasion and score 30 points against Tennessee, I checked his numbers compared to Tony Smith and was amazed at the similarities through their careers.

  • Through three years Smith had scored 999 points to Matthews 1,032 in a few more games.
  • Steals are even closer, with Smith having 118 through three years to 112 for Matthews.
  • When you add all the total contributions (points, rebounds, steals, assists and blocked shots), the two are almost identical through three years – Smith 1,798 to Matthews 1,776.
  • If Matthews continues on his current pace for a 33-game season, his senior stats would be almost identical to Smith’s with nine fewer points than Smith (680 to 689) and only eight fewer total contributions (1,056 to 1,064).
  • That would mean that Matthews would have recorded 37% of his total contributions (1,056 of 2,832) during his senior year – the exact same percentage as Smith (1,064 of 2,862 his senior year).
  • The contributions are about just as valuable this season as they were in 1989-90, as Marquette gave up 68.5 points per game that season and MU is giving up 68.6 points per game this season (in other words, it takes just as many points to win a game this year as then so each point is just as valuable).

What’s even more amazing is that they are doing it the same way. As I noted on page 68 of the Ultimate Hoops Guide: Marquette University (www.collegeprowler.com/basketball), Smith’s scoring shot up as a result of increasing his three-point attempts to three a game – exactly what Matthews has done this year – and almost doubling his free throw attempts per game and hitting 87% of free throws – again exactly what Matthews has done this year. From page 68:

“Smith took only 12 three-pointers in 1989, hitting eight of them. Under O’Neill, he put up 87 three pointers, or three per game, hitting 41%.” (post script: Matthews has increased his 3-point attempts from less than 2 per game to the same three per game as Smith’s senior year, though he is slightly less accurate with 33% made.)

“He (Smith) was getting only four free throws per game in 1989, and obviously he started driving to the hoop because he almost doubled that and hit 87 percent of his free throws once he was at the line.” (post script: Matthews has more than doubled his free throws per game from 4.7 to 9.7, and is hitting exactly 87% of them, the same percentage as Smith).

Don’t get me wrong – Smith put up these numbers over a 29 game season and Matthews is matching his figures based on a 33 game projection, so it’s kind of like comparing Babe Ruth’s home run record in a 154-game season to Roger Maris’s record in a 162-game season. Also, Smith did not have to face the Big East like Matthews will have to starting January 1, so his pace certainly could fall off.

The only other similar case of a player starting with three very good years and then improving dramatically to a new level his senior year was Jim McIlvaine, who also made 37% of his contributions in his senior season partly by blocking 142 shots to be named National Defensive Player of the Year. However, it’s hard to compare centers and guards, and that explosion was partly the result of McIlvaine’s stats being held down the first three years due to his having to share time with the great Ron Curry at center.

In scanning through the 667 players in Marquette history, Smith, Matthews and McIlvaine are the only three examples I can find of players improving this much their senior year after having already been a good starter during their previous THREE seasons. I did find seven other examples of a player having TWO strong seasons (sophomore and junior year) and then exploding to another level his senior year: Gene Berce in 1948 (5th in nation in scoring his senior year); Rube Schultz in 1955, Mike Moran in 1959, Joe Thomas in 1969, Ron Curry in 1993, Chris Crawford in 1997 and Steve Novak in 2006.

John Pudner, Journalism ’88, was Editorial Editor and then News Editor for the Marquette Tribune. He was named top sports news writer in Virginia in 1991 while working for the Charlottesville Observer and wrote a weekly column on his rankings of baseball pitchers for the New York Post before leaving journalism for a career in politics and government affairs.

John's book Ultimate Hoops Guide: Marquette University can be ordered here: (www.collegeprowler.com/basketball)

1 comment:

JohnPudner said...

Matthews has 90 free throws made, the top total of any player in Division I hoops (out of 341 teams). Too strong for a guard to handle, too fast for a forward - only option is to foul him. FT% has dropped off a few percent to 83% since the 87% he had after Tennessee.