"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

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

How This Season Will Go...Generally Speaking

The Marquette Men's Basketball Team 2021-22 regular season tips off is nearly a month. It represents not only a new season but the beginning of a new era as Shaka Smart takes over as head coach.

                                        Photo Courtesy of Marquette Athletics

There are going to be plenty of new faces on the court to go along with the new coaching staff. Justin Lewis, Greg Elliott and Oso Ighodaro are the only returning scholarship players from last season’s squad.

Smart wasted no time filling up his first roster with a mix of super seniors (It sounds better than graduate transfer with an extra year of eligibility due to a COVID-19 exception), traditional transfers and freshman.

Marquette’s super seniors are 2020-21 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Darryl Morsell who spent four years at Maryland and former Oklahoma rim protector Kur Kuath. 

The 2020-21 Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year, Tyler Kolek transferred in after a year at George Mason and Oliver-Maxence Prosper brings his game and sweet nickname, O-Max, to MU after a year at Clemson.

Then there is Shaka’s first recruiting class rounding out the rest of the roster. He convinced originally committed to Wojo recruits Stevie Mitchell and Kam Jones to stick with their promise to join the team. Both won Mr. Basketball in their respective states (Jones was the Division II winner in Tennessee and Mitchell in Pennsylvania along with winning the Keystone State’s Gatorade Player of the Year). 

Smart then convinced Emarion Ellis, David Joplin and Keeyan Itejere to follow him to Marquette after all of them originally agreed to play for Smart at Texas. It equaled a recruiting class good enough for a 19th national ranking according 247sports.com and Sports Illustrated and Rivals.com ranked the class 20th.

This roster has talent, length and athleticism. It has players who can defend at a high level. All the traits you would see in a Shaka Smart team.

                                      Photo Courtesy of Marquette Athletics

It is also a roster that has a super majority of its players who have not played a single game together, has only two players who played significant minutes at Marquette (Oso played in just five games) and only one player who averaged double-digit points in a Division I college season (Kolek’s 10.8 last season).

Oh, then there is the always brutal Big East schedule to navigate and non-conference match ups with UCLA, Illinois and a possible West Virginia game if MU beats Ole Miss in the Charleston Classic opening round. There is also road games against Wisconsin and Kansas State. It is not the easiest schedule to incorporate all these new pieces.

With all that inexperience and the schedule, a rebuilding year is to be expected. A great season preview from the three-man-weave.com projects a ninth place Big East finish. The Big East Blog thinks the Golden Eagles will finish 10th. Marquette is currently getting long shot odds to win the Big East. Just for fun, Oddshark.com has Marquette currently at +7000 to win the National Title with both Draft Kings and BetMGM giving +15000

Although, it is not all doom and gloom as Painttouches.com's Andrei Greska gives a slightly better outlook on the Doug Russell Podcast

It is definitely shaping up to be a probable long rebuilding season on paper. Luckily, games are not played on paper. 

How might this season play out? Well, if I can forecast that my 401k would be doing much better and I would be hitting jackpot on every scratch off I buy. There is a couple general scenarios I could see panning out in Shaka’s first year.

Exceed Expectations and Makes the NCAA Tournament

How this happens? Well, some main things have to happen...

  • The roster chemistry develops quickly.
  • The Golden Eagles pull off a couple surprise upsets in non-conference. 
  • Lewis fulfills his NBA talent potential and provides a special player performance every game. As I like to call it, he has a winning impact improvement on the team (Think Lazar Hayward elevating his game even more his senior year or Vander Blue's final season)
  • Elliott stays healthy and follows in the steps of JaJuan Johnson and Sacar Anim by having a great senior season.
  • Morsell and Kuath lead a suffocating defensive effort every game. 
  • Kolek plays like his Travis Diener comp. 
  • Oso and O-Max provide good bench minutes.
  • Finally a couple of the freshman make a Dominic James and Jerel McNeal like winning impact in their contributions. 

The talent is there is to make a surprise NCAA Tournament appearance. Defense should not be a problem for this team. The offensive scheme is also there. Shaka loves pick and roll, but unlike Wojo who loved high pick and roll (and one guy dominating the offense), Smart prefers to run it from various spots on the court. As Painttouches.com points out, that can lead to less likely chances of the opposing defense shutting down the offense (Like what we saw in the Wojo era). Executing the pick and roll, along with good chemistry and the talent optimizes itself to get easy buckets or clean looks at the three could provide a dependable offense to compliment the defense.

Although if they do make the NCAA's, you are probably looking at First Four or nine to 11 seed Dance invite. There will be games where the inexperience shows. There will be some growing pains as Shaka installs his brand of play. There is playing Villanova, UConn, Xavier and Seton Hall twice on the schedule. If everything shakes positively as described above, MU can still get some wins over the middle tier of the conference for say a 5th or 6th place finish. That might just be enough to get a March invite.

Make the Not In Tournament

How this happens? Well, this kind of stuff happens...

  • The roster takes a lot longer to gel and inexperience shows in resume building games. 
  • Lewis improves but not to the special player status. 
  • Elliott has some injuries again he has to battle limiting his effectiveness.
  • Morsell has the "transfer delay impact" aka, defers too much as he tries to feel out his new program and takes a lot longer to be the player Marquette needs him to be.
  • Kolek maintains his A-10 stats.
  • Most of the freshman play like freshman.

Another way to think of it is this season goes like the Henry Ellenson season without crippling losses to DePaul thus getting a NIT invite.

The Projections Fulfilled

How this happens? Well, probably these things happen...

  • The roster never really gels as Shaka struggles to find consistent rotations.
  • A couple of the freshman transfer out during the season over lack of playing time.
  • Lewis improves but to a nine to 10 points per game player and also misses some time like he did last season.
  • A major injury or two.
  • Kolek is unable to step up in class and struggles in the Big East.
  • Kolek and Mitchell turn the ball over a ton running the point.
  • All the freshman play like freshman.

Well, you get the picture. It turns out to be what we think-too much inexperience that is not ready to compete at a winning pace both in non-conference and the Big East.

The team plays good defense but has assignment and communication issues since none of them have played together which leads to some heartbreaking losses. The offense goes into lulls and has turnover issues as it struggles to run pick and roll. The youth leads to some blowouts from the Villanovas of the world and bad losses to (gulp) the DePauls of the world. We possibly get a repeat of last season or Wojo's first season (Hopefully we do not have to relive eight-strong). Best case in this section is somehow still squeaking out a 16-15 overall record (Because the most minimal expectation at Marquette is never have a below .500 record) heading into the Big East Tournament and then pulling off a Georgetown like run to win the Big East Tournament and go dancing. 

Okay, okay, too much. It just would be nice to see Marquette exceed expectations and not met them this season.

No comments: