"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

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Marquette Preview, 2022-23

Marquette Golden Eagles

Head Coach: Shaka Smart (19-13 at Marquette, 291-155 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 56.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 56.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 70

Projected Starters: PG Tyler Kolek (6'3" Jr), SG Stevie Mitchell (6'2" So), SF Kam Jones (6'4" So), PF Olivier Maxence-Prosper (6'8" Jr), C Osasere Ighodaro (6'9" Jr) 


Tyler Kolek looks to lift Marquette to new heights

Photo from Marquette Athletics

Expectations were pretty low for Marquette in Shaka Smart's first year, with the team picked 9th in the Big East and outside everyone's NCAA Tournament projections. The early season was highlighted by a win over then #10 Illinois. While the team suffered through a 1-5 December thanks to a brutal schedule, they rebounded to win 7 in a row in January, including becoming just the second Big East team not named Villanova to win at the Finneran Pavilion and the first Big East team to sweep Villanova since 2017. That was the high, the low was a 3-6 finish, including losses to open both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. While the team overachieved, it was a disappointing finish that guaranteed a ten-year NCAA tourney win drought for both Marquette (March 28, 2013 over Miami) and Shaka Smart (March 21, 2013 over Akron). Compounding the ugly finish, leading scorer and rebounder Justin Lewis declared (and went undrafted in) the NBA Draft while starting seniors Darryl Morsell and Kur Kuath exhausted their eligibility.

The strength of 2022-23 Marquette looks to be the back court. Tyler Kolek was the Big East assist leader, winning over fans with his visionary passing and trash talking. They are hoping he'll improve his scoring, where his 40.0 eFG% simply wasn't good enough. Kam Jones looks most likely to take the alpha scorer mantle. This team will likely score by committee, but Jones is the guy who is most likely to get double-digits on any given night and is one of the best returning shooters in the league at 39.2% from deep. His improvement needs to come inside the arc, where he struggled with contact and didn't draw a single free throw in league play. O-Max Prosper is the other incumbent starter. He's a long, athletic defender who takes valuable seconds off the shot clock with his one man press. Marquette will need him to be more aggressive both in terms of hunting his shot and particularly in attacking the glass. Oso Ighodaro might be Marquette's most important player, simply because there are so few options behind him. He's a capable low-post scorer and savvy passer for a big man who Shaka says will play extensively with the ball in his hands. The last starter feels like an open question, with perimeter defensive ace Stevie Mitchell, high-ceiling forward David Joplin, and NAIA Player of the Year Zach Wrightsil in the mix. For the moment, we are expecting Smart to go with Mitchell's defense. He's a very good on ball defender who provides additional ball-handing. Wrightsil is expected to be one of the first front court options. He was a tremendous rebounder and interior scorer, though it remains to be seen if it will translate up to the Big East. The biggest wildcard may be David Joplin, who has shown the kind of aggressive scoring tendencies that helped Justin Lewis shine, but who also needs to tighten up his defensive play to get the reps necessary to show that capability. Offseason reports sound like Joplin may be the player ready to break out and don't be surprised if he works his way into the starting lineup before too long, but we don't think that will be opening night. The most likely freshman to be in the rotation is Sean Jones. He's an undersized point with blazing quickness (Smart says he's the fastest player he's ever coached) and the ability to create for both others and himself. Three other freshmen have a chance to crack the rotation; Chase Ross is an athletic but raw wing, Ben Gold is a 6'11" stretch forward whose shooting can create mismatches, and Keeyan Itejere is a high level athlete with size but maybe not enough polish yet to reliably platoon with Ighodaro.

Offensively, Marquette runs a lot of pick and roll, with the goal being to get open looks from three or shots at the rim. If players are solid in the midrange, the coaches will encourage those shots, but last year Morsell and Lewis were the only two that seemed to have much freedom in that regard. Kolek will likely lead the way with drives, seeking to either dump it off to Oso once he draws the defender or kick it out to an open shooter. Smart has also talked a lot about Ighodaro playing with the ball in his hands and becoming more of a distributor from the low post. On defense, despite what pundits like to say this is not the Havoc Smart ran at VCU. That system was a highly aggressive full-court press designed to turn teams over at all costs. His Violence defense is different. The real focus here is on time. Whereas the offense plays lightning fast (15.1 seconds per possession was #5 nationally) the defense does whatever they can to slow down possessions (18.3 seconds, #326). They often run a press, but it's designed to take seconds off the shot clock and shorten the time the offense has to get into their sets once they cross half court. They have recruited a number of long, athletic players that can switch and apply pressure all over the court. Last year they had a safety valve with the elite shot-blocker Kuath at the back. Ighodaro isn't as prodigious a rim protector so he will have to be better positionally. This may be where Itejere can help as he has the athleticism, but he's very raw so his minutes may be limited particularly once conference play begins.

Marquette seems to be a mystery this year. Many have pointed out that none of these players scored in double-digits last year for D1 programs, but last year Kolek was the only player on the roster who had scored double-digits at the D1 level previously. That didn't stop Lewis and Morsell from blossoming into consistent offensive options. In our Who Will Score? series earlier this summer, we learned that losing volume scoring is not closely correlated with a loss in team offensive efficiency. And in terms of volume, there's enough options that there will likely be numerous players around double-digits. Marquette lost 56.1% of their scoring, but last year, offense was never really the problem. When the team fell apart late, it was the defense that caved in. Per T-Rank, from the start of the season through February 3rd, Marquette's defense was ranked #35 nationally. From February 4th through the end of the season, it was ranked #177. The team's collapse was almost entirely because of defensive issues. If you want to worry about this team, I would point you toward the excellent Paint Touches article that points out the impact of Lewis, rebounding issues, and youth, among other concerns. Those concerns are legitimate. However...

This Marquette team also returns two more starters than it did a year ago. It returns four players that were significant contributors to last year's team, which is four more than they had a year ago when they surprised everyone with an NCAA bid. In terms of age, this team is young, but in terms of experience they are light years ahead of where they were a year ago. Last year was the first time in 11 years that Smart didn't have a top-40 defense, and it stands to reason with a more experienced roster he will once again have a top-40 defense this year. Offensively, Smart has had 10 teams rank in the top-100 per kenpom. 8/10 earned NCAA bids and the other two both won second tier tournaments (CBI in 2010, NIT in 2019). In the preseason, this team beat Loyola-Chicago in a scrimmage comfortably behind 27 points from Kam Jones while David Joplin's 28 points led the way over Missouri. If this team stays healthy, sustains their defensive form, and is marginally effective on offense, they should be fighting for an NCAA berth. And if one or two players really break out, the way Lewis and Morsell did a year ago, there's no reason they can't be a top-4 Big East team and in the mix for a safe single-digit seed.

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