A week and a half ago, after Providence snuck out a one point win at Rhode Island, head coach Ed Cooley assessed the situation he found his 8-2 Friars in and said the following sentence:
"I would love to coach the team I recruited. I really would."
I suspect that Marquette head coach Buzz Williams feels the same way about his Golden Eagles.
It's slightly different circumstances for Cooley and Williams, men who will find themselves on opposite sides of a basketball court twice this year. Cooley is referring to the departure of highly touted recruit Ricky Ledo without ever donning a Providence uniform, the season ending shoulder injury to Kris Dunn, and the suspension of high profile freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock. The upside for Providence is that they have three players in three completely different positions - Bryce Cotton, LaDontae Henton, and Kadeem Batts - who played significant minutes for them last year and can spread the burdens of the season amongst each other.
For Marquette, however, there's problems all over the court when you compare the roster that Williams expected to have on April 1, much less the one he expected to have on October 1. First came the departure of Vander Blue. You can argue that Buzz had an inkling that this might happen, but he himself said that he had no clue that Blue was going to declare for the NBA Draft. So right there, things were already out of whack for Marquette.
Once the school year got started, things got weirder. In one of the stranger things I've seen, Jameel McKay went through a full summer on campus and the yearly Boot Camp AND Marquette Madness AND a few days of practice before announcing his intention to transfer without ever playing. That was followed less than a week later by the announcement that Duane Wilson had suffered a stress fracture in his left leg, further discombobulating any ideas of a substitution pattern or rotation that Williams may have had in mind.
Fast forward to mid-November. The training staff, Buzz Wiliams, and Steve Taylor came to the realization that Taylor hasn't completely recovered from his off-season knee surgery. As a result, the sophomore forward who was expected to be part of a front line that would be the strength of Marquette's team this season has seen his minutes plummet. He's gone from starting the first three games and averaging 17 minutes down to 8 minutes per game since then, and that's not counting the Wisconsin or IUPUI games, where he didn't play at all.
It's hard to stare at all of that in one place and realize that this isn't what Buzz Williams planned on for this season. When organizing the schedule for this season, it was clear that he wanted to challenge this team, and challenging the team he recruited was absolutely the right choice. But Buzz has never and will never coach that team, and now Marquette sits at 6-4 on the season.
While this all seems like bad news, the point is supposed to be optimism. Buzz has been trying to figure out what to do with his team to get it to perform the best that it can, and I think he's got it on the right track. Marquette sits at #39 in the KenPom.com rankings this morning, the highest ranking the team has seen since the loss to Ohio State. While the horrible performances in the Ohio State loss and win over New Hampshire sent Marquette tumbling down the rankings, things bottomed out at #72 after the New Hampshire game. It's been a gradual increase since then, and the losses to Arizona State, San Diego State, and Wisconsin didn't cause a massive downshift.
The reason for that is simple: Efficiency.
The KenPom rankings are based entirely on a team's efficiency, namely how many points do they score and allow per possession of a game. Whatever it was that was affecting Marquette's play through the New Hampshire game, it seems that Buzz has gotten a handle on it and has figured out the most efficient way for the Golden Eagles to play. Right now, Marquette is ranked #75 in offense on KenPom.com, averaging 108.3 points per 100 possessions, or 1.08 points per possession, if you prefer to think of it that way. The defense has been stellar all season, and right now, they're averaging 94.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, or 0.95 points per possession. That makes MU the #25 defense in the country. More importantly that that, Marquette has made that climb from #72 up to #39, meaning that they've been playing more efficiently than those current season averages over the last three weeks.
So it's not the team that Buzz Williams recruited. But it's definitely a team that's playing the way that Buzz Williams wants them to right now. The record might not be very shiny right now, but the last three seasons have shown us what happens when Marquette plays the way Buzz Williams wants to see them play.