The 2019-20 college basketball season is quickly approaching, and thus, we turn our attention to previewing the upcoming Marquette Golden Eagles men’s basketball season.
To that end, we’ve got a stacked up list of questions about the 2019-20 campaign, and each of the contributors to AE are going to take a crack at answering them. There will be a new question every weekday afternoon between now and the start of the season, so be sure to stop back every day to find the new one.
Onwards, then, to the question of the day:
Is it fair to hold head coach Steve Wojciechowski to the national top five expectations that were put on Marquette back in early April? Is it fair to the players to do that?
Back on April 11th, we published a collection of Marquette’s Way Too Early preseason rankings. ESPN had Marquette at #2, NBC Sports put the Golden Eagles at #4, Andy Katz had them at #5 in a ranking for NCAA.com, Sports Illustrated and Stadium’s Jeff Goodman both ranked MU #6, Sporting News and CBS Sports had Marquette at #7, and USA Today at them at #8. On April 12th, Markus Howard officially announced that he would be returning for his senior season, and all of those rankings were dependent on that being the case.
On April 15th, Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser announced that they were leaving the program.
So, the roster is wildly different than all of those tippy top rankings laid out back in early April. No one would try to hold any of those writers to that list and ranking on any level at this point, but the question we’re asking is about Marquette fan reactions to the head coach. We don’t (and probably never will) know what caused the Hauser departure, but we do know that at least some responsibility for it has to land on Steve Wojciechowski, no matter if he said it was a surprise to him or not.
LOL, nope. Look expectations are a dangerous thing. I wouldn’t have been comfortable with the media hyping them up as a top 5 team if the Hausers were still around. I absolutely hate pre-season rankings. I understand why educated media members and coaches put thought into ranking teams before the season but I never give much thought to it at all. Let me see Marquette play a few games first then I’ll tell you what I think about their chances moving forward. With that being said, it’s completely unrealistic to think the Golden Eagles will get anywhere close to sniffing the top 5 this year. As has been the case since Wojciechowski has been the coach at Marquette, temper your expectations for the Golden Eagles. One thing is for sure: it’s going to be one hell of a rollercoaster ride. It always is with this team.
It’s absolutely fair to hold Wojo to that. This was the year that had been built up as the season where all of our waiting would finally result in an elite team. As far as I’m concerned, this is his own doing so we need to see that there was some reasoning behind the way he handled the locker room situation. If not, then he’s shown the absolute best result he can conjure is a 5 seed with the best scorer in the school’s history.
Getting into the team aspect would require me to guess as to what specifically happened, which I’m not going to do.
No, it would not be fair. The loss of the Hauser brothers is already baked into the expectations at this point. It is easy to say that it was Wojo’s fault (it probably was) that the Hauser brothers left and therefore, we should not alter our expectation when concerning Wojo’s job performance. However, that sounds like a recipe for disappointment. It is obviously frustrating that we were expecting to have a great team this year and then those expectations were suddenly cut out from under us. However, it would not be fair to the players to expect them to achieve the same level of success as previously expected. None of this is saying that we can’t be upset with Wojo’s inability to hold on to his players, however, it is best to partition those complaints away from the expectations for the current team. To put it simply, I can’t imagine a single Marquette fan being upset with making the NCAA tournament and winning a game. That would have been a disappointment before the Hauser departure but holding the players to that standard would be neither productive nor fair.
Holding this team to its “Way Too Early Top 25” expectations would not lead to a very fun season as a fan, I don’t think. That said, this team should compete to finish near the top of the Big East and has the feel of a backend Top 25 team. Anything worse will wear Wojo’s already tenuous position with the fan base even thinner. Also, Markus Howard has never won anything of consequence (conference title, conference tournament, any NCAA tournament game) in his Marquette career, so not improving on last season would be immensely disappointing from a legacy standpoint.
Is it fair?
Buckle in, y’all, this might be a long one.
On one hand, I feel like you can’t expect something from a roster that doesn’t exist anymore. It seems unfair to expect a coach to coach above the talent level and returning experience of the roster he has. Great coaches get more out of the players they have, sure, but even if Wojo draws out absolute perfection from each and every guy on the roster night in and night out, there is only so many expectations you can place on a person.
But then we get into the interesting discussion of “how in the hell did we get here? Why did our 2nd best player and our 3rd best scorer both choose to leave when we were on the verge of greatness?” (insert Director Krennic from Rogue One ‘we were THIS close’ meme here)
Wojo as the coach has to own a majority of why this occurred. A coach isn’t just someone that draws on a whiteboard; they have to be a person that keeps the locker room together. He has to be the arbiter of disputes. He has to know when there’s a problem not just with the on-court basketball results but also with the off-court relationships between players. He has to be able to solve those problems to the best of his abilities. People can rag on “well the Hausers were selfish and I’d rather have guys that WANT to be here,” but honestly, spare me that bullshit line of reasoning (as a side note, if you do think that, very calmly and quietly stuff your own head into a toilet; to call the Hausers selfish and be happy that they are gone and go out of your way to criticize and belittle them is to show a very ugly side of sports fandom and frankly I don’t want to be associated with people like that). You don’t lose guys like that (especially a guy like Sam going into his senior season as a fan favorite, All American candidate, and key cog in what looked like a Final Four contender) without a serious breakdown of the authority structures and coaching responsibilities of the staff. There has to be ownership of what went wrong on the staff and what this year’s results will be because of the breakdown.
So, in a roundabout way, is it fair to hold the team to the top 5 predictions made before the Hausering? No, it’s not fair to the kids to do that. Not at all.
Is it fair to hold the staff, especially Wojo, to it? I’d say no, but this “no” is a lot more grey than the black and white answer for holding the players accountable.
Ultimately, my answers to the questions at hand are both no.
But that’s not really the answer, either.
For sure it’s unfair to the players to hold them to the expectation that they have to contend for a national championship this season..... at least heading into the season, I suppose. Ask me again in February, y’know?
But for Steve Wojciechowski and his coaching staff? That’s something different.
As I said before, it’s not fair to hold them to that expectation of contending for a national championship. But..... the 2019-20 season has been aimed at as the culmination of Wojciechowski’s construction project at Marquette for a couple of years now. Once we saw the kind of shooter that Markus Howard was and saw that Sam Hauser was a jack of all trades on the court, we’ve been looking at their senior season for big things to happen.
That’s this season and that hasn’t changed.
Part of that is because, if we’re being honest about it, Wojciechowski has yet to overachieve with any of his five teams at Marquette. The building frustration with him as Marquette’s head coach can easily and simply be pointed at that fact. It sounds oversimplified, but the easy way to tell if a guy is a good coach is if he’s doing more than you’d expect from his roster. That hasn’t happened yet for Wojciechowski. Add in that he’s ended his two NCAA tournament appearances with first round losses by 20 and 19 points respectively and both games saw his team absolutely fall apart in the second half, and you can see why an ever increasing segment of the fanbase has had enough of him minding the shop.
The specific expectation of a national contender? No, that’s not fair to him, no matter whatever the reason was that changed the roster in mid-April. The general expectation of “you gotta do something here?” That’s very fair. That was the expectation last year, and he swung and missed, and then unexpectedly lost his #2 and #3 scorer. No matter what the pieces look like, Wojciechowski has to figure this year’s puzzle out and make 2019-20 an unqualified success.