On Wednesday night, Marquette men’s basketball suffered a 92-75 loss at the hands of Creighton, and if we’re being honest about things, it wasn’t even that close. The Bluejays were up as many as 26 late in the game before CU head coach Greg McDermott took his foot off the gas in garbage time.
It’s not the loss that’s a bad thing, although it is. It’s the fact that it’s Marquette’s third loss by 16 or more points this season: 77-61 to Wisconsin, 84-63 to Maryland, and now 92-75 to Creighton. Marquette’s last four losses as a program have all been by at least 16 points, as we all remember the 83-64 loss to Murray State all too well.
In fact, it feels like absurdly large margin losses are a thing that’s all too common under the guidance of Steve Wojciechowski. In fact, the juxtaposition of the last four losses coming by major margins against the fact that Marquette has won 10 straight overtime games with Wojciechowski at the helm is something that can’t quite be ignored. Why is it that the Golden Eagles can find ways to win what amounts to coinflip games, but when they take losses, they’re absolutely terrible losses? It’s weird, right?
So, I did some charting. First things first: It has not been all that long since Marquette lost a game by a single possession. That happened in the Big East tournament last season, with Seton Hall taking an 81-79 victory in the semifinals. I imagine that I don’t think about that as a narrow defeat due to the shenanigans that happened in that one. But the regular season finale last season was just one possession, 86-84 against Georgetown, as was last year’s home loss to St. John’s, 70-69. Saying “when Wojciechowski’s teams lose, they lose big” isn’t factually true.
It’s more true than you realize, though.
Here’s the breakdown, going first by possession count. 1-3 points, or one possession, 4-6 points/two possessions, and 7-9 points/three possessions, and then 10-14 point losses, then anything 15 points and over.
Like I said, more true than you realize. Steve Wojciechowski has suffered 72 losses in his tenure as Marquette head coach. 24 of them — a full 33.3% — have been by 15 points or more. If you just want to think about the double digit losses, that’s 38 of them, or 52.8%.
Over half of Wojciechowski’s losses have been by 10 or more points. He has just as many losses between 10 and 14 points as he does between one and three points.
That’s probably bad.
I will give him a little bit of slack here. 12 of the 38 losses by 10 or more points came in his first season when Marquette finished 13-19. That’s nearly a third of them, so it does skew the numbers a bit. However, since then, Wojciechowski has 26 ten-plus point losses in his 53 losses from Year Two onwards, or 49.1% of them. That’s really not that far off from 52.8%, so all that’s really been happening is that there are fewer total losses. That actually ends up making the blowouts more memorable.
I don’t have the time nor the patience to try to figure out how Wojciechowski’s big loss rate stacks up against other coaches in the Big East or even previous Marquette coaches. But I’m guessing having half your losses in five-plus seasons coming by double digit margins is 1) not common unless you’re really bad overall and at 107-72, he’s not, and 2) indicative of some kind of problem overall.
The issue with that theoretical problem is that I don’t know how to figure out what it might be. The most obvious answer here is that Wojciechowski, his coaching staff, and his players are regularly quitting on games. That’s.... bad. Take last night for example. After trailing by 10 at halftime, Marquette trimmed the lead to six coming right out of the locker room.... and then gave up a 10-2 run to fall behind by 14 with about 16 minutes left in the game. That contest is clearly not over at that point, but if you wanted to argue that Marquette just quit on the game from that point on, I can’t really argue with you about that. The fact that Creighton blew the lead out from 14 to 26 eventually definitely helps that argument.
I would like to think that’s not the case, of course. That kind of a thing sounds an awful lot like a reason to fire someone for cause, and if that were the case, this should have happened a long time ago.
The other biggest reason I can think of is that Wojciechowski is getting out-coached to a hilarious degree on a regular basis. Often times, and this is definitely the case in the last four losses, the team collapses right around halftime. As mentioned a moment ago, I prefer to think that this is not quitting. However, it would indicate that Marquette is making some kind of tactical change that fails miserably, or at the very least, ends up playing directly into the massive strength of their opponent on a particular night. That’s fine, honestly. Mistakes happen, and if you make a change that accidentally reveals a weakness that you didn’t realize it would, that’s not anyone’s fault.
However, not changing back to the thing that was at least keeping you relatively in the game is a major misstep, if that’s in fact what’s happening. These are guesses, of course. Without being at practice, or in the locker room, or at the game planning sessions, or in the postmortem sessions, I can’t tell you what Wojciechowski and his staff are taking in from these blowouts nor what they’re doing in response to them nor what they’re doing while they’re happening.
What I do know is that this is getting ridiculous, and I would like it to stop. As counter-intuitive as it seems, it would be much more fun to be regularly losing by two than regularly losing by 22. At least then, we all get to say, “well, shoot, if not for [insert one random play here], they would have won.” With the way things are going, the only thing we’re left to say is “holy hell, this is embarrassing and why does this keep happening?”