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Marquette Basketball, The Search For Transfer Guards, And What It Means

Steve Wojciechowski is caught in varying levels of problems that he did and did not have the ability to control.

Marquette v Villanova Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

For those of you who have been paying very close attention, you’ve noticed seven articles on this website since March 16th talking about a large number of transfer prospects that Marquette men’s basketball has reached out to since the college hoops season ended. Seven articles is a lot, and most of those address the viability of multiple players in terms of fitting into the MU roster.

With just one exception up to this point, all of the players that head coach Steve Wojciechowski has been reaching out to as transfer possibilities have been guards. Given that Marquette’s three signed freshmen for next year are all at least loosely categorized as forwards — the physically smallest one of the trio is the 6’7”, 225 pound Justin Lewis — it wasn’t a surprise to me to see Marquette focus on guards in this transfer cycle.

However, as I continued to write article after article about the new prospects, I had to come up with something new and fresh to say about why the Golden Eagles were looking at guards for next fall. At the very least, I had to keep rephrasing the same overall points as to why that was happening. As I was doing this combined with a trip to the Ice Age Trail for a family outdoor excursion during the coronavirus shutdown, I ended up realizing that Marquette’s interest in guards is really more of a need than I had previously thought about, and worse, it’s a problem that’s been building for a while now. Even worse than that, it’s a wide ranging problem with multiple facets to it.

What I’m going to do here is lay out all of the various pieces of the puzzle that has put Wojciechowski in the position of contacting at least 16 (!) different guards in the past two weeks. We’ll talk about each one as we go. Some of them are just things that happened, some of them are things that couldn’t be helped, some of them are situations where Wojciechowski himself has to bear the full brunt of responsibility for what happened, and some of them are combinations of all of that.

#1 — Joey Hauser and Ike Eke Left The Active Roster

Both of these things happened in between the end of the 2018-19 season and the start of the 2019-20 season. Joey Hauser transferred to Michigan State in the spring, while it was announced that Ike Eke was declared medically ineligible in August.

This one has a two-fold impact on what’s going on right now, one literal, one as a way of pointing a big ol’ red arrow at the problem. Both Hauser and Eke would have been redshirt juniors on the 2020-21 roster and thus holding two years of eligibility and two years worth of roster spots. They aren’t on the active roster any longer, and thus Marquette has two more scholarships to use for 2020-21 than Wojciechowski was expecting to have back on, say, March 1, 2019. That was never going to be a problem that was able to be solved by recruiting a freshman suddenly out of nowhere once their spots opened up, especially with the finalized news on Eke coming so close to the start of last school year. Thus, MU has those two spots sitting open right now in addition to a third scholarship depending on how the coaching staff is handling former walk-on Tommy Gardiner and the scholarship he had in 2019-20.

I don’t think anyone can particularly bear the brunt of blame for Eke’s back essentially giving out on him. It’s horrible that it happened, but it’s likely a culmination of a million tiny things as opposed to anything that anyone had control over. Conversely, no matter what happened between the Hauser brothers, the rest of the Marquette team, and the coaching staff, at the end of the day, Wojciechowski has to be faulted for Joey’s departure to some degree. Either he was not properly managing his entire team, not properly managing the Hauser brothers specifically, or as his own statements make it sound, not having any clue that there was a problem to deal with at all.

That’s how we ended up with the spots open, and with two spots open, Marquette just straight up needs guys to fill them. That’s why there’s been 17 total contacts that we know about right now, 16 guards and one big man.

However, the departure of Hauser and Eke from the realm of availability for the Golden Eagles actually provides the jumping off point for everything else we’re going to talk about here. Think about this as we talk about the remainder of the topics here: In Hauser and Eke, Marquette is supposed to have two more forwards on the roster right now. Wojciechowski isn’t recruiting transfer guards to replace guards that left the team. He’s recruiting guards to replace forwards, and that’s a bigger problem than actually losing Hauser and Eke in the first place.

#2 — No one on the 2019-20 roster emerged as a reliable offensive option for the future, particularly in the backcourt.

As we started the 2019-20 college basketball season, I felt that the biggest question facing the team wasn’t actually a question for that season. It was one facing the future of Wojciechowski’s tenure on the sideline: Who will show us that they can be The Guy once Markus Howard and Sacar Anim finish up their collegiate careers? If you wanted to think of it this way, it was a question for 2019-20, too: Who will become Marquette’s second scoring option behind Howard? But embedded within that was the question of who would be able to take up at least some of the responsibility that Howard was clearly going to mostly carry for his senior season. We were all okay with Howard scoring a bunch in his final year on campus, but he was the only known quantity heading into the season. Over and over again, we waited to see someone emerge as a dependable second banana to MU’s All-American and thus become the obvious heir to the throne........... and it just never happened.

Anim ended up as the second leading scorer on the team, which was fine for this past season, but absolutely no help for 2020-21 and beyond. Here’s the stat lines for the other guards/wings on the team this season:

  • 28.6 minutes per game, 9.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.8 turnovers, shooting splits of 33% overall, 29% from the three-point line, 85% from the free throw line, KenPom Offensive Rating of 94.4
  • 18.9 minutes, 5.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 turnovers, shooting splits of 44%/41%/72%, KenPom ORtg of 109.4
  • 25.4 minutes, 7.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 turnovers, shooting splits of 41%/38%/60%, KenPom ORtg of 112.0
  • 11.0 minutes, 1.8 points, 1.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 turnovers, shooting splits of 41%/37%/73%, KenPom ORtg of 104.2
  • Redshirted the season

There’s nothing there that makes you say “yep, 100% ready to watch that guy shoot twice as much” or “yep, absolutely believe he can score 15 points a game next season, no problem at all.” Part of that is the general spottiness of the individual game-to-game performances of these guys, and a lot of that is on them. When Koby McEwen finishes the season with seven straight games with an ORtg under 100, you get worried about what his next season will look like. When Brendan Bailey has more back-to-back scoreless games (one occurrence) than he does back-to-back 10+ point games (zero) in an entire season, you get worried about what his next season will look like. And so on.

While the players have to be at fault for how they performed on the court, Steve Wojciechowski has to be at fault for how he prepared his team, how he developed his team, and how he deployed his team. If Symir Torrence is shooting 37% from long range, should he be playing a lot more? Probably, especially when measured against the 29% from Koby McEwen. Stuff like that.

Part of the reason that we are starting to think that none of these guys can be looked at as dependable every night scorers next season is because Wojciechowski and his staff never put them in positions to look like they could be. In short: If the coaching staff doesn’t want to put them on the court, especially when things are not working with the lineup they have preferred all season, then either the coaches who get paid to do this are horribly wrong or the coaches don’t believe that the players can actually accomplish what the team needs. Neither option is good there, but we’re left with a bad taste in our mouths no matter what.

#2A — Greg Elliott still isn’t healthy

That last bit was getting a liiiiiiitle bit long, so I wanted to break this one out into its own section. We can’t ignore the fact that part of the reason why we can’t 100% trust Greg Elliott at this point is the fact that he’s never been healthy and in uniform at the same time.

He had a dinged up hand in 2017-18, but played through it and made us all say “well, if he’s doing that with one hand, imagine what kind of a guy he’ll be with both!” Then he missed all of 2018-19 after hand surgery for a different injury, although he was cleared to practice and play before the season ended. Then Elliott suffered a “nope, needs surgery immediately, like seriously, not joking, later today” ankle injury over the summer. His recovery estimate had him back to 100% right before the season started, but we’re all kidding ourselves to think that he went into 2019-20 actually at 100% due to the fact that having ankle surgery and 3-4 months of recovery kind of puts a dent in the ol’ cardio ability. Then he missed six games in the middle of the season with an ankle issue. It’s unclear if that is the same ankle that Elliott had surgery on during the summer, but either way it still means that he wasn’t really at 100% from February 1st when he returned onwards.

At the very least, Elliott’s health issues have to ring in the back of Steve Wojciechowski’s head when assessing his roster for 2020-21 and 2021-22. It would irresponsible of him, as the general manager of the team, to not take into account one of his player’s health issues. Thus, there’s an extra incentive to have more guards on the roster merely to have more bodies around if Elliott is unable to play in the future.

#3 — There have been some big swings and misses in recruiting.

As we sit and wait to see if Karim Mane decides to attend Marquette in the fall, we can’t help but look at Steve Wojciechowski’s interest in transferring guards and wonder if this problem could have been solved through recruiting in the past. It’s not an unreasonable question to ask, as you’d much rather build a relationship over a the span of a year or two and bring a kid into your program as opposed to making a quick sell on a transfer and hoping it works out for everyone involved.

With that said, Marquette has spent a lot of time recruiting guards, many of them extremely high profile guys, over the past few years that has resulted in a whole bunch of nothing. Here’s an incomplete list of prospects that Marquette has been connected to that would/should/could be on the 2020-21 roster. I’ll separate them by recruiting class so you can get an idea of how much time was spent when.

  • 2020: Jalen Suggs (#8 in the 247 Composite system), Daishen Nix (#15), Nimari Burnett (#26), RJ Davis (#54), AJ Hoggard (#75)
  • 2019: Nico Mannion (#9), DJ Carton (#34), De’Vion Harmon (#47)
  • 2018: Quentin Grimes (#10), Ayo Dosunmu (#32), Tyler Herro (#37)
  • 2017: Jordan Poole (#93)

Those are just the top 100 guys that Marquette was closely connected to during their recruiting. I’m not even counting things like taking a swing at Ashton Hagans (#12) in 2018 after he decommitted from Georgia but then ended up at Kentucky.

That’s a lot of time out on the road, a lot of time spent making phone calls, a lot of time in general spent on recruiting that went nowhere. On one hand, these things happen. With the way recruiting works, you’re going to strike out more than you connect, no matter how high the recruits are ranked. On the other hand, would Marquette have been better off spending their time working on more top 150 guards as opposed to homing in on all of these top 100 guys, the majority of which are actually top 50 guys? Would the Golden Eagles benefit more from having long term development college players on the roster as opposed to the immediate impact guys that you see here?

How many of the 2018 guys looked at Markus Howard’s freshman year and passed on the Golden Eagles, expecting him to do big things in the future? How many of the 2019 guys looked at Howard’s sophomore campaign and realized what the future of the team was going to be? If you’re a tippy top recruit, getting a chance to do things immediately has to be a part of your calculus when you pick a school. As a result, we have to ask, no matter what the coaching staff was selling, if Howard’s presence ended up being a hinderance to recruiting the very top end players.

If that is an obvious possibility to a casual outside observer, then it has to be a thing that the coaching staff addresses when they’re out on the recruiting trail. If that’s the case, then it also seems obvious that the Golden Eagles might have been better off aiming at slightly less heralded recruits. We’ll never really know what may or may not have happened or worked out better or whatever phrase you want to attach to it, because there’s too many possibilities to consider. But we have to at least ask if Steve Wojciechowski is frantically casting out fishing lines for transfers at this point on the timeline because he didn’t make the smartest use of his time in the past.

I think that about covers it.

No, you’re not supposed to feel good about what’s going on after reading all of that.

It’s not a good situation. It wouldn’t be a good situation for a coach who was coming off four straight NCAA tournament appearances and a conference title. The fact that it’s happening to a coach who has presided over two straight end of season collapses that led to the program’s all-time leading scorer leaving school with nary an NCAA tournament victory to his name only makes it worse. Steve Wojciechowski finds himself in the very awkward situation of needing to strike gold with at least one transfer player, if not two, in order to find success in 2020-21 and find a way to placate a fanbase that is starting to lose their patience with him.

That’s not really a good way to operate, quite honestly. Needing Jayce Johnson to do Jayce Johnson things = good. Needing Joseph Chartouny to play big minutes = bad. We’ll see if Wojciechowski can pull it off. Fingers crossed, I guess.