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2021-22 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Preview: #22 Tyler Kolek

The George Mason transfer will look to have a big role on a rebuilding team in the present and the future.

George Washington v George Mason
What does the transfer from George Mason bring to the table for Marquette?
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The 2021-22 college basketball season is right around the corner, so let’s get into the Marquette Golden Eagles basketball roster and take a look at what to expect from each player this season. We’ll be going through the players one by one: First MU’s freshmen in alphabetical order, then the two underclassmen transfers, then the two super-seniors on their extra year of eligibility, and then finally the three returning players, going in order of average minutes per game last season from lowest to highest.

We’re going to organize our thoughts about the upcoming season as it relates to each player into categories, as we always do:

  • Reasonable Expectations
  • Why You Should Get Excited
  • Potential Pitfalls

With that out of the way, it’s time to talk about the first of two traditional transfers joining the Marquette roster this season........

Tyler Kolek

Sophomore - #22 - Guard - 6’3” - 190 pounds - Cumberland, Rhode Island

Tyler Kolek is the type of player that, in a different year, you could easily convince someone is the type of transfer that takes your team over the edge. Last year’s Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year and largely the catalyst for a George Mason team that had no business being as good as they were, Tyler Kolek is now a valuable young piece to add to the core in Shaka Smart’s first year with the reigns of Marquette basketball.

A 6’3”, 190 pound guard, Tyler Kolek started 18 of the 22 games he played in his freshman campaign for the Patriots. He averaged just over 30 minutes a night, with 10.8 points per game, and ended up fourth in the conference in three-pointers made. Twice he scored 19 points as single-game season highs, averaging 2.4 three-point makes per night.

Coming out of high school as the Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year, Kolek broke out in the A-10 scene despite little fanfare or excitement. He was a two-star recruit and boasted very few notable offers in the grand scheme of things. His great season at George Mason, where he helped the Patriots to a sixth-place finish after being picked to finish 10th thanks in no small part to his emergence, he elected to hit the transfer market. His stock rose fast after announcing his intention to transfer, garnering interest from Oklahoma, UConn, Virginia, and Penn State before eventually signing on with the Golden Eagles on April 14th.

After proving he was an impressive talent at the mid-major level, Kolek (and Smart to a certain extent) is now betting that he has more to give. He could have had a very respectable and impressive career at George Mason. Kolek could have even been a star in the Atlantic 10 and helped lead Mason back into relevance. But instead, he looked for opportunities at a higher caliber conference, and if he’s ready to perform in his role, he can be a VERY valuable asset for the Golden Eagles.

Reasonable Expectations

With so many changing parts in the MU roster in Shaka’s first season, it will take some mixing and matching to find the right rotations and lineups to play in each situation. Fortunately, Kolek is not exactly the kind of player who demands the ball to be effective on regular basis.

At George Mason, he was asked to expand his game to add slashing and a bit of playmaking into his repertoire of effectiveness. But really, it is not asking too much of him to be an effective outside shooter and floor spacer. Kolek shot 35% from deep last season on the second-highest volume in his conference while also showing a really effective mid-range jumper.

In terms of modern-day basketball, where floor spacing and shooting of any kind is king, Tyler fits the bill excellently as a guy who can fill any perimeter role you ask, and while he’s not precisely a pass-first or creative playmaking guard, he will certainly not be a black hole who stop movement.

When matched up with the rest of the guard corps in redshirt senior Greg Elliot, freshman Stevie Mitchell, and Maryland transfer Darryl Morsell, Kolek adds depth to what those guys can do. In the immediate, we will likely see Tyler come off the bench as a scoring weapon who primarily operates as a shooter. But in the future, he is a charming prospect who could develop into more of a full-time true point guard with excellent scoring upside.

If you like a more technical view? T-Rank projects Kolek at 8.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game while getting about 27 minutes of run per night.

Reasons To Get Excited

Not often do you get a player who is, in essence, a freshman recruit with a full year of experience, accolades, and concrete production. Thanks to the COVID relief from the NCAA not to mention the removal of the transfer redshirt year altogether, Kolek comes with a full bill of four possible years of eligibility while already possessing the talents to contribute immediately and the experience to know what he can and can’t do already.

Let’s start with the things we’ve already addressed. Kolek is a high-level shooter and can be so at multiple levels on the floor. He’s effective both in the catch and shoot and off the dribble. He became keener on keeping defenses honest as his ability became known last year by being more open to pump faking when being closed out on hard and either taking a dribble to an available spot and then shooting, or driving and kicking to create more motion. Sometimes that led to open points in the paint, but often it was just continuing the offensive system.

At George Mason last season, he had an effective field goal percentage of 53.8% and an offensive rating of 108.2 despite a relatively low usage rate (17.2% per KenPom.com) relative to his minutes played (75.5%). He’s effective when the ball gets put in his hands, but by no means does he need to be catered to in order to be an impactful player. An excellent attribute for a system player and one that may lead to him getting more and more minutes.

But what makes Kolek an intriguing player and one who could play himself into a more significant role on this team is that he is no slouch on the defensive end.

Averaging 1.7 steals per game last season, good for 10th best in the Atlantic 10, Tyler is a compelling playmaker on the defensive end both as an individual and in a team system. His 2.5% steal rate (#413 per KenPom) on a very mid-team in terms of turnover creation (#138 in defensive turnover rate) proves he is not just serviceable but someone that will add to your defensive identity.

If all you expect is a 3-and-D type role player contributing off the bench this season, you’re going to get that. That’s perfectly exciting and acceptable for his redshirt freshman campaign. But it’s very well possible he exceeds that expectation, which is enough to be excited.

Potential Pitfalls

There are absolutely reasons to be concerned for Kolek, especially in the short term. The good news, to a certain extent, is that it’s harder to know precisely how impactful those concerns will be on a team where he’s more likely to be a role player rather than a 30 minutes a night type player like he was at GMU.

A huge question mark starts with his ability to maintain a level of production night after night when moving to a deeper and more competitive conference in the Big East. The A10 has high-level talent at the top of the conference but falls off dramatically towards the bottom end (8 of 14 teams below 100 in KenPom last season, 4 below 200), whereas the drop in the Big East (two of 11 below 100, no one below 150) is nowhere near as significant. It’s perfectly legitimate to question if Kolek can be as effective in a consistent way.

In games against NCAA tournament teams last year (two vs. VCU and one vs. St. Bonaventure), he did perform well, getting seven 3’s and combining for 31 points, but many of his performances last season were boom or bust outcomes. For as many 16+ point nights that turned up, he had games with fewer than 8 points. When you’re playing 30 minutes a night, that’s not great, to begin with…but when asked to play a particular role, in short spurts and sample sizes, you don’t have the time to not succeed in that role. So, hypothetically, Kolek may not even have the time to come around to those “boom” outcomes if he starts slow.

The other big concern about Kolek’s game is that he lacks a true playmaking aspect to his game. He’s been described as a ball mover in the past which in a vacuum isn’t a problem. However, on a team like Marquette with many guards who aren’t those true playmakers either or at least aren’t proven to be at the college level, it may make Kolek susceptible to getting lost in the shuffle. He’s also not a player you feel overwhelmingly confident in being a ball handler in for extended periods. If you need guard play that facilitates creativity, controls the ball, and is not just a shot-maker, Kolek is not your guy right now.

If Kolek shows an improved skill at distributing and being more of a ball-handling-oriented guard, you’ve got yourself a really excellent guard option who does everything the modern game asks of. But that isn’t a guarantee, and it’s unlikely one offseason has built that skill into his match in a reliable way. You hope to see it develop this year, but right now, for this team, his lack of a proven ability for a full range of “guard play” is a genuine reason to be worried.