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2022-23 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Preview: #10 Zach Wrightsil

Is the 2022 NAIA Player of the Year the biggest mystery on the roster this season?

Zach Wrightsil
How much of Zach Wrightsil are we going to see at Fiserv Forum this season?
Marquette University

The 2022-23 college basketball season is right around the corner, so let’s dive 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 roster one by one: First MU’s three freshmen in last name alphabetical order, then the lone transfer on the squad, moving on to the guy coming of a redshirt freshman year, and then finally the returning active players from last season, 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 lone senior on Marquette’s roster this season as well as the lone transfer on the roster......

Zach Wrightsil

Senior - #10 - Forward - 6’7” - 215 pounds - Prosper, Texas

With a hometown in Texas, Zach Wrightsil comes to Marquette after spending the past four seasons at Loyola University New Orleans, which is, of course, in Louisiana. With four years of college experience behind him, this will be his one and only season with the Golden Eagles thanks to the bonus year of eligibility that the NCAA granted to athletes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wrightsil capped off his time at Loyola-New Orleans in about the best possible way you possibly can: A national championship and a national Player of the Year trophy. He averaged 18.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2.2 steals as a senior to pick up that national honor. The Wolf Pack advanced all the way to the NAIA title game, where they defeated Talladaega College 71-56 behind 19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and five steals from Wrightsil. He leaves Loyola as the program’s all time leader in points, rebounds, and assists, and managed to get into the top five in steals and blocks as well, even though he stands just 6’7”.

It’s very clear that Wrightsil is one hell of a basketball player in the biggest sense of the word. What position does he play? Basketball player. The only flaw that we can point to in his game is an inability to hit three-pointers. As a freshman, he shot just 31% on 70 attempts, which isn’t great, particularly since he was the team’s leading scorer that year. In the three years since? Wrightsil is just 10-for-62.... which is 16%. It’s very clearly not a strength, or at the very least, it’s something that the Loyola coaching staff had no interest in worrying about. Take last year for example, where their top three guys in attempts were hitting at least 34% and their top two guys were north of 37%. With that going on, you just don’t have to take into consideration that Wrightsil doesn’t do it well and just focus on getting him free to do the things that he does do well.... which is apparently literally anything else on a basketball court.

Reasonable Expectations

We’re talking about the best player in the NAIA ranks last year making the jump all the way up past Division 3, Division 2, and low major Division 1 into the Big East. It’s a lot, but that POY trophy does go a long way towards making me think that maybe, just maybe, this works out well enough. After all, Shaka Smart, Neill Berry, DeAndre Haynes, and Cody Hatt have all forgotten more about basketball than I will probably ever learn at this point. If they think that Wrightsil is going to work out for the role that they sold him on, then I chose to believe that they’re right, especially since he’s the only transfer that the Golden Eagles brought in, even with one scholarship still available to be used for this season.

Keep that in mind when I tell you that T-Rank projects Wrightsil to play 25 minutes a night and average 9.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists a night.

Without actually getting a real chance to see how Smart and his staff are fitting Wrightsil into the rotation, I don’t know if I want to say that I agree with that projection wholeheartedly. Open scrimmage footage doesn’t count as a measure of how he fits in, because the team’s split in half. We didn’t get a leaked box score from the closed door exhibition against Loyola, so we don’t even get a chance to roughly estimate minutes from that, either.

But Wrightsil is here for a reason, y’know? He’s going to get a chance to contribute, that’s for sure. Carve it down to maybe 7 and 4 in 15 minutes a night as a reasonable baseline for what’s possible?

Why You Should Get Excited

I could build up to this if I wanted to, but I think it makes a bigger impact if I just start this section with it: Zach Wrightsil is the guy that Shaka Smart took one look at and said “yes, this is the missing piece on our 2022-23 roster.” Could have gone in a lot of directions, and you could argue that Marquette tried to with the number of transfer guys that they at least looked into bringing on board. But Wrightsil is the guy they locked in on once it became clear that he was interesting in trying his hand at the Division 1 level, and he’s the guy that they went all the way with.

Can I tell you a story? It’s a story from over a decade ago. Way back when, Marquette took a gamble on a player who had proven he could excel well below the high major level. He ended up playing over 27 minutes a night for his first season in blue and gold, and averaged 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.3 steals a night, and nearly a block per game, too. I say all of this to make the point that sometimes, even now 10 years later when it’s easier than every to share video across the country, guys just slip under the radar somehow. Maybe for one reason or another, they just don’t get the recruiting attention they should get, but they’re one hell of a basketball player, and they can make a big impact on a team like Marquette.

The guy I was referring to a minute ago? 2010 NJCAA Player of the Year Jae Crowder. Do I think Zach Wrightsil is going to be Big East Player of the Year/NBA Draft pick/valuable rotation man for a decade in the NBA Jae Crowder? I am absolutely not saying that. Can he be in the ballpark of 12/7/2/1/1 for a Marquette team that is overachieving their preseason predictions and part of the reason is Wrightsil’s scrappy make-the-tough-plays do-it-all style this year? Yeah, that certainly seems like something that the coaching staff is envisioning.

Potential Pitfalls

It’s a long way from NAIA to the Big East and beyond. A long, long way. We don’t know how Wrightsil fits into this team, and that’s a big problem. He’s not playing a backcourt position, that’s for sure, Marquette’s too deep there. He’s also probably not going to be playing a lot of center, because those minutes are going to primarily go to Oso Ighodaro.... but that’s where Wrightsil was playing a lot last season for Loyola. After all, he was the third tallest guy on the roster for them. I’m not going to take a strong survey of all of their competition, but they did play Talladega more than just in the national championship game last year because they shared a conference. They played four times last year, and Talledega had just two guys taller than Wrightsil, with both at 6’9”. You can make that work with Wrightsil as your center.

But Wrightsil, even at 10 pounds heavier than he was listed at Loyola last year, going up against Adama Sanogo and Ryan Kalkbrenner? Yeah, that might not be in Marquette’s best interest. Can he play the 4? Is he agile enough to step out to the wing to defend guys at the 3? What if he’s not? What if playing defense, the most important part of things for Shaka Smart, is where Wrightsil’s flaws come up the biggest? What if he just can’t stay in front of guys at this level and isn’t able to play at all? What if the coaching staff persists in trying to make it work just three or four games longer than they really should and that starts costing Marquette wins?

At one point last season, Shaka Smart said that you have to be able to hit the three-pointer to play for him, at least at the 1 through 4 positions. If Wrightsil can’t defend as a 5, then he’s playing one of the other four spots.... and if he can’t hit threes..... well, I’m not trying to say that Smart’s a hypocrite for trying to wedge him into the roster, but what if the system relies on having four shooting threats, and having Wrightsil out there means that there’s only three shooters on the floor? How big of a deal is that for MU’s offensive efficiency?

If Wrightsil’s contributions to the team prove to be valuable on both ends, the ceiling for this team is very high. If his weaknesses are noticeably detrimental to the team.... things could go poorly, depending on how fast the coaching staff admits their mistake.