The 2022-23 college basketball season is right around the corner, so let’s dive into the Marquette Golden Eagles men’s 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 wrap up our series with MU’s returning starting point guard and the returning guy with the highest average minutes from last season……..
Junior - #11 - Guard - 6’3” - 190 pounds - Cumberland, Rhode Island
No one expected what we got from Tyler Kolek last season. No one, that is, except for the Marquette coaching staff. We thought we were getting a guy that was maybe a little overlooked while getting recruited to George Mason as he had earned Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors the year before. A guy who could probably step right in and contribute as a shooting option at the very least, and if he could do a little ballhandling, then neat, all the better.
What we got was the Big East’s leader in assists per game along with KenPom.com’s #25 assist rate at the national level. We got a guy who has a weirdly preternatural ability to not just hit the open man but hit the open man in exactly the right way for the open man to let his shot rip. As the season went along, it was obviously and rapidly apparent that Marquette’s offense was just not the same without Kolek on the floor. It just felt better with him out there, even if Hoop Explorer says that it was kind of about the same.
Maybe that’s because the defense was better with Kolek on the floor. Maybe getting a few more stops made the offense a little bit more charged up, and that’s why the feel was different. Maybe it was Kolek’s attitude, sometimes bubbling underneath the surface, sometimes bubbling over the top, that made things a little bit more lively. In any case, Kolek brings something special to the floor for the Golden Eagles, and we’re going to need to see a lot of it this year.
Tyler Kolek led the Big East in assists per game last season at 5.9 per game. He and Posh Alexander from St. John’s were the only two guys to clear 4.5 helpers a night, and both guys were well north of five. That’s overall. In just league competition, it’s Kolek at #1 and Alexander at #2, but this time it’s Jared Bynum coming in at 4.9 per contest and Kadary Richmond was right behind Bynum at 4.7 per game.
This is a very long way around to say that while it’s reasonable to think that Kolek can lead the league in assists per game again, it’s also logical to think that maybe one of those other three guys figure out a way to clip past him. It’s not just that they weren’t that far off from beating him out for the assists title last season, it’s that Kolek’s role on the team does have to change evvvvvvver so slightly.
Kolek has to start shooting it more. Not a lot more, not doubling his 7.0 attempts per game or anything like that. Marquette does not have a clear cut obvious guy to carry the scoring charge this season. Maybe someone takes that role, but for now, when we’re setting expectations, we have to say that Kolek has to do a little bit more scoring to help everything move along.
It’s not just to help Marquette’s offense, it’s to make him a bigger threat. If teams have to start respecting his drive to the bucket and his long range jumper, that pass/shoot/drive threat that you want from a point guard gets even more dangerous for Kolek. Last year, Kolek shot under 40% on two-point attempts, which is bad. He has to find his touch and start putting layups and floaters through the rim. He also looked like had completely lost his three-point accuracy after connecting on 36% at George Mason. Kolek missed his first eight three-point attempts last season and started off the year 3-for-15. Bad! He would eventually recover and shoot 33% against Big East foes, and that’s all I’m asking for this year. Be a credible threat both behind the arc and going to the rim. Make teams take your shot seriously, which helps you get a chance to drive it more, and now they don’t know what you’re doing. A credible drive leads to a collapsing defense, and now there’s lots of open guys to pass to, and hooooboy, look at those assists pile up.
The actual stats he puts up aren’t that important, but the process as to how he gets there does matter very much.
Why You Should Get Excited
Shaka Smart said the goal for Kolek is to go from leading the Big East in assists to leading the country in assists. That’s not something that Kolek wants to do, that’s something the coaching staff wants to generate for him. A little bit of an increase in pace of play for the Golden Eagles will help, of course. More possessions = more shot attempts = more assisted baskets. If the offense gets a little bit more efficient along with that speed — the Golden Eagles were only #64 in the country in efficiency per KenPom.com last season — then that helps find more assists, too.
It’s not that crazy, by the way. Kolek finished tied with Morehead State’s Ta’lon Cooper for the seventh most assists per game last season and both guys were just 0.1 assists short of tying Florida Gulf Coast’s Tavian Dunn-Martin for sixth place. He was in the running to a certain extent a year ago.
I say a certain extent because if the chart shakes out with the same numbers that it did last season, Kolek is going to have to manage to carve out at least two more assists per game. Saint Louis’ Yuri Collins led the country at 7.9 assists per game last season. That’s exactly two assists per game more than Kolek had, so he’s going to need to close that gap.
But again: The coaching staff wants to engineer the offense to get him there. That goes a long way towards making it happen.
Tyler Kolek plays with an incredible edge. He’s an incredibly mean basketball player, and I mean that in a “tough minded” kind of way, not in a “is dirty” kind of way, 100% complimentary here. However, it’s called an “edge” for a reason: Sometimes you fall off of it.
Sometimes Kolek is playing right on the edge and it’s awesome. When he’s singing along to Country Roads as the Golden Eagles close out West Virginia: Awesome. When he’s MFing his head coach because dammit, he knows when he needs to score and and when to lay off, don’t tell him what to do, see, look, there’s a couple of buckets for you: Awesome.
When his teammates are pulling him away from student sections on the road? Maybe not so awesome. When he gets so wound up in his head that Shaka Smart has to put him on the bench and send one of the assistants over to tell him that he needs to sit there and take some deep breaths and get it back together because he’s useless to the team in his current state? Also maybe not so awesome.
If he can harness his energy, harness that edge to make it a weapon against the opponent, and do it all the time, then the sky’s the limit for Kolek in a Marquette uniform. If he can’t manage his behavior and funnel his attitude, and it starts causing dysfunction in the team, in a year when maaaaaybe the margins are a little too small for the Golden Eagles? Hoooo, could be ugly.
Oh, and he has to stop turning the ball over. I get that he’s the point guard and he’s going to have the ball more than anyone else and that’s going to lead to a few more turnovers than lots of other people. Sometimes that “I throw the perfect passes” thing means he reads it ever so slightly wrong or maybe the intended teammate isn’t actually looking at Kolek and the pass goes into the 7th row. The fact of the matter is that, rounding to the nearest whole number, a full 25% of possessions assigned to Kolek as usage last season went as a turnover. That number stayed pretty static, even if you’re looking at Big East play or top 100 opponents or whatever kind of split stat you want to look at. These turnovers are part of the reason why Kolek had a below average Offensive Rating per KenPom when the season was over. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that if he just cuts his turnovers by one-fifth, that’s going to be a lot more possessions that end in a Marquette shot, and if that shot is generated by a Kolek pass, then it’s probably going in more often than not. Big win all around if you ask me.