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

It was a dizzying season of ups and downs for the sophomore from Rhode Island.

Marquette v Seton Hall Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

With the 2021-22 season long since in the books, let’s take a few moments to look back at the performance of each member of YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles this year. While we’re at it, we’ll also take a look back at our player previews and see how our preseason prognostications stack up with how things actually played out. We’ll run through the roster in order of total minutes played going from lowest to highest, and today we move along to

Tyler Kolek

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

Tyler Kolek Traditional Stats

Games Min FGM FGA FG% 3PTM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% OReb DReb Reb Ast Stl Blk Fouls Pts
Games Min FGM FGA FG% 3PTM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% OReb DReb Reb Ast Stl Blk Fouls Pts
32 29.3 2.3 7.0 32.0% 1.1 4.0 28.1% 1.1 1.3 81.0% 0.5 3.2 3.7 5.9 1.4 0.1 1.9 6.7

Tyler Kolek Fancy Stats

ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR% ARate TORate Blk% Stl% FC/40 FD/40 FTRate
ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR% ARate TORate Blk% Stl% FC/40 FD/40 FTRate
92.3 19.7% 16.2% 40.0% 43.7% 1.9% 11.3% 34.1%** 24.6% 0.2% 2.6%** 2.6 2.3 18.7%

** — notes a top 500 national ranking per KenPom.com

WHAT WE SAID:

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 Elliott, 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.

Do you want to start with the good news or the bad news? We’re going to have to get to both of them by the time we’re done here.

Let’s go with the good news first, because a narrative structure of “buuuuut.....” in the middle of the article is always pretty solid at worst. This is the good news: Shaka Smart and his staff envisioned a very different Tyler Kolek than what his one year at George Mason showed us, and more importantly than that, they also managed to draw that player out incredibly well. What we saw from George Mason was a guy who could impact the game on the perimeter in a variety of ways, but probably wasn’t ever going to get confused for a playmaking guard. What Smart and his staff saw was a guy they could turn into one of the most effective passing guards in the entire country.... and so they did.

It was a completely different role than what Kolek had at GMU, but it worked! Kolek went from averaging 2.3 assists a game with a rate of 14% in the Atlantic 10 to 5.9 a game — the best average in the league, by the way, and one of just two guys north of 4.4 — and a rate of 34.1% in the Big East. He was incredible at landing a pass exactly where a teammate needed it to make the next play, whether that was hitting the open shot or even just driving to the rim. Kolek’s 34.1% assist rate per KenPom ranked #25 — TWENTY-FIFTH — in the country. At 32.6% in the 19 game Big East regular season, he ranked third in the league behind only Jared Bynum and Kadary Richardson in terms of assist rate.

It is at this point that I want to remind you that he did this while playing with guys that he met last summer. More importantly, Kolek did this while playing with guys that only met each other last summer. He wasn’t an elite level distributor on a team he’s played with for years, nor did he do that while being dropped into a team that had a rhythm with one another already.

And this is where we put the “buuuuuut.....” in the story.

He went from shooting 51% on twos at George Mason to just 37.1% at Marquette. 35.9% on threes in the Atlantic 10, including 37% in league play, dropped to a very not okay 28.1% with the Golden Eagles. This is all bad.

We can, however say “yes, well” to some of it. In Big East play, Kolek ended up shooting 33.3% from long range. This is not super, in fact, we have to qualify it as “functional at best.” It’s also miles and miles better than the — and this is not a joke — 20% he was shooting in Marquette’s first 11 games of the season. If you watched Kolek fail to hit one three a game on 4.5 attempts up through the game against UCLA like we all did, you would have signed a contract for 23-for-69 in the next 19 contests so fast, you might have torn the pen straight through the paper.

I’m not going to worry too much about his two-point shooting, because I think if he manages his long range shooting better, it’s going to give him better looks at the rim by way of changing how defenses play him. However, we can clearly identify Kolek’s shooting problem: He can’t shoot off the dribble, or at the very least, completely failed to do so. From our friends at Synergy Sports: Kolek shot 15% — 9-for-59 — on all jump shots off the dribble. In plays marked as “spot-up,” Kolek shot 41% with an effective field goal percentage of 61.6% — so there was a bunch of made threes in there — on No Dribble Jumpers. On Dribble Jumpers off a spot up? 0-for-9.

This is good news and bad news. The bad news that he was really really really bad at shooting off the dribble. The good news is that Shaka Smart — most likely by way of offensive guru Nevada Smith — identified this problem and just got him to stop doing that. The other part of the good news? He’s got a whole summer to fix that problem.

The other major “buuuuuuut” to Kolek’s first season in Milwaukee? Yeah, it’s the turnovers. A Big East best 5.9 assists per game is pretty great, no doubt about it. That 2.5 turnovers per game, which turns into 3.4 per 40 minutes, or 4.8 per 100 possessions? It’s really not good. It’s still an assist to turnover ratio of 2.35-to-1, so it’s not like it’s killing the team or something. However, you don’t want to see your point guard coughing the ball up on nearly a full one-quarter of all possessions while he’s on the floor. Marquette finished the season as the #64 most efficient offense in the country per KenPom.com. Finagling an extra point per 100 possessions out of that number, going from 109.2 to 110.2 or 1.09 to 1.10 per possession if you prefer, would have jumped MU into the top 50. I don’t think it’s a strong statement to say that Kolek’s turnover rate is the difference between those two things, especially not when his assist rate was so high. Every time a possession ended with him giving it away was a possession that automatically could not end with him finding Kam Jones open in the corner or what have you. It’s not ideal, especially when Kolek was more than adequate at keeping track of the ball (16.2% turnover rate!) as a freshman with the Patriots.

Was the problem the complete change in role? I don’t think that was the only problem, but yeah, it was almost assuredly a major contributing factor. Kolek was being asked to play a completely different way than he was at Mason. Of course he struggled at times to figure it out on every single possession.

The other most notable contributing factor? Tyler Kolek’s attitude. Remember the game during the season when Shaka Smart told him to shoot more and it turned into the two of them MFing each other on the court? Or how he started singing Country Roads along with the Marquette faithful at the end of the West Virginia game? Or when he had to be pulled away from hollering at the Kansas State crowd after Oso Ighodaro’s game winning block?

Yeah. All of that. That’s the kind of guy you want on your team, provided he’s keeping it under control and using it to fuel him. The kind of guy who’s fearless, who’s more afraid of not taking the chance to succeed than he is of failing at the chance. The kind of guy who has an brimful of confidence and belief in himself to make the kinds of plays he knows he can make every single time up and down the court.

Sometimes those turn into misses. Not just missed shots, but missed passes, or dribbling into a problem, or what have you. That’s how you get something that’s probably right past the edge of a turnover rate that you’d like to see from your lead guard. It’s also fixable, and perhaps even more comfort with his teammates after an offseason of bonding will help Kolek solve that problem for himself.

BEST GAME

It’s not going to be this game for a multitude of reasons, but can we just point out that Tyler Kolek had 10 assists without a turnover in the North Carolina game? It was a disaster on a lot of levels as a game, but I don’t think we can say that Kolek was part of the problem on any level.

His season high for points was 18, and he did that twice. I think it’s a safe bet that one of them is the option here. The first one was the aforementioned West Virginia game, where he finished with 18 on 7-for-12 shooting, including an atypical 4-for-8 from long range outing, plus six rebounds and a whopping eight assists. However, he also had five turnovers, which means we turn our attention to the other 18 point outing: At home against Villanova.

That was a game that was ripe for Marquette coughing up a loss. They were coming off that narrow defeat at Providence that broke their seven game winning streak, and the Wildcats were probably annoyed about losing at the horn to MU in the Pavilion. Kolek shot 5-for-13 from the field, including 38% from downtown, and added six assists and two steals. Turnovers? Just three, and Marquette won 83-73 to move to 8-4 in Big East play and 16-7 on the year.

SEASON GRADE

This is one of the harder seasons to grade. If you compare what actually happened against what we thought might happen, we got a wildly different Tyler Kolek than we thought we would get. He wasn’t part of the rotation in the back court, he was the starting point guard in all 32 games. He was much better than we could possibly have expected as a distributing point guard, but much worse when it comes to holding up his end on the scoring front. The turnovers don’t help, either.

It’s hard to say that the season was a roaring success as a result, but it’s also very clearly nowhere near a failure. Given that Kolek’s biggest problems seemed to be trending upwards, even if just a little bit, towards the end of the season, I’m going to give him an 8 for the year as a whole.