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2023-24 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Preview: #11 Tyler Kolek

What’s the upside for the preseason Associated Press All-American?

Baylor v Marquette Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The 2023-24 college basketball season is right around the corner, so let’s dive into the Marquette 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 — we’re skipping Caedin Hamilton because he will be redshirting this season — and then moving on to 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, we wrap up our player previews with a look at the 2023 Big East Player of the Year.......

Tyler Kolek

Senior - #11 - Guard - 6’3” - 190 lbs. - Cumberland, Rhode Island

It is hard to have a more impressive season than what Tyler Kolek did for Marquette last season. He went from having notable questions about his play during his first season in blue and gold to wiping away those questions by being better than that to being the best player in the Big East and it wasn’t close by the end. That’s not an understatement, either. We broke down his season splits in his Player Review in the offseason. Kolek was doing just fine relative to what he was as a sophomore, doing pretty good in fact, and then he found a whole new gear for the final 18 games before the NCAA tournament started.

He was Big East Player of the Year for a reason. He was a consensus All-American for a reason. He is the 2023-24 preseason Big East Player of the Year for a reason. He is a 2023-24 preseason Associated Press All-American — as in one of the five best players in the country — for a reason. This isn’t me or you or any other Marquette fan putting on the biggest and thickest pair of blue and gold colored glasses and looking at it. This is neutral parties, in fact even the guys who get paid millions of dollars to figure out how to stop him, telling you that Tyler Kolek is one of the best players in the country this season.

Reasonable Expectations

And yet, I am coming here today to tell you that we can not reasonably expect Tyler Kolek to be the 2024 Big East Player of the Year.

This is the logical section, the coldly calculating section. This is where we have to look at historical data and say, well, this is what has happened, so this is what’s likely to actually happen.

In the history of the Big East, going all the way back to the 1979-80 season, there are just seven men who have ever won Big East Player of the Year more than once.

St. John’s Chris Mullin (who won it three times), Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing, UConn’s Richard Hamilton, Notre Dame’s Troy Murphy, Boston College’s Troy Bell, Providence’s Kris Dunn, and Villanova’s Collin Gillespie.

No one, and The Rock means no one, has ever won Big East Player of the Year outright twice. Mullin and Ewing shared it twice in 1984 and 1985 after Mullin won it by himself as a sophomore, Hamilton had to share his second with Miami’s Tim James, Murphy shared his second with Bell’s first, Dunn shared his first with Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono, and Gillespie’s first trophy was the first three-way split in league history, and the coaches couldn’t even agree that Gillespie was the best VU player in 2020-21, aka The Weirdest College Basketball Season Ever. He shared that one, his first POY, with teammate Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukelashvili.

So. 44 seasons. Only seven repeat winners, several of them basketball royalty. None of them won it outright twice. I am setting the table here for you: Tyler Kolek might be great this season. Even if he is, he also might not be the best player in the league, and in fact history suggests that he won’t. Let’s be honest: Kolek will face stiff competition from his own teammates if Marquette has the kind of season that being preseason #5 in the Associated Press poll suggests that they’ll have.

By the way, suggests that Kolek will be arguably statistically better than he was last season. After finishing last year averaging 12.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 7.5 assists, the algorithm is projecting him at 14.6 points, 4.2 rebounds..... but only 5.7 assists per game. Like I said, arguably better. Which Tyler Kolek do you want: Big Time Scorer, or Big Time Passer? To a certain extent, you have to choose.

Why You Should Get Excited

Unless you don’t HAVE to choose. When Kolek kicked things into high gear last season, he averaged 16.8 points and 7.8 assists per game across an 18 game stretch while taking home 12 Game MVP awards. An 18 game sample size is an awfully big sample size to just ignore as something that can’t be replicated, even with opponents knowing it’s coming after seeing it last year. Heck, Marquette faced five of their Big East foes twice during that 18 game stretch and two of them three times thanks to the conference tournament, so five of them knew it was coming the second time around and that didn’t matter all that much.

What if Tyler Kolek is capable of doing that for 35-plus games? What if Marquette’s overall production allows him to do that? What if Stevie Mitchell shoots 35% on threes instead of 30%? What if Kam Jones shoots 38% on threes like he did in Big East play instead of 36% like he did for the whole season? What if Ben Gold shoots 40% on threes like he did in Big East play as opposed to his season long 30%? What if all of that extra shooting around Kolek makes him an even more dangerous scorer because the floor gets just a little bit more spaced open for him?

Again, even with this happening, it still might not mean that Kolek is the Player of the Year. But I’ll tell you one thing: Kolek finding a way to recreate that production for a full season is going to go a long way towards MU living up to that #5 ranking.

Oh, and one more thing?

Kolek missed breaking the single season assists record by five assists last year. I find it very important to point out to you that he only missed this because he had a total of nine assists in the NCAA tournament. If he did not suffer his hand injury early against Vermont and ended up with his season average of assists in those two contests — even if MU loses to Michigan State anyway and the season ends there — Kolek breaks Tony Miller’s nearly 30 year old record.

Does Tyler Kolek strike you as the kind of player and person who might be motivated by something like that?

Potential Pitfalls

The biggest problem for Kolek is that he’s probably more likely to have a regression — albeit a small one — than he is to take a massive step forward. That’s not saying anything about his development as a player, it’s just a combination of “it’s hard to get better than he was” and “Marquette’s system tends towards sharing the ball more than requiring any one player to show out on a regular basis.” If the Golden Eagles don’t need Kolek to play like he did down the stretch last season — and if we’re being honest, I suspect that deep down the coaches would like that to be the case just from a team play perspective — then it might feel like he’s having a “worse” season.

But “worse” for Kolek, relative to what he was doing down the stretch, would be 13 points, three rebounds, and seven assists a game while shooting 37% from behind the arc. Remember, before he found a whole new gear last season, Kolek was averaging 9.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 7.6 assists. This was a very good improvement on his sophomore year, and we were all very happy with what he was doing for the first two months of the season. I think we’re all okay with that happening if Marquette is still competing for a Big East title, a top 10 ranking, and a protected seed in the NCAA tournament.