With the 2022-23 season long, looooooooong 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 wrap up the entire series with MU’s starting point guard who set the tone for the season both on and off the court..........
Junior - #11 - Guard - 6’3” - 190 pounds - Cumberland, Rhode Island
Tyler Kolek Traditional Stats
Tyler Kolek Fancy Stats
** — notes a top 5 national ranking per KenPom.com
*** — notes a top 500 national ranking per KenPom.com
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.
We’ll get into discussing the talking points set out in Tyler Kolek’s preview from last fall in a little bit, but I want to take a look at something else first.
Through January 6th, Marquette was 12-4 overall and off to a 4-1 start in Big East play. The losses were mostly speaking understandable: At Purdue, neutral vs Mississippi State when MU couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean, at home in overtime to Wisconsin when Chucky Hepburn couldn’t miss, in double overtime on the road against Providence. Sure, fine, a good season so far.
Tyler Kolek’s stat line through those 16 games: 9.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.8 steals, with shooting splits of 44% overall, 35% from behind the three-point line, and 81% from the free throw line.
On January 7th, Marquette hosted Georgetown, picking up a 95-73 victory after trailing at halftime. Tyler Kolek was tabbed as the KenPom.com MVP of the game, his first such honor of the season. Through the end of the Big East tournament — and you all know why I’m cutting it off there — Kolek would win a total of 12 KP MVP awards in MU’s 18 games as the Golden Eagles went 16-2, including each of the last six, and yes, that includes all three Big East tournament games.
Kolek’s stat line in those 18 games: 16.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 1.9 steals, with shooting splits of 51% overall, 42% from behind the three-point line, and 81% from the free throw line.
If Kolek had just kept that First 16 Games line running for the rest of the season, we would probably all have stood up at the end of the year and said “hey, that was very good, glad to see it.” With the exception of the free throw shooting, which was effectively a tie, those numbers are all improvements on the year before, which is exactly what we were saying that we should expect to see from Kolek in 2022-23.
Except he did not do that.
Tyler Kolek found a way to go from “I have improved from last year” to “I have improved on my improvements from last year.” He went from “that’s the kind of Tyler Kolek that this team needs to be an NCAA tournament team” to “That’s the best player in one of the best leagues in the country.”
I think it’s important to point out that Kolek was not playing at the same high rate all season long. It’s important to point this out because when we talk about his season long stats, we’re actually looking at stats that were ever so slightly dragged down by the good but not amazing start to the season. It’s also important to point that out because the fact of the matter is that Marquette’s season ended ever so slightly faster than we wanted to end because Kolek injured his hand early against Vermont in the NCAA tournament and thus was not himself.
In the NCAA tournament: 7.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 26% from the field, 44% from three-point land, 50% from the free throw line.
If we get Early Season Tyler — not Big East POY Tyler, just the improvement from last year — against Michigan State, Marquette’s in the Sweet 16, and you can’t convince me otherwise. He meant that much to the team, and as good as everyone was at their role, they were only able to be that good at their role because Kolek was being somewhere between Good and Exceptional all season long.
Let’s hit the highlights of what he did or did not do relative to what we brought up in our preview. Kolek did shoot the ball more per game this season, taking his attempts from 9.6 per game to 12.0 overall and 12.4 in Big East regular season contests. He jumped his shooting percentages — overall, two-pointers, and three-pointers — by noticeable changes from sophomore year to junior year, which means he didn’t have to shoot it all that much more to be lethally dangerous just by way of the ball going in a whole hell of a lot. That’s also how you go from 5.9 assists per game to 7.5 assists per game along with going from an assist rate of 34.1% (#25 in the country per KenPom) as a sophomore to 39.8% and ranking #4 in the country. Good stuff. Kolek ultimately did not lead the country in assists, as Yuri Collins remained ridiculous to the tune of 10.1 assists a night, but Kolek did finish third behind Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell. Going from seventh to third is pretty good, and hey: It gives Kolek something unfinished from this season to drive him forward next season.
The turnovers disappeared, by the way. Kolek’s turnover rate went from 24.6% of possessions used to just 18.5%. Yes, he finished with the exact same per game average, 2.5 an outing. He was also under 2.4 turnovers per game before hurting his hand against Vermont and given that his usage shot way up, I’m fine with “only” collapsing the turnover rate and not the actual per game average as well.
Finally, we have to talk about Kolek’s on court demeanor. As mentioned in the preview from last fall, he had a tendency to be a loose cannon at times. I can not remember a single time that he seemed out of pocket in 2022-23. If you can think of one, please sound off in the comments, but after dropping the immortal “Eff ‘em” at Big East Media Day in regards to Marquette’s 9th place projection, it would certainly seem that Kolek directed all of his energy in a positive direction to prove that statement to be true.
There are a lot of options, because that’s what happens when you’re Big East Player of the Year. The home game against DePaul where Marquette clinched a share of the regular season title? 22 points on 5-for-9 shooting, 14 assists, two steals. The road game against Butler where Marquette clinched sole possession of the title? 31 points on 9-for-13 shooting, two rebounds, 10 assists, and a steal. How about his first KenPom MVP game of the season, where he scored just seven points on five shots, but because he had three rebounds, 15 assists, and four steals without a single turnover against Georgetown, he was the best guy in the game.
I think I actually want to argue for the road trip to Providence, though. From my recap, discussing the first overtime session:
Providence went on a 10-2 run to lead 88-80 with 2:18 to go. Looked over! Tyler Kolek said “NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND,” and single handedly pulled out some steals and layups and free throws to make it 88-87 with 64 seconds left. Drama! Bryce Hopkins made one of his 13 free throws to make it a two point game, and then a drive, a spin, a fadeaway from Kolek, TIED at 89!
He single-handedly shoved that game into double overtime while posting a season and career high 29 points. He was nigh unstoppable, shooting 11-for-15 from the field and added five rebounds, three assists, and five steals before fouling out early in the second extra session.
A great individual performance from Kolek, and one that’s worth highlighting as such. It was also a loss, and he also did not have a great assists game as Marquette dropped to 9-4 on the season and 1-1 in league play. Is it possible that this particular 50 minutes of basketball is somehow responsible for the 20-3 run that came after it, and thus it becomes even more notable as Kolek’s most important game of the season?
It’s a 10. You win Big East Player of the Year after not being one of the 15 guys who picked up a preseason all-conference honor in October? After none of your teammates were one of the 15 either? Yeah, that’s a perfect 10 of a season, I don’t care what the arguments against it are. Sound off in the comments if you want, but it’s not changing my mind.