Buzz Williams’ incredible balancing act

Buzz Williams has done an incredible balancing act at Marquette, helping them become elite in the post and in transition. (USA Today)

Buzz Williams has done an incredible balancing act at Marquette, helping them become elite in the post and in transition. (USA Today)

No coach in the country is harder and more brutally honest on his team than Buzz Williams, and one of his favorite lines goes something to the tune of, “When we do what we’re supposed to do, we’re pretty good; when we don’t do what we’re supposed to do, we really struggle.”

Last season Marquette’s offense had its fair share of struggles, failing to top 60 points seven different times, which meant possessions were of the utmost importance. The only way the Golden Eagles were going to succeed was to move the ball inside and out, play within the offense and take high percentage shots whenever possible. It also meant not taking high percentage shots if those were unavailable, learning to make a good shot a great one (OK, all done with the cliches, but it was true).

And for the most part Williams’ offense did that. Though the Golden Eagles were fourth in scoring (68.3), they were the most efficient group (106.9) and were second in effective field goal percentage (50.2 percent). They got to the free-throw line plenty (second best FTA/FGA percentage in Big East play) and led the conference in offensive rebounding percentage, a sure indicator of high percentage shots and, thus, better efficiency.

Every year Williams’ offense finds a way to maintain the balance of running half-court sets and picking up the pace in transition. It’s an extremely underrated aspect of his coaching style; Williams’ offenses have never been outside the top-40 in efficiency, yet he’s played as slow as 63.7 adjusted possessions per game (309th fastest) and as fast as 71.4 possessions (9th fastest).

Last year Marquette, led by Davante Gardner, Chris Otule and Jamil Wilson inside, was the fifth most efficient post-up team in the country, based on points per possession. In 182 possessions, Marquette put up 1.115 PPP, behind only Creighton, Stetson, Stephen F. Austin and North Dakota State, which led the country with 1.204 PPP. In classic Buzz fashion, though, Marquette’s 182 possessions were 103rd most in the country. The Golden Eagles probably could have fed Gardner more, and Wilson passed up decent looks from time-to-time, but it would have hurt efficiency. In Williams’ terms, it wouldn’t have been “what we were supposed to do.”

Consider for a moment that Marquette was the fifth best post-up team in the country, exclusively a half-court statistic. Yet the Golden Eagles were also 14th in the country in transition offense (1.183 PPP). Just how good was that number? Look at the top-15 post-up teams compared to their transition numbers (NCAA rank), and vice versa.

Top 15 transition teams (PPP)


Top 15 post-up teams (PPP)


The closest team to Marquette with top-ranked transition AND post-up offenses was St. Louis, which ranked 15th in post-up offense and 29th in transition. Still, this list is quite telling. Marquette’s extremely efficient offense was based on plenty, but its balance last season both in the post and in transition did more than anything.

In 2013-14, transition offense may be an issue after Junior Cadougan graduated and Vander Blue, who was Marquette’s best transition scorer of the last five seasons, left early for the NBA draft. If Derrick or Duane Wilson can ease some of the point guard duties Cadougan filled, and if Todd Mayo and Jajuan Johnson can help Marquette get out and run, Williams should have the ability to keep the Golden Eagles near the top of the ranks once again.

What is known is that Marquette’s post-up numbers will be as good as ever. Gardner and Otule will lead the charge as seniors, while Jamil Wilson and Steve Taylor Jr. should see time in the paint, too.

Of everything Williams has done well as Marquette’s lead man, his ability to get his players to play efficiently and within their own strengths is at the top of the list. It’s clear Williams has Marquette “doing what it’s supposed to do.”

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Categories: Analysis, Offseason


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