How much do freshmen play for Buzz Williams?

(Photo by A. Martina Ibanez-Baldor)

Does Buzz Williams play freshmen less than any coach in the country? (Photo by A. Martina Ibanez-Baldor)

Everyone knows Buzz Williams doesn’t play freshmen. It’s been obvious to any observer the past five years and became even more so in a study by Dan Hammer on RealGM showing that Buzz plays freshmen less than any other coach in the country giving them only 8 percent of possible minutes. It’s very convincing and provides a solid explanation as to why Williams’ teams play so efficiently on offense.

There are a lot of things one can learn from this table. For example, this is one of the reasons Bo Ryan, Mike Brey, Stew Morrill, and Buzz Williams are able to churn out elite offenses year-after-year without superior athletes. Their teams simply avoid freshmen mistakes.

He continues saying:

But what about Top 100 PG recruit Duane Wilson who is headed to Marquette? Given incumbent PG Derrick Wilson’s shooting troubles last year, Duane Wilson seems like the type of freshman who should play a big role next year. But that would go strongly against Buzz Williams track record.

This is, to put it mildly, bullshit. Pardon my french but this is the kind of information that drives faulty narratives. Hell, I used to buy into that as well. But simple math disproves this thesis.

Chart by Andrei Greska

Chart by Andrei Greska

As you can see in the chart above, Williams has given freshman 20 percent of available minutes, not the 8 as listed in the article. The author was making a simple error that someone not familiar with Marquette would completely overlook. He didn’t take into account that Jeronne Maymon transferred mid season despite getting 16.3 minutes per game or even Reggie Smith for that matter. He didn’t add in the fact that Junior Cadougan missed 2/3 of the season and Chris Otule broke his foot.

Williams now goes from dead last in the rankings to middle of the pack above guys like Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo and Jim Boeheim. No one is accusing them of not playing freshmen. There is no malicious intent in misrepresenting the data, but in this day and age, a simple miscalculation can have wide reaching effects.

Still, this only took into account true freshman. What would the stats look like if you included all of the junior college transfers in their first years? Granted, the appeal is that they are a bit more seasoned than regular high school recruits and are not as prone to mistakes. But if Buzz truly didn’t trust all newcomers, then junior college players wouldn’t be very different as they are new after all.


Chart by Andrei Greska

The numbers are eye-popping when you include first-year junior college transfers. Williams goes from middle of the pack to third most among all college coaches behind only Rick Barnes and Jon Calipari.

When it comes down to it, Williams doesn’t care whether you are a little-recruited freshman, top-25 player or junior college transfer. All that matters is performance and that is not nearly as easy to predict. Below is the same table as above, only organized by percentage of minutes played and with the player’s ranking included.

Chart by Andrei Greska

Chart by Andrei Greska

Will Duane Wilson or any of the other freshman get big minutes? Maybe. If they do it’s not because they were highly ranked, as there were some top-100 RSCI players to ride pine more than their less-heralded counterparts. If they don’t it’s not because Buzz hates freshman, as Todd Mayo, Blue and Maymon all saw more than 40 percent of possible minutes. It’s all about performance, and that is much more difficult to quantify.

The biggest takeaway is that Jameel McKay’s departure will open up a lot of minutes, as all JuCos under Buzz have played heavy minutes barring injury.

Next time you hear someone say Buzz doesn’t play freshman, you can beat that misconception back with a simple link.

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