The somewhat surprising news came down around 7:45 p.m. that Marquette was not selected to participate in the National Invitation Tournament, and it officially closed the book on one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory.
A source told Paint Touches that Marquette did not turn down an invitation and, judging from the tweets sent out by a handful of players after the news broke, the Golden Eagles expected to be one of the 19 at-large teams to earn a bid. Minutes later, Mike Broeker tweeted that Marquette would not be participating in any further postseason play (both the CBI and CIT tournaments were options), which shouldn’t have been much of a surprise — for the 17th ranked team at the start of the year, missing the NIT should (and did) close the book on a disappointing season.
So the question asked by everyone now, on this the first day of the offseason, is how does the problem get fixed? How does Buzz Williams bounce back from his first year without making an NCAA Tournament appearance? It’s new territory for the sixth year head coach who has won 139 games, making this spring and summer perhaps his most important yet. He studies a different aspect of basketball each month, and it’s a good bet that he’ll hit the books, the film room, the telephones and coaching clinics harder than ever.
Whatever Williams studies, his first true order of business will be figuring out the roster. Marquette is currently at 13 scholarships for the 2014-15 season, but that doesn’t include commit Malek Harris. The Golden Eagles did not sign Harris, who committed in June, during the early period because of off-the-court issues. Michael Hunt wrote last month that Harris is expected to sign at some point, and Paint Touches has heard the same. That means one returning player will not be on the team next season; it’s not all that surprising seeing as Marquette has had at least one player transfer each year under Williams, but it’s a situation that needs attending to.
At this point trying to figure out who that player will be is nothing more than conjecture. There’s a chance Williams and the coaching staff don’t even know right now who that player will be, and guessing whether a lack of playing time or being upset in a current role will be the reason why is incomplete and unfair. For that reason, unfortunately, we won’t name any names; odds are you, the reader, have a few in mind already, so go with that and let the cards fall where they may. We’ll keep you posted as information becomes accessible.
As the roster stands, the single most important question facing next year’s team is where help on the interior will come from. Remember when the coaching staff was furious following Jameel McKay’s transfer? It wasn’t because of how the 6-foot-8 junior would have helped this past season; it was for the upcoming campaign.
Indiana transfer Luke Fischer will be eligible for the second semester, or the beginning of Big East play. It’s a good bet that he’ll fill a substantial role inside when he hits the Bradley Center floor for the first time, while a healthy Steve Taylor looks to rebound from an otherwise forgettable sophomore season. Juan Anderson didn’t improve much as a junior, but a senior with nearly 900 minutes and 50 career starts under his belt holds value to Williams — as we saw this season with Jake Thomas — so a similar role to the one he played last season (13.5 minutes) seems likely.
Marquette will be as small upfront as its been since 2012, but even that team had two true centers in Chris Otule and Davante Gardner. The x-factor here may be freshman 7-footer Satchel Pierce. The three-star center wouldn’t have seen much time in a “normal” season, but he’ll be the tallest player on the roster by 4 inches, which will expedite his progress and playing time.
The frontcourt is important because of the outgoing talent, but that may sort itself out due to a lack of bodies. Simply put, Williams has to play someone at the “4” and “5,” and there aren’t many options. That means it won’t be as much a decision as it will be plugging-and-playing, seeing who fits well defensively and who can provide some sort of efficient scoring and modest offensive rebounding.
His first true decision will be to unleash his two best returning players. Todd Mayo and Deonte Burton averaged 23.8 and 12.6 minutes per game, respectively, last season in reserve roles, acting as offensive threats who never truly earned Williams’ true trust until the end of the season — Burton scored in double figures in each of Marquette’s last four games, while Mayo did so in nine of the last 10 games after failing to score at St. John’s.
Marquette’s last four games were all losses, but they acted as an indirect passing of the torch. In those contests, Mayo was Marquette’s leading scorer (19.5 points per game), followed by Burton (14.0 ppg). If there’s a glimmer of hope in Milwaukee, it’s these two players becoming a dual threat. Williams may have his unique ways of working a starting lineup and rotation, but there’s really no excuse not to have these two leading Marquette in minutes next year. Burton must improve defensively, and Mayo needs to continue working for his shot instead of settling for jumpers (though they do look pretty off the release), but they’re both winning players who can’t be relegated to the bench. Mayo and Burton must be in the starting lineup, and they must play 25+ minutes per game.
Then there’s the question at point guard. Ooh, the point guard. If you’ve read this far, you have an opinion on Derrick Wilson. There’s no denying he had a dismal junior season, his first playing extended minutes in a starter’s role. Williams rightfully sticks up for his players at all costs, but he’d have a hard time justifying the way Wilson played this past season, shooting 39 percent from the field and failing to ignite an offense expected to be one of the league’s best.
The answer is not playing Wilson nearly 31 minutes per night. Williams didn’t have many options this past season, something he will have in 2014-15. Duane Wilson will enter his redshirt freshman season completely healthy, and there’s a good chance he earns the starting role. We haven’t seen him play yet, but with a year of practice under his belt he’s going to warrant minutes. John Dawson will also see time, perhaps an added bump if Duane Wilson proves he can play off the ball.
Derrick Wilson’s junior year likely made fans forget about the outstanding job he did as a defensive specialist off the bench as a freshman and sophomore. There’s a medium to be had between those two seasons and last, and Williams is going to find it to make Wilson as productive as possible. You don’t have to like him, but Derrick Wilson will have a distinct role on next year’s team.
We could go further into where Williams must build his new team — Jajuan Johnson needs minutes, Ahmed Hill could be a great — not just good — player, Marial Shayok is bringing back the “switchable” fad at Marquette — but these are three areas in which he needs to look at first. The frontcourt is a major question mark, Burton and Mayo are going to be “the guys” and the point guard situation needs a makeover.
The future is bright in Milwaukee if Williams can answer these questions. We’ll find out in seven months if he was able to answer them, but he’s got his work cut out for him. We wouldn’t bet against him.