Every team not playing in a postseason tournament has its scapegoat, and there’s no denying who the public has deemed the cause for Marquette’s woes in 2013-14. But is it justified?
Derrick Wilson was expected to enter the starting point guard role after playing Junior Cadougan’s understudy as a freshman and sophomore. The two players were similar in stature, and Wilson admitted learning everything he knew about playing the point for Buzz Williams came from Cadougan, the player who gave Wilson a tour of the campus on his official visit four years ago.
It was assumed Wilson wasn’t going to transform from a player who had averaged 0.87 points (60 points in 69 games) through two seasons into a formidable scorer Marquette could rely on each night; that was supposed to come from Jamil Wilson, Todd Mayo and Davante Gardner, two of whom averaged double figures the previous year and a third, Mayo, who never got into a rhythm after missing the first half of last season.
Williams admitted at media day that Wilson couldn’t be the same player he was as a sophomore if the team was going to succeed in his junior year, but that didn’t necessarily mean scoring. Through two seasons Wilson had played on a second unit that, more often than not, included Gardner and Mayo, arguably the team’s two best true scorers. That lent itself to fewer shot attempts from Wilson, who took just 71 shots in 749 minutes as a freshman and sophomore.
Las month Williams lauded Jake Thomas’ ability to play within his scouting report, knowing opponents’ tendencies and limiting mistakes. The same could be said for Wilson, who rarely was out of position defensively and averaged just 1.5 turnovers in nearly 31 minutes per game.
Those 31 minutes per game are an important factor, too. Freshman John Dawson showed flashes of greatness at times in the season, and it’s this author’s opinion that he’ll wind up being a core rotation player at some point in his Marquette career, but his overall numbers (32 percent from the field, 1.47 A/TO ratio) meant he didn’t provide anything Wilson couldn’t, other than a new face to ease fans’ mind about no longer having to watch Wilson — which has no statistic attached to it. Perhaps Dawson could have done more in extended minutes, but it’s unlikely.
Duane Wilson suffered a season-ending stress fracture in preseason workouts, which meant Williams was put in a bind as to who he could play to spell Wilson at the point. That player, at times, was Dawson, while Mayo and even Jamil Wilson (early in the year) brought the ball up the court. But the latter two players turned out to be somewhat of a disaster, which brought Wilson’s minutes per game back up to a hearty 34.1 the final 10 games of the season. It certainly wasn’t a best-case scenario, but it was the only real option, something even the biggest Dawson supporters would have a difficult time arguing.
So with the point-guard duties heaved upon his shoulders, playing more minutes than he otherwise would have been, Wilson attempted to get the Marquette offense going as best he could while playing within his game. The raw numbers show that Wilson shot a dreadful 39 percent from the field and 7 percent from beyond the arc, and there’s really no way to get around or sugarcoat those numbers. He didn’t improve as a shooter in his third year, and it was his biggest downfall.
But looking closer, Wilson attempted 156 shots, second fewest of the core rotation players (Chris Otule, 110), and per hoop-math.com, 58 percent of his attempts came at the rim; that was the second highest percentage on the team, behind Chris Otule. And per Synergy, he attempted 18 field goals in the final 4 seconds of the shot clock (he made just two), perhaps showing he drew the short straw when the Marquette offense went to hell. He also shot just 44 percent from the free throw line, by far the worst mark on the team, but he only attempted 2.7 free throws per game, so he didn’t do much damage in not being able to hit his freebies.
Those who say Marquette was “playing 4-on-5” with Wilson in the game looked solely at his scoring. In that sense, those people are correct. A point guard averaging 5.0 points per game on 39 percent shooting isn’t going to win enough games, but he never played outside of his limitations and succeeded in other offensive areas.
Where Wilson did more than he was given credit for was in his passing. His 2.81 A/TO ratio (135 asts/48 TOs) was the second best mark among starting Marquette point guards under Williams (Maurice Acker, 3.09). And that 2.81 mark was tied for 29th best in the country, while Marquette as a team had its lowest turnover rate (17.5 percent) since 2010, when the Golden Eagles’ 16.0 percent mark was seventh best in the nation.
Wilson’s passing made a woefully underachieving offense look halfway decent. If you need a scapegoat for why the Golden Eagles struggled so much, it’s probably fairer to analyze Jamil Wilson shooting 43 percent on a team-high 318 field goal attempts, Mayo regressing as a 3-point shooter from his freshman season or Deonte Burton playing 10 or fewer minutes in 14 games — including eight of 12 games in single-digit minutes during the heart of the Big East season. Marquette shot 49 percent on two-point field goals, its lowest mark since 2010, but in that year the Golden Eagles were the fifth-best 3-point shooting team in the country and didn’t need to score inside to be successful.
That’s not to say Wilson deserves no blame for Marquette’s woes. Limitations or not, Wilson failed to become the scorer the Golden Eagles needed, and when everyone else underachieved he, an upperclassman, had the chance to do more. And he didn’t.
But to heap the blame on him for a 17-15 record (and we didn’t even mention his team-best defensive Synergy numbers) is short-minded because of his points and field goal percentage. No one expected Wilson to score more points than he wound up, and his passing was a definite plus for an offense that sputtered more often than not.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for this season’s offense, Wilson included, but it shouldn’t start there.