When Steve Wojciechowski called his boss, Mike Krzyzewski, to tell him he had accepted Marquette’s offer to become its 17th head coach in program history last week, he had just one question for the Hall of Famer:
“My first question to him was if he had any interest in being my associate head coach and doing halftime interviews,” he said, laughing, at Tuesday’s introductory press conference. “Surprisingly he said no. He said I couldn’t afford him.”
Krzyzewski will return to Duke for his 35th season at the helm, and Wojciechowski will be without his mentor for just the second time since 1994 — he played one season overseas between his four years at Duke and when he took a spot on Krzyzewski’s staff in 1999.
I asked Wojciechowski at Tuesday’s press conference about how similar Marquette might look compared with the Duke teams he’s helped coach the past decade and a half.
“Number 1, I hope we model ourselves enough where we’re hanging banners and…winning conference championships and doing all the things we were able to do at Duke,” he said. “And obviously Coach (Krzyzewski) has a huge impact on what I believe in basketball, and it starts with defense first.
“I believe defense is what wins championships, and really good defense should lead to offense and exciting and fast play. We have to figure out how our group is in a position to win every game against who we’re competing against, and so ultimately that’s my job.
“In a perfect world, I want to play aggressive defense, I want to create offense from our defense and I want to play a fun and fast-attacking style of offense. And I think that’s what kids want to play. That’s how I wanted to play, that’s how I did play and that’s how I would like our team and our group here at Marquette to play,” he added.
Defensively speaking, expect the Golden Eagles to play man-to-man 40 minutes a night. It was Wojciechowski’s calling card when he was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1998, and, per Synergy, the Blue Devils played man-to-man defense 99.3 percent of the time (they had just 17 possessions tracked as a zone look all year). Synergy also noted that Duke pressed 8.2 percent of the time — for comparison’s sake, Marquette pressed 6.2 percent of the time last year, while VCU, a team known for its heavy press, set up in it more than 33 percent of the time. Marquette won’t invoke #Havoc like some expected two weeks ago, but expect the defense to be an in-your-face style that forces opposing offenses to make quick decisions.
Duke has employed a 3-2 motion offense for years. It’s built on two post players screening off each other, perimeter players cutting through the middle of the lane and rubbing off post players’ screens. The post players can flash at the high post and are best-served with some range on the outside. The three perimeter scorers, of course, are utilized best as outside shooters. Duke has ranked in the top-60 in 3-point field goal percentage each of the last five seasons, including seventh and 11th the last two seasons, respectively.
That offense has also been a model of efficiency. The Blue Devils have ranked in the top-10 in offensive efficiency the last six seasons, and the top-20 in 11 of the last 12 seasons. It’s of course built, in part, by the players Duke has recruited. With college basketball’s biggest budget and a school that recruits itself, the Blue Devils are never short on five-star athletes, McDonald’s All-Americans and future NBA professionals. Still, Wojciechowski’s knowledge of how this offense works will pay dividends from Day 1.
And at the core of those efficient rosters is a stellar point guard. Krzyzewski was a point guard at Army playing under Bob Knight, and his coaching tree is littered with some of the best point guards of their respective years: Wojciechowski, Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, Bobby Hurley and even Greg Paulus, now an assistant at Ohio State. There’s also names such as Jay Williams, Kyrie Irving and Chris Duhon, and more recently Austin Rivers, Quinn Cook, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer who all wore the Duke uniform and thrived as point guards..
Lucky for Wojciechowski, Marquette’s strongest area on its current roster is at the point. Redshirt freshman Duane Wilson, freshman John Dawson and, yes, even senior Derrick Wilson make up a trio of talented court generals who Wojciechowski will get to work with. Duke’s team turnover percentage has ranked in the top-40 each of the last seven seasons, and Wojciechowski’s own experience should come in handy. It could also be useful in bringing back 2015 point guard Nick Noskowiak, who re-opened his recruitment after Wojciechowski was named head coach. Marquette’s newest head coach and the talented high school junior have spoken, and Noskowiak is still considering the Golden Eagles, but it may be a while before he ultimately makes his decision.
Wojciechowski will need to build the roster to his liking, but it’s impossible to deny that he was helped out some by the versatile types of players Buzz Williams brought in (damn, we’ll probably never get to write “switchable” again). Expect plenty of shooters to enter the mix the next few seasons, hopefully improving on the Golden Eagles’ ugly 3-point shooting the last three seasons.
Duke has built its program for decades under efficiency, and Wojeciechowski will continue that. And it wouldn’t be surprising to see Marquette look at least a little bit like Duke, in terms of outside shooting, pressure defense and low turnover rates (in a best-case scenario).
Then there’s that school to the west. The Wisconsin Badgers lost Saturday night to Kentucky in the Final Four, and Bo Ryan’s group will return the majority of their talented roster next season. Wojciechowski has been a part of the nation’s best rivalry the past two decades against in-state North Carolina, and it’s something he joked about Tuesday when asked about the Marquette-Wisconsin annual tilts.
“Fortunately I come from a place where rivalries are a very familiar topic, so having a rival is not anything new to me, and I love it. And the thing that I think is so healthy is that it should be a rivalry that’s built on respect. We have a great program at Marquette University. I respect the program they have at Wisconsin and what coach Ryan has done there.
“That doesn’t mean that when the ball goes up in the air there’s going to be anybody who wants to win that game worse. And rivalries make you better because they keep you on your toes, they keep you competitive and they keep you hungry and striving for more. So I love having the opportunity to continue to be a part of a rivalry that people care about.”
The Golden Eagles are 5-5 in their last 10 matchups against the Badgers, and you can bet the rivalry will receive some added kick on Marquette’s end with Wojciechowski in the fold.
Wojciechowski said that Krzyzewski’s main piece of advice — other than that he’d enjoy the Polish food far more in Milwaukee than he did in Durham — was to be himself. With that in mind, expect Marquette to be a hard-nosed, yes, maybe even floor-slapping team that begins with defense and makes a living behind the arc.
Wojciechowski undoubtedly will add his own tweaks to what he’s learned under one of the best ever for nearly 20 college basketball seasons, but as long as Wojciechowski stays true to himself Marquette will be known for a specific brand of basketball.
“I am who I am, and it goes back to being myself. I think I’m as competitive as they come. I love the game of basketball and I think it should be played a certain way. And the number one way it should be played is hard, all the time,” Wojciechowski said. “If we’re going to try to do things big we have to make big investments. And the investment is not just the physical investment; it’s an emotional investment, it’s an investment of your heart, and that’s the way I tried to play and it served me well.”