Notes from Conversation with Marquette’s Nevada Smith

Last season, I was fortunate enough to speak with Nevada Smith, Special Assistant to the Head Coach at Marquette, prior to the season and found it quite useful as a way to not only get some insider perspective on what was then a brand new roster, but as a way to gauge how the staff itself was looking to measure success.

So I asked and was granted another interview with Nevada in order to get the 2023 season juices flowing and get a better understanding of what might be in store. Unfortunately, my recording only captured my end of the conversation, so I will have to use my notes instead of direct quotes.

Grading Last Season

Admitting that he’s not the best at grading, Nevada noted that despite clearly beating expectations most had going into the season, those expectations changed after the winning streak in January where they felt they could beat any team in the country. Despite the suboptimal end of the season, he pointed to the foundation laid and the results achieved and graded 2022 as a “solid B.”

Transition D and Rebounding

I wrote at length this summer about how transition defense faltered in the last 9 games of the season, leading to the early exit in the NCAA Tournament, so was curious to get his perspective on what may have caused some of those issues.

Nevada pointed to the shot making during the great stretch in January keeping teams out of the open court as being one of the key differences and reasons for some of the lapses in transition, but also added that the team has to do a better job collecting offensive rebounds. Not that it hasn’t been a focus before, but it’s been of particular importance with this group and this squad has a better understanding of responsibilities. He isn’t saying that MU will all of a sudden be a top O rebounding team, but that is one aspect that’s vital to getting the defense in place in a half-court setting.

Rebounding Personnel

When asked why a team with decent individual offensive rebounders in prior years struggled last season, he pointed to the players not being used to the spacing of the offensive floor, so the areas where they were rebounding from changed a lot, including much longer runs from the perimeter. Nevada highlighted this as an area experience will play a huge factor, but also pointed to incoming transfer Zach Wrightsil as someone who can help in this regard, as that’s one of the things he does best.

Smith also mentioned that the bigs will not only have a lot of versatility, with all but Keeyan Itejere able to play the 4 or 5, but that they were violent players with athleticism to spare. Pressed on Ben Gold possibly playing the 5, he noted that Gold was an elite rugby player in New Zealand and was projected to be on the All Blacks (New Zealand’s national rugby team) coming up the youth ranks before growing too tall for the sport. Having players that can do multiple things at multiple positions would help when it came to cleaning the glass.

Kolek’s Role

I asked about Tyler Kolek being able to add to the offensive arsenal while still creating opportunities for others and Smith was confident in Kolek’s growth. He made a small adjustment to his shot and has worked “maniacally” over the summer. Calling Tyler the best P&R passer in the country, Smith was excited about Kolek taking a big step, and understanding when he would need to be more aggressive scoring the ball.    

Sean Jones

In speaking about Kolek, Nevada mentioned we’d see a few possessions with him off the ball and noted that incoming freshman Sean Jones was not only a true point guard, but a really creative player. Speed has been something Shaka Smart has mentioned time and again with Jones, and Smith said whatever you have heard about his speed is probably an understatement, specifically calling out the fact that he didn’t lose any speed with the ball in his hands. Once more calling him a violent player that can do a bit of everything, Nevada guessed he’d end up being a fan favorite this season.

Tempo

Nevada said he couldn’t guarantee much about the upcoming season, but it would be a team that that will be really fast, highlighting the speed at which this team transitions from defense to offense is on another level compared to last year. “On a make or a miss, we are flying.” From a personnel perspective, he pointed out Justin Lewis and Darryl Morsell were half court guys, but the way this team gets up and down the court, there would be shots flying.

When asked to clarify if by playing fast it would mean more transition opportunities (speed) or simply getting into sets quicker (tempo), he felt both would be increased. “It’s a fun group that plays a fun way.” 

P&R Offense
When asked if the pick and roll heavy offense would still be the primary form of offense, Nevada said that is the way Shaka’s teams have always played and what his own background was. He noted that P&R suited the personnel better this year with more diverse pieces in the frontcourt and more ball handlers in the backcourt. While Darryl was primarily looking to pull up from midrange off of screens (something he did at an elite level), this year’s team has more players that can both create for themselves and others.  

Summer Surprises

When asked who or what surprised him most over the summer, he pointed out that Oso didn’t surprise him, but that he would surprise most of the Big East with how much better he’s gotten. He’ll have a bigger role and play with the ball in his hands much more, which expands possibilities on offense while still bringing great defense.

He also said that the players that some didn’t think could shoot would be a surprise, highlighting the work players like Stevie Mitchell put in, and saying Kam Jones and David Joplin were shooting extremely well. He predicted that the shooting numbers would improve from last season.

Finally, having not seen Sean Jones live, Nevada said he was impressed by how good he looked in person. He called Chase Ross a “bruising specimen” that would be a very versatile piece and reiterated that Ben Gold’s ability to shoot while playing the 5 would be able to kill teams that played drop coverage.

Conclusions

I want to thank Nevada Smith for his time and candor while caveating that it’s really early. Obviously we still have 2+ months to go until the season starts, but as early reviews and projections come out, we won’t be reading much about Marquette from national outlets. This was a super interesting look into what those not in the Al haven’t been able to see and will serve as a great benchmark come November.

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Categories: Analysis

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