In the midst of one of the worst seasons in program history, the Marquette Golden Eagles do not find themselves near the top in any statistical categories.
The Golden Eagles rank 211th in all of Division I basketball in points per game, 321st in rebounds per game, and 141st in field goal percentage. None of this is surprising to those that foresaw the 2014-15 season as a rebuilding campaign in Steve Wojciechowski’s first year at the helm.
Wojo was not naive; he knew this going in. From day one he has preached that with only eight scholarship players, there will be nights when absolutely zero positives can be taken from games. Mistakes would be made that showcase the team’s inexperience and there was nothing Wojo could do to prevent those from happening. It was a foregone conclusion that this season was more about grooming players for the future.
So how has Wojo been doing?
A fair assessment of the first year coach cannot be made from the win-loss record heavily leaning towards the right. Like any rebuilding team in sports, a better marker of success is the level of progression that the core players have made throughout the year.
Let’s start off with Duane Wilson.
Oh Duane Wilson. If there has been one man that has served as a symbol of the prosperous future that is ahead, it is the man affectionately called Swaggy D.
Wilson started his freshman year with an overwhelming urgency to pass the ball and a hesitancy to even look at the basket with the rock in his hands. Throughout the year Wilson has transformed into a hybrid between Junior Cadougan and Dwight Buycks.
His first step is killer and his ability to create off the dribble is a sight to see on any given night. Wilson’s explosiveness cutting to the basket showcases the pure athletic ability he brings to the table. While he is not the most efficient scorer in the world, he has been able to rack up enough points to put him in the same category of Marquette greats Jerel McNeal and Dominic James.
Wilson’s guard mate for the foreseeable future, Jajuan Johnson, has flown under the radar all season long. The sophomore has shot the lights out of the gym several times and has displayed why people have heralded him as one of the best shooters in the Big East. What gets overlooked is his defensive tenacity, which has only started to develop after Wojo came to Milwaukee.
Sandy Cohen III, the only true freshman on this year’s team, started off the season as a misfit on both ends of the court. He would pass up open three pointers on one end while failing to defend his guy adequately on the other. Now, after Wojo decided to move more towards a zone defense, Cohen has thrived. His lengthiness has caused fits for opponents’ guards who cannot seem to get crisp passes down low. Cohen’s defensive disruptions have resulted in a number of points off turnovers that have kept the Golden Eagles close in a number of games.
Luke Fischer, who struggled at the beginning of Big East, has found his groove as of late. The man deemed as one part of the two-headed monster down low next season when he is paired with Henry Ellenson, has improved as of late thanks in part to the number of post moves that have been added to his arsenal. His rim-protecting abilities have caused teams that rely heavily on a post presence, to shoot a large amount of outside shots.
Steve Taylor Jr is the final player that will most likely return under Wojo next season. After an unprecedented 20-point performance during the second game of the year at Ohio State, Taylor started to fall back to his inconsistent past. In conference play Taylor has been able to have more consistent success as he has felt more comfortable playing in Wojo’s offense, which opens up the middle for his big men.
Matt Carlino’s historic shooting performances can also be credited in part to Wojo’s ability to trust in his oldest player; a freedom Carlino did not have at BYU or UCLA.
Senior Juan Anderson, who scored only 16 points his entire freshman year, has tripled his points per game total from last season.
Derrick Wilson is the stereotypical Wojo player. Even though he does not light up the box score, he facilitates the offense in a way that gets the best out of his teammates. The growth of the younger players is in part due to the leadership of the older Wilson.
Wojo’s progress has been noticed and is receiving praise from all across the country. Villanova’s head coach Jay Wright, who knows a thing or two about resurrecting a once elite program, gushed about the job Wojo has done.
Wright inherited a disgruntled, lackluster Villanova program in 2001. After three seasons of missing the NCAA tournament, Wright has taken the Wildcats to the tourney in nine of the last ten years.
After Marquette held Villanova to a closer final score than most anticipated, Wright proclaimed that “Wojo is doing one hell of a job. They really compete.”
The message has been reiterated by every single head coach that brings his team into the Bradley Center during conference play. No matter what the final score was, words of encouragement have followed.
Words speak louder than box scores this season and the fact that the former are all in favor of the progress Wojo has made, it is safe to say that he is the right man for the job. Next season the praise will likely increase and more importantly the wins will too.