Slap the floor: New era dawns for Marquette hoops
MILWAUKEE (AP) At some point this season while backpedaling on defense, Marquette point guard Derrick Wilson will hunch over and slap the floor with his palms to fire up the Bradley Center crowd.
There is no surer sign that former Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski is the new head coach for the Golden Eagles.
”I have to. Everybody has been talking about it,” a smiling Wilson said about repeating Wojciechowski’s signature slap-the-floor stance when the coach was a player at Duke. ”I’ll do it at least three times this year.”
The first chance comes Nov. 14, when the Wojciechowski era at Marquette begins with the season opener against Tennessee-Martin.
Wojciechowski arrives at a program with a background similar to the one he left at Duke as Mike Krzyzewski’s lead assistant. A private school that is heavily invested in basketball, Marquette has been an NCAA tournament regular. The 1977 national title team under coach Al McGuire remains the school’s blue-and-gold standard.
Of late, it is a program in transition.
Buzz Williams left in the spring to take the coaching job at Virginia Tech. A team picked in 2013-14 to win the Big East instead finished 17-15, snapping its eight-year run to the NCAAs.
Wojciechowski inherits a squad with a lot of turnover, especially in the frontcourt. Mainstays Chris Otule, Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner must be replaced. In the backcourt, Jake Thomas – a 39-percent 3-point shooter – is also gone, while Todd Mayo opted to leave before his senior season.
That leaves a roster with just one player taller than 6-foot-7 – and 6-11 Luke Fischer isn’t eligible until Dec. 14 because he transferred from Indiana.
”Obviously, with post defense, when you’re playing other teams with great size at multiple positions, that can prove to be challenging,” Wojciechowski said. ”With rebounding, that’s going to be a real challenge for us.”
For the first time in a while, expectations aren’t high at Marquette – a school that just two years ago advanced to the NCAA regional finals before losing to Syracuse 55-39. The Golden Eagles were picked to finish in a seventh-place tie with Butler in the preseason poll of the 10 Big East coaches released Oct. 22.
”Our guys don’t live in a bubble … They know that most people who predict these things don’t think we’ll be very good,” Wojciechowski said in early October. ”These guys want to get out there and compete.”
Some things to watch as Marquette attempts to prove skeptics wrong:
PERIMETER PRESSURE: The Golden Eagles will try to make up for the lack of height by applying pressure in the backcourt, where they do have numbers. Senior Derrick Wilson and redshirt freshman Duane Wilson, who aren’t related, give Wojciechowski depth at the point. Matt Carlino, a transfer from BYU, averaged 1.7 steals a game last season.
”It’s not going to fall on any one guy’s shoulders. It’s going to fall on all our shoulders,” Wojciechowski said about making up for the lack of height on defense.
3-POINT SHOOTING: If their offseason routine is any indication, the Golden Eagles should be taking a lot more shots from the perimeter this year. It’s a sound strategy given the team’s limited height.
Marquette was last in the Big East in 3-point shooting last season, hitting 32.1 percent of their 480 attempts. Derrick Wilson said he took about 28,000 3-pointers in the offseason, with many other teammates getting to the 20,000 mark.
CENTER OF ATTENTION: The 245-pound Fischer, a redshirt sophomore, may shoulder a big load in the middle once eligible. A top in-state high school prospect, Fischer will have to guard against foul trouble once he does get on the court.
Until then, 6-foot-7 Steve Taylor, Jr., and 6-foot-6 forwards Juan Anderson and Sandy Cohen will be Marquette’s tallest players. Get ready for a lot of four-guard looks.
TRANSFER TIME: Carlino, a senior, should capably fill the void left by Mayo’s departure. He averaged 13.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists at BYU, shooting 33.9 percent from 3-point range.
”When you’re small, you have to play fast – defensively and offensively,” Carlino said.
TOP OPTION: Besides Carlino, swingman Deonte Burton could be Marquette’s best scoring option. The 6-foot-4 sophomore has a sturdy 240-pound frame seemingly built to withstand drives into the lane. Among returnees, Burton is Marquette’s top scorer at 6.9 points.
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