Even in the wake of a season-ending collapse and a dismantling at the hands of Ja Morant and Murray State, the stars seemed to be aligning for Marquette Basketball heading into the 2019-20 season. Markus Howard decided he didn’t need to test the NBA Draft waters and would come back to take care of some “unfinished business.” All but a couple role players were returning, plus a needed piece with Koby McEwen. Heck, even the Fiserv Fourm would be shedding its new-arena smell and start to feel more familiar and broken-in. College basketball punditry had taken note; some ranking Marquette as high as second — second! — in the nation in their “let’s put out a poll so people keep talking about college basketball in April” polls.
Then, yesterday, arguably the second and third-biggest components of the team said, “Eh, we can find something better.” Not only that, but they said it knowing the NCAA’s rules are such that both Sam and Joey Hauser will have to sit out a year, the latter will sacrifice a full year of college basketball, and the former will be left with just one season to further his name.
If everything’s fine within the Marquette program, this makes zero sense. When it makes more sense to assume there are problems, that’s a problem itself.
It’s been theorized, with Howard returning, the Hausers may have felt they wouldn’t get the ball enough. Unfortunately, this is perhaps the most innocent of possibilities. On the one hand, it’s valid. On the other, winning cures some of those ills, no? People rightly assumed Marquette would have won plenty with the three of them on the floor together. We saw Sam take over a game against Georgetown with Howard hurt. He could do that, and probably should have been given more chances.
Some may question the Hausers’ connection with Howard and vice versa. We bemoaned Howard’s usage, and overusage at times, in this blog plenty this season. Whether that was Howard’s choice or Steve Wojciechowski’s is very difficult to say. The best guess is it was probably some of both.
This leads to the Hausers’ relationship with Wojciechowski. Unfortunately, it’s all speculation. Everyone has always said the right things at Marquette throughout Wojo’s tenure, save maybe Harry Froling on Twitter yesterday, so it’s not like we have any indication from words or actions that there were issues. It’s in moments like these that saying all the “right” things almost comes back to burn those involved because it makes it much more difficult to comprehend the “real” story, leaving folks to speculate as to what’s actually happening — a related corollary to the “honesty (and transparency) is the best policy” approach. As such, we’re left to speculate: Remember that Sam played hurt quite a bit of his sophomore season. You wonder how much he wanted to, felt he needed to and maybe even did so at others’ urging. Remember, after Henry Ellenson left Marquette, Wojo needed a scholarship and took Wally Ellenson’s, which made the motivation for bringing Wally to Marquette look suspicious. Heck, it could just be that the Hausers saw how the team was handled at the end of the season and truly felt things were in error, then cast their ballot in a referendum on Wojo you thought was only occurring on Twitter.
Furthermore, we all know college basketball has a seedy underbelly. If something changed in that regard, we’re not and won’t hear about it, but I know better than to write it off altogether.
I’m not really considering academics, but I don’t think those are a factor. The Hausers are the sons of educators; Stephanie Hauser, their mom, is on the WIAA’s Executive Staff (scroll down). If they weren’t well-prepared for the rigors of sports in college, no one is.
Whatever the case may be, it’s not a good look at all for Wojciechowski and the Marquette program. Even with the potential for what next year could be, many wondered if the loose threads and snags the program has left hanging throughout the Wojo era would hold them back in 2019-20. Now, those doubts have been magnified by two fan-favorite kids saying “Adios” at what, for all appearances, was the best time in many years to be a part of the program. There’s no beating around the bush: This is a bad look for Marquette Basketball. At the very least, it raises serious questions about the team’s culture.
Again, though, no matter how much fans might want it to be lower, the bar for firing a head coach is high. Making a move to do away with Wojo now wouldn’t bring the Hausers back, nor does anyone with a brain want student-athletes or even their families deciding whether coaches stay or go. If you were a coach, you wouldn’t want to work in that environment. However, this is another hit to Wojo’s chances of getting an extension, perhaps a more-damaging blow than even this year’s failings in February and March. Remember, athletic directors and athletics staff have their jobs on the line when it comes to the vast sums of money spent on high-profile coaches, too. A knee-jerk decision to let go of a coach because two kids with the same parents decided it wasn’t working out only further magnifies the problems for all the folks in charge. However, a season of letting things play out and hoping they turn out better than expected is a reasoned approach. If things end up better than expected, the administrators look like calm, thoughtful visionaries. If they don’t, and an extension isn’t coming, you can say you have the data you need to make a change without it being reactionary. At that point, it’s a combination of various failings, which is a more measured, wise approach and one that even gives you time to organize an under-the-radar contingency plan for how you’ll make the change. It’s the smarter way to go.
Unfortunately, I’m wondering if that’s how this is all going to play out. I can see Howard being brilliant in flashes again next season, but lacking the necessary help to carry the team great distances. I can see Marquette being like it was this year again — good, but not great, and prone to more issues as everyone knows things are on shaky ground, given it didn’t seem to handle pressure and adversity well when it came in ever-increasing doses at the end of last season. And if things don’t work out much better next year than they did this year … it’s probably time. The fans are frustrated and are tiring of hearing how great things are when, as evidenced by the Hausers’ move, they couldn’t have been all that great. You can’t push this too much longer. The chorus will get too loud not to answer if this season goes awry.
Marquette has the resources and ability to be a top basketball program. It will be at some point. There’s too much money not to attract people smart enough to get the job done. We may look back on this era of Marquette basketball as dark — not Bob Dukiet or Don Morton dark, but less than memorable for the right reasons. But, in life, things must play out sometimes. Methinks that has to happen.
JUST THINK ABOUT THE BUCKS AND BREWERS AND HOPE I GO AWAY FOR A WHILE: I’m hoping we won’t have another blog until The Basketball Tournament. Hoping. If I have one, it’s probably not good news. Let’s hope you don’t hear from me until the summer.
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