With a 6 point lead early in the first half, the Marquette student section looked like pure bliss. The organized mosh pit was high-fiving and juking in the kind of ecstasy rarely seen even in college basketball. But what they didn’t know and probably wouldn’t know until a painful car ride home was that Dominic James is out. Indefinitely. But a broken foot sure doesn’t sound indefinite to me. That sounds like out for the season.
Last year I was one of the first people to point out that UConn could be even better without Jerome Dyson. When you consider all the transition baskets he gets, you realize how terrible a shooter he is in the half-court. And from an efficiency standpoint, letting his teammates shoot more seemed like a good thing.
(I’m less certain that is true this year as Dyson seems to have taken his defense to another level, but I still view UConn as a Final Four contender even without him. And that’s because of “the run-buster” AJ Price. I call him the “run-buster” because anytime the other team goes on a big run, Price puts UConn on his back and makes a big shot.)
But there’s no silver lining for Marquette. Maurice Acker can’t replace Dominic James. Buzz Williams has managed Acker well this year, and he’s looked good in the situations where he’s been in the game, but the tempo free numbers say he’s an inferior player to James. Acker has a worse assist rate, and as much as James has fallen as a 3 point shooter, Acker is even worse, shooting a paltry 22% on the year. Worse yet, Acker is a huge step down in defense. At 5’8”, he just doesn’t have the size to shut down an elite guard with a hot hand from the perimeter.
James has taken on a mantra of a “defensive stopper” for Marquette, and while I’ve found that’s usually code for “guard who lost his shot”, that isn’t the tone on this Marquette team. James has been the caulk filling in the gaps where the other star guards need him. And on a night like tonight, I think there’s no question he would have tried to be a defensive stopper on AJ Price. Does Price really score over 30 with James in the game? Do the Huskies really pull away at the end with James in the game to spell Matthews and McNeal more? I don’t think so.
But James is gone. And while Marquette isn’t done making noise this year, the odds of them making it to the Final Four just got a whole lot worse.
Oh, and one more thing that should make Marquette fans scream. Despite an organized campaign to eliminate the text scroll after it distracted from a great Marquette vs Villanova game two weeks ago, the text scroll was back this week. More on that in a post later tonight.
Everyone always says how the bubble is “weak” this time of year, but teams find a way to sneak back in. Rush-the-Court was on the mark when they said how surprisingly strong Texas A&M’s resume is despite a 6-7 Big 12 mark, and Virginia Tech’s win tonight at Clemson was equally huge. Oh, and did anyone pick South Carolina to crush Kentucky and strengthen their NCAA tournament resume? This time of year there’s only one sure way to make the field. Keep winning.