With the news that Dominic James, starting point guard for the No. 8 Marquette Golden Eagles, is out indefinitely after breaking a bone in his left foot during the first half of Wednesday's game against No. 2 UConn, it would seem that the Golden Eagles lost a pivotal part of their team. With James' season over, the Golden Eagles' season may be over as well.
Let's take a deep breath and analyze how the Golden Eagles will be affected.
The Loss of James
The loss of James will be tough for the Golden Eagles to swallow. James is third in the Big East in assists per game at 5.3 apg, but what Marquette will miss the most is his floor leadership. There is no question that James is the leader of this team, and when it came down to big shots, James would always be willing to step up and take control.
He has the most experience on the team, and ranks high in many of Marquette's career statistical categories including first in games played (first), second in points per game (13.7), and first in assists per game (5.0). On the year, James is averaging 11.7 points per game and 2.3 steals per game, which can be made up.
On the Other Hand
On the other hand, If I had to pick one of the starters to go down, I would say that he is the most replaceable. True, Marquette currently starts Dwight Burke and his messy 2.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, but the only reason he is starting is because he is the tallest guy on the team at 6'8".
Over the last eight games, 6'6" forward Jimmy Butler has been seeing a lot more playing time and over that span has been averaging 7.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. I would consider him more of a starter than Burke, and have Burke as his backup.
As far as backups go, Marquette's bench includes primarily guard Maurice Acker and forward Patrick Hazel. If guard Jerel McNeal or guard Wes Matthews went down, Marquette would lose a huge chunk of scoring, size, and defense at the guard position. Replacing them would give a lineup of James, Matthews/McNeal, Hayward, Burke, and Butler. Their sixth man would be Hazel. Talk about undersized team with a lack of scoring.
If Hayward went down, yes, they would still have Matthews, McNeal, and James, but their frontcourt would be Butler, Burke, and Hazel off the bench. They would lose a ton of speed, and have virtually no inside presence outside of Butler, who cannot carry the load that Hayward does.
Yes, it is bad news for Marquette fans that James went down, but they have a viable replacement in junior guard Maurice Acker. Though short in stature at roughly 5'8", Acker has shown in the past that if given the playing time, he can put up good numbers.
In 2005-06 he put up numbers very similar to those that James currently has. It was his freshman year at Ball State, where in 32 minutes per game he averaged 9.2 points and 4.6 assists per game, with a 1.56 assist-to-turnover ratio.
True, the MAC is not anywhere close to what the Big East is in talent, but that was also three years ago, and Acker has gained viable experience since then. In his first game against UConn, in 33 minutes, Acker scored six points, had four assists, and three rebounds.
Most importantly though, he shut down the UConn point guards, limiting Craig Austrie and Kemba Walker to 11 points on 5-for-16 shooting, while forcing three turnovers.
Is he Dominic James? No, not even close. He has nowhere near the athleticism and leadership skills that James gives the Golden Eagles.
Is he a capable starter? The rest of the season will decide that, but the potential is definitely there.
Guard Maurice Acker
Marquette ends the year with games at Louisville, at Pittsburgh, and at home against Syracuse. If they can get by with two wins, they will have locked up a top four seed in the Big East Tourney.
How Acker and Marquette play on Sunday at Louisville could be the turning point in Marquette's season.
If they come out and win, or lose a close game, it will have a lasting effect on their momentum. If they tank the rest of the season, I do not see Marquette going past the second round in the NCAA tourney without Dominic James.