He’s back. Without question, the storyline of today’s game is the return of Marquette point guard Dominic James. Just 3 and a half weeks after an apparent season-ending injury to his left foot, the 5′11″ guard from Richmond, Indiana will be back on the court when the Golden Eagles face the Missouri Tigers in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Missouri defeated the Cornell Big Red Friday in commanding fashion 78-59, led by the front court attack of Leo Lyons (23 points, 10 rebounds) and DeMarre Carroll (13 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) while also making 17 of 19 free throws as a team. Marquette, on the other hand, did not have such an easy time getting to the next round. They defeated the Utah State Aggies 58-57, led by junior forward Lazar Hayward who scored 26 points and hauled in 8 rebounds. Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews struggled, shooting a combined 6-26 from the field. Hopefully the return of James will give the wings a boost to their confidence as they have struggled mightily since the loss of their point guard. Buzz Williams has stated that James will not start and will play in 2-3 minute spurts, but having him in uniform could give Marquette that edge they need to take on a great Missouri team.
Offensively, Missouri will continue to run their offense through the front court duo of Lyons and Carroll. Carroll is faster and plays farther out from the post than Lyons does, but they are both very efficient on offense and should present problems for Marquette. In the back court, the Tigers sport three guards listed 6′3″ or taller that will keep the Golden Eagles on their toes, led by junior J.T. Tiller. Point guard Zaire Taylor isn’t going to make anything happen on his own but plays efficiently, turning the ball over just 1.2 times per game. Missouri goes about 3 men deep into the bench, led by three pointer shooter Matt Lawerence Lawrence is the third leading scorer on Missouri and his size (6′7″) makes him a difficult matchup. Missouri likes to keep the game at a fast-paced tempo, especially after creating turnovers on defense where the Tigers make their money. J.T. Tiller is touted as one of the best defenders in the country and will cause problems for Jerel McNeal all day. Carroll and Lyons won’t block a ton of shots, both averaging under 1 a game, but they play great man-to-man defense and use their big bodies to protect the paint. Missouri’s size will be key to forcing turnovers against a Marquette team that had a very sloppy first round win. They love to press at all times and keep the pressure on other teams to take care of the ball and beat them off the dribble. The keys for Missouri will be to get the ball inside to Carroll and Lyons and hope that their guards can force turnovers against a Marquette team that doesn’t cough it up (ranked 10th in the nation) and only get better with James back in the lineup.
The story for Marquette’s success will be how the team responds from the sudden news that Dominic James will play in today’s game. We all know that Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal have not been the same without their fellow senior, but hopefully McNeal will now be able to relax more and let the offense work around him to help him find his shot instead of the other way around. He has forced way too many shots and in turn has thrown off the rhythm of the offense as a whole. Having James to penetrate Mizzou’s defense will open up the shots that the wings got earlier in the year and I expect Marquette to hit a ton of threes while James is in the game. Lazar Hayward comes into the game with a ton of confidence after his 26-point performance in round one, and while he will have his hands full against Carroll, it’s the same kind of situation for the junior. Carroll likes to play outside and so Hayward should be able to play off the dribble just like he did against Utah State’s Tai Wesley. Knowing Dominic, he is going to want to play more than those 2-3 minute stints, but either way it makes Marquette’s rotation one man deeper. David Cubillan will see some minutes but you can bet James will take minutes from Cubillan, not Acker. I would assume James sees 20 minutes, Acker sees 17, and Cubillan sees around 6. I hope we see the Acker/James combination, but due to Mizzou’s size it seems doubtful. Marquette might be able to go to a 1-3-1 zone when James is in the game, which could be key for holding down Mizzou’s big men.
Dominic James may not have an impact in the box score, but how he affects McNeal and Matthews will be the difference in whether or not Marquette can stay in the game. McNeal can not have silly turnovers by playing out of control because Missouri will capitalize on them and turn it into points. I have faith Marquette can break Mizzou’s press fine, but they need to find better shots than they did in round one. Look for more Lazar Hayward screens to leave him open on the roll and hope that Dominic is healthy enough to penetrate and wreck havoc on the Missouri defense. In the end, Marquette comes up just short in a shootout. Missouri 81, Marquette 77