First up is the guard position.
Dominic James, PG, 11.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists
James was enjoying his best defensive season and most efficient offensive season when his season abruptly ended against Connecticut with a broken foot…or so we thought. James made an incredible return for the second round of the NCAA tournament and, while his box score line was not fantastic, the fact that he played revealed perfectly the determination that he showed this year and has always had.
Offensively, James started the year off with a completely different mindset than he had ever taken at Marquette, becoming a pass-first point guard that coach Buzz Williams needed in his run-'n-gun offense.
James wound up averaging 9.9 shots per game on the year, well below his three-year average of 12.5 shots per game. Instead, he realized that he had three fantastic scoring threats in Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, and Lazar Hayward and he found them early and often, leading to his average of five assists per game.
He also took care of the ball much better, averaging 1.9 turnovers on the year, compared to his three-year average of 2.5. That says a lot about a guy who wound up taking less shots and became a pass-first point guard, yet had the fewest turnovers of his career.
Because of these two factors, his assist-to-turnover ratio was 2.67, good for third in the Big East and 13th in the country. But James’ new style of play did not mean he wasn’t able to hit the big shot, as seen by his three-pointer against N.C. State with 0.4 seconds left.
On the other side of the ball, James was an absolute monster on defense. Not only did he lead the team in steals at 2.1 per game, but he also brought his fouls per game down as well.
His ability to create turnovers in games was key for Marquette’s style and led to many fast-break opportunities in transition. He recorded a steal in all but three of the games he played in and had games of six and seven steals.
Two plays stick out in my mind about James’ play on defense. One was against West Virginia when the Mountaineers had just come out of a timeout to stop a Marquette run. James pick-pocketed Darryl Bryant (I believe it was him) as soon as he took his first dribble and took it in for an easy layup.
The second was against Seton Hall early in the second half. James was staring a three-on-one break right in the face, but he timed it beautifully and blocked an attempted layup, secured the rebound, took it the length of the court before dishing to an open Matthews for a layup. Plays like those make him so unforgettable and so fun to watch.
James gave you a little bit of everything from frustration to elated joy, and from crushing moments like his injury to UConn to mass hysteria like his return in the tournament. The numbers next to his name in the box score might have been down, but the final score at the top of it was usually in big part due to James and was the reason he was arguably the most valuable player to Marquette’s success this year. GRADE: B+
Maurice Acker, PG, 2.8 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists
I am sure that if you asked Acker how his year was going before the Connecticut game, he would have told you that he was enjoying coming off the bench, spotting James and coming in for his defense.
Well, five minutes into the game, his role and importance went from 12 minutes a game to give James a breather to 30 minutes a game to finish off what his senior point guard never got to do.
For the majority of the year offensively (pre-James injury), Acker was not asked to do much and he never took more than six shots in a game. Outside of the Presbyterian game in which he recorded 10 assists, he never had more than four in a game and was mostly just a passer in the offense that looked for Matthews and McNeal to drive.
However, after the injury to James his status on the team, especially on offense, changed. His shots per game went from 2.28 to 4.45 after the injury and his assists per game went from 1.5 to 2.9.
Acker was clearly a downgrade from the injured James, but without him Marquette’s backcourt would have been a mess. He came in to make six of seven free throws against Wisconsin—where every point mattered—and hit three three-pointers in the furious rally against Villanova to highlight his offensive plays of the year.
While his offensive numbers went down and for a few games he looked too bad to put in even for defense, Acker straightened things out and ended the year nicely on offense. Even more than his numbers, his importance on offense was huge and he gets a passing grade for that.
Acker made his money on defense, the reason he came into most games at certain situations. The one game that no one will forget Acker for was against Notre Dame’s Kyle McAlarney, when the junior shut down one of the nation’s best three-point shooters throughout the whole second half. McAlarney finished the game with nine points on 3-for-12 shooting and 1-for-6 from downtown, and it was Acker’s denial defense that really threw off the flow of the game for the Fighting Irish.
While his job of running the offense was important in James’ absence, almost just as important was replacing the defense that James brought every game. Acker struggled somewhat on defense against bigger competition but was always pesky and made it tough on opponents, forcing them to take jumpers by not being able to drive by him.
Overall, Acker’s presence in the lineup was as important as anyone else’s and, like James, the box score might not have shown it, but he stepped into a role that no one expected him to succeed in, and he did just fine. GRADE: B-
David Cubillan, SG, 1.6 points, 0.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists
For whatever reason, Cubillan was not part of Marquette’s success this year and did not fit into the rotation much.
This in turn led to the Venezuelan being off rhythm in any spot duty that he did get. Much like Acker, however, his role did change somewhat when James went down with a broken left foot and he filled in nicely.
Offensively, “Cubi” had always been known for having a decent outside jump shot, but that was about it. That could have been one of the reasons why he failed to see the court this year. Post-James injury, his role changed from spot duty to Acker’s former role of 11- to 12-minute stints per game, playing lock-down defense and taking care of the ball on offense.
Hopefully next year he will come back healthy and ready to contribute to the team, although with a lot of talented guards coming in, playing time may be scarce again. GRADE: C-
Rob Frozena, SG, 0.4 points, 0.6 rebounds, 0.0 assists
Frozena had a much-improved year, picking up his first field goal of the year and pulling down seven boards on the year. His free throw percentage took a dip but he still entertained the crowd with his late-game sub-ins and will look to do more of the same next year. GRADE: D+