4. Jerel McNeal (2008-2009) vs. 5. Wesley Matthews (2008-2009)
The case for McNeal: The senior’s Second Team All-American season was slightly overshadowed by the other two of the “Big Three” and Lazar Hayward, but McNeal was superb. He was third in the Big East in points, scoring 20 or more points in 11 of 12 games during one stretch, and played arguably the best defense of anyone in the league. If it weren’t for Luke Harangody, McNeal would have been Big East Player of the Year, and he saved his best performance for last, scoring 30 points in an NCAA Tournament loss to Missouri. He was Marquette’s first All-American since Dwyane Wade, earning Second Team honors. It was also in this season that McNeal passed George Thompson to become the school’s all-time leading scorer.
The case for Matthews: Of the Big Three, it always seemed as if Matthews was the last one mentioned his first three seasons at Marquette. Then his senior year happened. Whether it was the new system Buzz put in play, growth in Matthews’ game or a combination of both, Wes stepped out of the shadows and challenged Jerel McNeal for top dog status. He averaged 18.3 points and 5.7 rebounds and became a master at getting to the line (averaging 7.3 free throw attempts per game) leading the Big East in free throw attempts, makes, and percentage. He also led the team in Win Shares (the advanced metric that measures how many wins a player is responsible for) with 6.4, beating out McNeal by .5 shares.