Golden Eagles adjust to life without James

February, 27, 2009
By the time the NCAA tournament begins, Connecticut will have played without guard Jerome Dyson for a month.

Meanwhile, Marquette has less than three weeks to see how it can play without starting point guard Dominic James.

Dyson was a shooting guard and the team's best defender. The Golden Eagles relied on James' defense and his playmaking skills.

"The timing -- that's the toughest part,'' said Marquette coach Buzz Williams, who was on Friday's ESPNU college basketball podcast . "We have to figure out what we're going to do to give us the best chance for success."

Marquette finishes with a brutal schedule: at Louisville, at Pitt and home against Syracuse.

Williams spent Thursday with James and his family to discuss Friday's surgery to repair his broken left foot that will have a pin put it in to speed the recovery. Williams said the hope is for James to be ready within 100 days so he can be available to work out right before the NBA draft or soon thereafter for summer league. James declared for the draft after his sophomore season but withdrew due to a lack of high interest.

Williams said he had no idea that James had broken his foot. He said the "Jones fracture" can occur once without the person knowing, and then one can step in the wrong way and break the foot. That's what he was told by team doctors.

"[Dominic] was just walking off the court and said, 'Coach, I'm out,' and I thought he was sick or was going to throw up,'' Williams said. "But one of my assistants said, 'No, he's done.' I didn't even put the right guy in the game because I thought it was just going to be for a possession or two.''

Williams said he takes solace in knowing that the Golden Eagles were still up one point with six-plus minutes left against Connecticut before the Huskies blitzed the Golden Eagles with a 20-8 run on the way to a 93-82 victory.

Williams talked in the podcast about how the Golden Eagles will deal with James' absence. Potential Big East Player of the Year Jerel McNeal will have a larger role, as will Wesley Matthews, who will bring the ball up some. Maurice Acker will get more looks at point guard, and James' departure will allow Jimmy Butler to see more action. Essentially, James' 11 points and 5.1 assists per game have to come from somewhere, and all of the key players, including Lazar Hayward, will have to take on more responsibility.

Connecticut has learned to lean more on Craig Austrie and Stanley Robinson without Dyson. But the Huskies have had four games to deal with the injury and still have two more before the Big East tournament. Marquette has just three games left, and they happen to be on the road against two of the league's top teams in Louisville and Pitt.

• Providence coach Keno Davis said he doesn't think the Friars could have received a bid if they had beaten Notre Dame at home Feb. 21 but then lost to Pitt at home Tuesday. Davis, who is on Friday's ESPNU college basketball podcast , said he fully understands the Friars (17-11, 9-7) can't afford to lose at Rutgers on Sunday. Providence finishes at Villanova on Thursday. Davis quickly grasped the difference between the Missouri Valley and the Big East. Once he said the top four teams started to pull away in the league (for him that was Connecticut, Pitt, Louisville and Marquette, even though Villanova is just 2½ games out of first), he knew that the Friars just had to finish in the top eight or nine. That's quite a different mindset from the Valley, where a top-two finish is likely the only chance for a bid. "We didn't have to push the panic button here,'' Davis said. "I knew we just had to be in the top half of the Big East.'' Davis was also savvy as to how the Friars' record would be dissected. "I knew we couldn't just beat the teams behind you,'' he said. And that's why the Pitt win could put the Friars into the field.

• There was a lot of hype directed at Connecticut's Kemba Walker and Louisville's Samardo Samuels as the potential freshmen of the year in the Big East. But Cincinnati's Yancy Gates has had quite a season. He's averaging a solid 10.8 points and 6.1 boards and has come through in key wins, such as when he scored 22 points and grabbed 11 boards in the victory over West Virginia on Thursday night. Cincinnati, at 8-7 in the Big East and 18-10 overall, is back in play with that win. But the final three games loom as decisive ones: at Syracuse, at South Florida and the home finale against Seton Hall. West Virginia, which has the same league record at 8-7, has a better overall résumé (19-9 with a nonconference blowout win over Ohio State in Columbus and better league wins like dropping Villanova at home by 21.) West Virginia finishes up at South Florida and hosts DePaul and Louisville.

• Bookend wins are critical to getting an NCAA berth. That's why Michigan's victory over Purdue will help its cause. The Wolverines (18-11, 8-8) always had the wins over UCLA and Duke in their pocket but needed a huge Big Ten win toward the end of the season. After losing at Iowa and with two final road games at Wisconsin and Minnesota -- teams that are desperate for home wins -- on deck, the Purdue victory was a must-win. Don't be surprised to see an 8-10 Michigan team make the field.

• Washington State can be a serious spoiler down the stretch. The Cougars beat UCLA on Saturday to dampen the Bruins' Pac-10 title chances and then took out Arizona on Thursday night to put a dent in its NCAA résumé. The Wildcats (8-7, 18-10) now have to go to Washington on Saturday before ending with Cal and Stanford at home. Arizona should still be able to get a bid, but it became harder after Thursday. Washington State may not get a chance to prevent Washington from winning the Pac-10 outright. The Huskies can do that with a win over Arizona on Saturday before Washington State comes to Seattle next weekend. The Cougars (7-9, 15-13) are -- at the very least -- likely ensuring some sort of postseason with this late run. The NIT or the CBI should call for the Cougars if they can't continue the good fortune and win the Pac-10 tournament. Senior guard Taylor Rochestie is on a tear with 33 points against UCLA and 17 key points against the Wildcats.

• Miami's Jack McClinton has made some big shots this season, but maybe none has been bigger than the 3-pointer he hit with 47 seconds left Thursday to put Virginia out of reach in the Canes' 62-55 victory. The Canes couldn't lose to the Cavs and still make the NCAAs. This was a must, must-win for Miami. It has to get to 8-8 in the ACC (17-10 overall right now) and finishes up with Georgia Tech in Atlanta and at home against NC State.

• Saint Mary's beat Pepperdine 62-49, but just as important for the Gaels was Portland's loss to San Diego. That allowed Saint Mary's to move into a tie for second place with the Pilots. Perception matters, and the Gaels have to at least be in second place to have any hope of getting an at-large berth out of the WCC. Portland (9-4) goes to Santa Clara (6-7), while the Gaels (9-4, 23-5) finish the regular season at 2-11 Loyola Marymount.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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