By Cory Mccartney
January 22, 2007
Dominic James
Milwaukee's Honor Guards
The way Dominic James sees it, Marquette's backcourt may be too deep for any defense to shut down.

The Golden Eagles' trio of sophomore guards is a pick-your-poison combination of brains (Wesley Matthews), brawn (Jerel McNeal) and a playmaker (James) -- a mix that forms one of the most talented backcourts in the country.

"We all bring something new to the table," James said. "You can put your best defender on one of us, but then you got other guards that can practically do the same thing. It's hard to find three defenders that can matchup with all of us when we're on the court."

James (pictured above) is the one who garners the most ink. The explosive Richmond, Ind., native, who was the 2006 Big East Rookie of the Year, leads the Eagles with 16.4 points and 4.6 assists per game. Says McNeal: "With his athleticism, quickness, strength and ability, he's a person that it's nearly impossible to keep him out of the lane."

Call James a playmaker. Call him a threat from anywhere on the court. Just don't call him little. Listed at 5-foot-11, James has tired of hearing his height defines his game.

"I let that go in one ear and out the other," he said. "If they ask me that in person, I act like I didn't even hear 'em. That's just the way that it is; if you don't listen to it, then it can't be true. That's the way I look at it."

While James brings the flash, McNeal brings the grit. The 6-3 Chicago product who James and Matthews both call "the toughest person I've ever played against" is second in the nation in steals (3.2 per game) and he's also second on the team in points (14.7) and third in rebounding (4.6). But it's his reputation as a lock-down defender his teammates can't stop gushing about.

"He's so defense-oriented," Matthews said. "He takes pride in that and stopping his man and making sure his man can't do anything. That's what I like about him."

The brains is Matthews a, 6-5 Madison, Wisc., native who missed part of last season with a stress fracture in his right foot. He is third on the team with 12.1 ppg and second in rebounding (5.5) and is an articulate student of the game that James says is "probably the most intelligent player I've ever played with."

The potent trio has also been bolstered by the arrival of 6-foot Venezuelan freshman David Cubillan. The reserve is currently the Big East's second-leading three-point shooter, hitting 47.3 percent of his treys (26-of-55).

"He makes defenses play us more honest," McNeal said. "Coming into games, teams know that me, Wes and Dominic are going to try to drive and get into the lanes and create things and get our own shots. He makes teams think about over-helping against us when he's in the games, because he's shooting the three-pointer from such a high percentage."

The Eagles deep backcourt has been paramount in its turnaround after an 0-2 start in Big East play with losses to Providence and Syracuse.

After starting 8-0, Marquette rose to eighth in the AP Poll but was beat by North Dakota State at home before falling to Wisconsin. When conference play started, the Eagles were settling on contested three-pointers and unable to control the boards. The rocky patch cost them their spot in the top 25."I think we got away from what defines us," Matthews said.

Matthews says coach Tom Crean broke down tape, showing the Eagles examples of what they were doing right and examples of the bad habits that had plagued their recent play. "It was just an eye-opener for everybody," Matthews said.

The turnaround began three days after a 12-point loss to Syracuse at home with a game at UConn. Matthews said there was a sense of desperation in the locker room with the Eagles on the verge of their first three-game conference skid in Crean's eight seasons.

"We felt like 'We have to get this game,'" Matthews said. "I think that plan, with a little bit of desperation and a little bit of a chip on our shoulder -- that helps our team out. It forces us to play how we're supposed to play."

The Eagles responded, climbing back into the top 25 behind a 73-69 win over the then 22nd-ranked Huskies, a victory over then No. 21 West Virginia and a win at Louisville. On Sunday they ran their streak to four with a 77-74 overtime win at No. 6 Pitt. They've done it by shoring up their shot selection from behind the arc (the Eagles have cut down from 22 attempted treys in their Big East losses to 16.5 in the wins), rebounding (Marquette went from a minus-8 disadvantage on the boards to plus-four) and getting to the line (a jump of 18, to 26.5 attempts).

And of course, at the center of Marquette's hot streak is the trio of brain, brawn and the playmaker, with Matthews, McNeal and James accounting for 61 percent of the Eagles' offense.
Cowboy Ups And Downs
Oklahoma State has officially become some kind of hardwood Sudoku. Yes, I praised the Mario Boggan-JamesOn Curry-led Cowboys in this space before but Sean Sutton's crew is one mind-boggling puzzle. Are they the team that dropped Texas in a triple-overtime classic or the one that lost by 30 to Kansas and, most recently, by 18 to Texas A&M? Here's what we know: OSU has been less-than dominant on the road, its three road wins (Auburn, Missouri State and Syracuse) have come by a total of eight points and all three losses have come outside Stillwater. In its Big 12 losses the Cowboys shot a dismal 32.5 percent (29-of-89), committed 40 turnovers and have struggled on D, allowing 83.5 ppg -- though they did give up 103 in the triple OT win vs. the Longhorns -- and its largely due to a lack of size (6-foot-9 Marcus Dove and 6-foot-7 center Boggan are the biggest players logging heavy minutes, while 6-foot-11 Kenny Cooper has played sparingly). A pair of blowouts have exposed OSU's weaknesses, but let's not forget, it did weather a tough non-conference schedule in starting 14-1 and can be explosive on offense. Sutton and the 'Boys are faced with an identity crisis, but some relief may be on the horizon: their next opponent, Oklahoma, hasn't won on the road in Big 12 play and the game's in Stillwater, where the Cowboys are 11-0 this season. What's more, Oklahoma State doesn't face a ranked team on the road until a Feb. 12 trip to Texas. Let's hope by then we have a better idea of which Oklahoma State team will show up in Austin.
Vanderbilt Commodores
The word on the Commodores is they live and die by the three. Right now, they're living it up. They hit 11 in beating Kentucky on Saturday and a season-high 15 in ripping ninth-ranked Alabama on Wednesday.
Arizona Wildcats
It's been a while since Lute Olson's Wildcats have been struggling like this. Arizona lost its third straight in the Pac-10 with Saturday's loss to UCLA, its first such conference skid since 1983-84, Olson's first season.
Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana is reaping the rewards of a tough early road schedule. It won at Connecticut for its ninth win in 10 games and its second straight road win after losing to Butler, Duke, Kentucky and Ohio State away from home.
Nevada Wolf Pack
Nevada got schooled on the glass, and now its 10-game winning streak is over. New Mexico pulled down 23 offensive rebounds as Justin Hawkins had 11 and 29 points and made a mockery out of the Wolf Pack's zone D.
Washington State
Wazzu put an historical beatdown on Washington with a 28-point rout, the largest margin of victory in the series' 97-year history as it held the Huskies to season lows on points (47) and field-goal percentage (28.3).
West Virginia Mountaineers
It just keeps piling up for West Virginia, which fell to Cincinnati in OT for its third loss and four games. Not a strong start to a two-week run that has four of five away from home, where all of WVU's losses have come.
"The last couple of years, you all haven't seen the real Aaron Brooks. This is the real Aaron Brooks."
--Oregon guard Malik Hairston on guard Brooks, who scored 22 points in a win over Cal. Brooks is averaging 20.6 ppg during Oregon's current five-game winning streak.
"You could have Ben Wallace out there, if it's a wide-open three, they'll hit the shot."
--Boston College forward Jared Dudley on Clemson, which went 9-of-18 from behind the arc and 31-of-61 from the field in handing BC its first ACC loss of the season 74-54.
"I think it's because you've got to get up out of your seats when you see these guys play because they move you -- even if you don't feel like moving too much."
--Notre Dame coach Mike Brey on the school's energetic home crowds. The Irish haven't sold out at home this year, but have won 16 in a row playing in front of the ND faithful.
Joakim NoahF - Florida
The heart of the Gators made sure the defending champs wouldn't be hit with a devastating loss against Ole Miss. He had 24 points and 12 boards, including a pair of momentum-changing plays as top-ranked Florida won its 10th straight.
J.R. ReynoldsG - Virginia
Talk about a career day. The senior, who was averaging 16.2 ppg, scored 40 as Virginia beat Wake Forest. "He was playing off of his strength, and his strength is making shots," coach Dave Leitao told the Hampton Roads (Va.) Daily Press.
Marvin GentryG - Cincinnati
After averaging 5.5 ppg, Gentry had a career-high 32 points to help Cincinnati beat WVU for its first Big East win. He went 9-of-14, hitting five treys. "It was just a matter of time, I guess," he told The Enquirer (Cincinnati) of his big day.
A pair of heartbreaking losses (a one-point defeat vs. Niagara, OT vs. Canisus) have run Iona's losing streak to 19. An NCAA tourney team last season, it hasn't won since March 6.
Butler's A.J. Graves went 9-for-9 from the free-throw line, pushing his FTs streak to 63. He has a ways to go to reach the NCAA record of 85, held by former Bulldog Darrell Archey.
Call it Blue Heaven. North Carolina rolled past Georgia Tech on Saturday, in Chapel Hill for its 1,900th win to join Kentucky as the only NCAA schools to crack the 1,900-win plateau.

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