College Basketball

January 29, 2007

Regal Eagle

After stunning Pitt, Marquette's dominant Dominic James was evoking memories of Dwyane Wade

MARQUETTE'S 77--74 OVERTIME win at then No. 6 Pitt on Sunday was little more than an hour old when point guard Dominic James boarded the Golden Eagles' bus and commandeered a coach's laptop. He wanted to see, right away, how he might better have executed his last shot in regulation, a running jumper that bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded. "I should have gathered myself and shot a regular jump shot," he said after reviewing the replay. "I'll remember that next time."

James, only a sophomore but already a leader whose calm under pressure reminds coach Tom Crean of former Golden Eagles guard Dwyane Wade, has already won two games for Marquette in the final seconds. In a 65--62 victory at Valparaiso on Nov. 27, he scored his team's final 18 points, including a three as the clock wound down. And he sealed Sunday's upset by making the final two of his game-high 23 points on a pair of free throws with less than a second remaining in OT. But James wasn't satisfied with his performance. "Our whole team is like that," says Crean. "We're still young and still learning."

And still maddeningly inconsistent. In November, Marquette, which starts a freshman, three sophomores and a junior, jumped to No. 8 in the AP poll after beating Texas Tech and then No. 9 Duke in succession. But subsequent losses to North Dakota State and Wisconsin dropped the Eagles to No. 20, and after they opened Big East play by losing to unranked Providence and Syracuse, they fell off the charts altogether. Since then Marquette has beaten four straight conference foes, including Connecticut and West Virginia. The overtime win against Pitt, which hadn't lost at home all season, showed Crean that "our guys are maturing right in front of our eyes." What it showed the rest of the nation is that Marquette—now ranked No. 15—can't be discounted as a national title contender. "We're finding different ways to win," says Crean. "We're rebounding better, defending at a higher level and moving the basketball."

Integral to that ball movement are Marquette's perimeter players, including the hyperathletic 5'11" James, last year's Big East rookie of the year, and sophomores Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal. The trio is competitive in everything—before bus trips they even play rock, paper, scissors to determine who gets the best seat. "You'd think we hate each other, the way we compete," says Matthews, "but we expect the best from each other."

Certainly that's what James expects from himself. Growing up in Richmond, Ind., he looked for guidance to his older brother, Germayne, a fellow point guard who played at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wis. "He sacrificed so much," says James. "He worked factory jobs to help support the family while telling me my job was to play basketball and get good grades."

That ethic is one reason James eschews video games in favor of game video. "Peyton Manning watches film all the time, and that shows up in his [performance]," says James, who spends nearly every free hour in the film room. "I have a lot to prove, and so does this team. We have a saying: 'Stay humble, or we will crumble.'"

ONLY AT SI.COM Seth Davis's Hoop Thoughts every Tuesday and Thursday.

Seth Davis's Three-Pointer

1 Brandon Rush (right) must start living up to his billing. Kansas' sophomore swingman, a preseason All-America, scored just 10 points in the Jayhawks' loss at Texas Tech.

2 Vanderbilt (13--6) is looking like an NCAA tournament team. The Commodores lost to Furman and Appalachian State in nonconference play, but their wins over Alabama and Kentucky vaulted them back into the postseason picture.

3 Scottie Reynolds is an exploding supernova. In a five-game stretch Villanova's 6'2" freshman point guard averaged 21.6 points, including a combined 53 in wins over Notre Dame and Texas.

PHOTOKEITH SRAKOCIC/AP (JAMES)DIVING FORCE James (right) outreached Ronald Ramon but wasn't satisfied after the win. PHOTOGREG NELSON (RUSH)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)