Dominic James last saw court action on February 25th, when he broke a bone in his left foot after just 4 minutes into what became a 93-82 loss to Connecticut. The break was so severe that Marquette coach Buzz Williams announced after the game that James' college hoops days were over. He was expected to be out for the rest of the season, plus the post-season tournaments. James was the team's point guard, 4th high scorer and assist leader.
Including that loss, Marquette finished their regular season with four straight losses, though they were all to power teams in the Big East: UConn, Louisville, Pitt and Syracuse. In the Big East tournament, the Golden Eagles easily dumped pushover St. John's before losing to Villanova, 76-75, in the next round. Marquette won its opening game of the NCAAs, slipping past Utah State by a mere point, 58-57, and headed to a second round tilt with Missouri. Players and coaches alike were concerned, as Missouri's up-tempo, pressuring style requires deft ball-handling and sound decision-making.
Since James' departure, his place at the point had been taken by junior Maurice Acker, though with limited success. But late Saturday night, team doctors cleared James to play on Sunday, raising hopes that he could provide the kind of on-court senior leadership necessary to keep pace with the Mizzou.
James will likely start, though how much playing time he'll get is an open question. If, as reports indicate, he's stayed in shape and rehabbed properly, he could be good to go for up to 30 minutes.
The situation is similar to Saturday's return of Ty Lawson, point guard for North Carolina, who was suffering from a swollen big toe. Lawson missed the opener against creampuff Radford, a team the Tar Heels figured they could overwhelm without any number of starters and they did, romping to a 101-58 win. But yesterday against LSU, coach Roy Williams decided that Lawson was needed and 15 minutes prior to the opening tip, told his point guard that he was starting.
Lawson responded with an outstanding performance: 23 points and 7 assists, and he was instrumental in a second half rally that lifted Carolina to an 84-70 win.
If lightning strikes twice, James' return could spell doom for Missouri. Before his injury, Marquette was 23-4 and ranked in the Top 10 nationally. No matter how much playing time James receives, his return will surely boost the Golden Eagles emotionally.
Game time for the West region second round game is 4:50 pm EDT. It could be one of the best games of the day.