Marquette: Big East Contender?

Tim SeemanAnalyst IFebruary 13, 2008

Marquette had slowly been fading from the minds of many fans who follow the Big East.  One person had even argued with me that Purdue was a better team than Marquette (this even before the Boilermakers beat Wisconsin in the Kohl Center). 

It's been hard to defend the Golden Eagles this season, especially on the road.  Blowout losses to West Virginia, Connecticut, and Louisville were punished with drops in both polls.  A recent two-game losing streak with a home loss to Louisville and a heartbreaker on the road against Notre Dame has put the Golden Eagles on the ropes.

And, somewhat unexpectedly, Marquette is punching back.

It started against the Fighting Irish in South Bend.  With less than three minutes remaining in the game, Marquette was down ten points, and I was on the verge of turning the TV off and going back to sleep. 

But something remarkable happened that may be the turning point in the Golden Eagles' season.  Dominic James started to take charge.

The same Dominic James who had fought a nagging wrist injury early in the season.  The same Dominic James who struggled with influenza during the recent two-game slide.  The same Dominic James who hadn't lived up to his billing coming into this season, but who still has a chance to redeem himself down the stretch.

After a jump shot by James, The Irish's Kyle McAlarney brought the ball to halfcourt only to have it stolen there by James and taken back for an easy layup.  Another turnover led to a fast-break three pointer by David Cubillan to cut the lead to only three points.  A missed shot by McAlarney led to another layup by James, leaving Marquette only one point behind the Irish. 

In less than two minutes, Marquette had stormed back from a ten point deficit to within one basket of taking the lead, which might've happened had senior Lawrence Blackledge corralled a James pass after another steal by the stout Marquette defense. 

Forced into fouling, Marquette did so, and Notre Dame made six consecutive free throws.  After all that, James had one last try to hit a three and send the game to overtime.  He missed, of course, and the Golden Eagles returned to Milwaukee with a whole new attitude.

That attitude was on display Tuesday night with a 25-point drubbing of Seton Hall in New Jersey.  This is important to note.  Though Marquette had previously beaten Cincinnati on the road, that win wasn't as dominant as this one was. 

Marquette convincingly manhandled the Pirates from beginning to end, and this game further proved that Marquette had turned the corner during the Notre Dame contest.

Looking at what's ahead, it's hard to see a game before the March 1 meeting with Georgetown that will challenge Marquette.  Pittsburgh looks like a tough game on the surface, but with Converse planning to shoot commercial footage, it'll be difficult for the Panthers to overcome the Bradley Center faithful.  Following that game, Marquette will play St. John's, Rutgers and Villanova, who combine for a paltry 10-24 record.

With this upcoming slate of games, Marquette may be bulldozing its way into the Big East tournament.  The way the Golden Eagles are playing now, they may not stop for a long time.