Buzz Williams paused. He looked away. He shifted from one foot to the other. Moments after hugging a limping Dominic James, the Marquette men’s basketball coach did his best Wednesday night to hold back the tears for his injured senior guard.
Buzz Williams paused. He looked away. He shifted from one foot to the other.
Moments after hugging a limping Dominic James, the Marquette men’s basketball coach did his best Wednesday night to hold back the tears for his injured senior guard.
“I hate it for him, as a person,” Williams said of James, whose season ended Wednesday after fracturing his left foot in the No. 8 Golden Eagles’ 93-82 loss to UConn. The coach then turned his focus toward the rest of his team. “We’ve had a small margin, like I’ve said, all year long. That margin is now completely gone. We have to play perfect and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Marquette is just the latest team to be sucker-punched by reality. Injuries have had a hand in shaping the Big East and national picture, and as they seemingly do every year, they’re throwing a wrench into the best-laid plans of players and coaches.
From James’ devastating news to UConn’s loss of Jerome Dyson to Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin’s two-game hiatus due to a concussion, several teams have played without their stars for varying periods of time.
Some have persevered. No. 4 North Carolina has played the majority of it season without its best defensive player, Marcus Ginyard. Cincinnati lost its projected starting point guard (Cashmere Wright) before the season, and yet has defied expectations with an 18-10 record and NCAA tournament-worthy resume.
Syracuse (20-8), bogged down by injuries to two starters for most of Big East play, is the “healthiest we’ve been,” coach Jim Boeheim said.
“I think we’re right on the verge where I think we can play even better than we’ve played,” he continued. “This is the time you want to play well and I think we will.”
Boeheim then paused. “But you never know for sure.”
Just ask Marquette.
“It’s a big part of getting on a run at the right time, of going to the NCAA and catching fire … a big part of it is a little bit of luck along the way,” Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said. “You saw UConn last year lose A.J. Price to an ACL (injury) in the tournament. It can happen to anybody, God forbid. Some of the elite teams can absorb an injury a little more than let’s say someone like us or someone that’s a middle-of-the-road team, where they lose a guy and basically that’s it, they’re done for the year.
“But no question, injury is always there. It’s always a part of the game you have to worry about, especially late in the year and especially with the special teams that have a chance to go far.”
UConn is one of those. The Huskies have fared well without Dyson, compiling a 5-1 record without the junior, including the game against Syracuse in which he tore his lateral meniscus less than five minutes in. But incorporating new players into the rotation has taken time, and without their best perimeter defender and toughest player, the Huskies aren’t the same, despite their record.
“Conceivably if Jerome Dyson doesn’t get hurt, I think Connecticut would have been favored to win the national championship by the people who make those lines going into the NCAA tournament,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “It’s very conceivable now, with the way Louisville’s playing, with Louisville, Pitt and UConn being three of the four favorites to win the whole tournament.”
Just like that ...
But depending on the player and the severity of the injury, things can change in an instant. Now the coach of West Virginia, Bob Huggins’ Cincinnati team was the favorite to win the 2000 NCAA title behind national Player of the Year Kenyon Martin. But when Martin broke his leg during the Conference-USA tournament, keeping him out for the rest of the postseason, everything changed.
“I think we ended up being the last No. 2 (seed) when going into the conference tournament when Ken broke his leg, we probably were going to be the No. 1 seed in the whole (NCAA) tournament,” Huggins said. “We ran everything through him offensively. We kind of threw the ball to him and spaced and he was such a great passer … and when they doubled, he found the open guy. We really didn’t run the motion stuff, and then we had to change everything because of that loss from an offensive standpoint. And I think it affected us greatly.”
That included the team’s overall mindset.
“I can remember him coming back in the second half (of the game he was injured) with the cast on,” Huggins said. “We were just miserable after he got hurt. And we had made a big run and got back (into the game). And here he came in on crutches and our guys looked over there and you could just see them deflated. You could just see it in their faces. It’s a hard thing to lose someone late in the year like that.”