By Bennett Conlin
JMU women’s basketball enters the 2018-19 season as the CAA favorite. On paper, the Dukes are the clear choice to win the conference, but the team hasn’t won the CAA title in the last two seasons, despite high preseason expectations. As Sean O’Regan enters his third season as head coach, his most talented roster yet appears poised to reclaim the CAA crown. Here are three things we’re watching during the 2018-19 women’s basketball season.
1. Kamiah Smalls
Yes, I know, this isn’t bold or exciting or anything you don’t already know. Regardless, Kamiah Smalls has a chance to reach legendary status in the next two seasons. She’s a gifted scorer, a tremendous defender and an improving leader. JMU’s roster is loaded and NCAA Tournaments in the next two seasons are very much a possibility. If Kamiah Smalls reaches her potential, the Dukes go from a CAA title contender to a legitimate threat to make the Sweet 16.
Smalls needs to show continued development of her three-point jumper in 2018. There’s no doubt she can get to the rim, but defenders currently shade off her and dare her to shoot. If they’re forced to press up, it opens up the ability for Kamiah to attack the rim and get to the free-throw line on a consistent basis. This team can be great if Smalls becomes a dominant player.
2. Team defense
Many teams will struggle to top 50 points against JMU. 60-point games will be far and few between, and 70-point outings will be extremely rare. Every single position group has at least one elite defender. Logan Reynolds leads the guards as a superb on-ball defender. Aneah Young is a tremendous wing defender, although her offense needs improvement if she wants to log more than 15-20 minutes a night. Kayla Cooper-Williams leads the team’s shot blockers and is one of the conference’s best defenders. For JMU to do anything relevant nationally, the Dukes need a strong offense and better shooting than last season, but the team’s defense alone can carry JMU to a CAA title.
3. Taking the next step
JMU wants to be a fixture in the NCAA Tournament. This team has a chance to cement itself among the mid-major elite in the seasons before the opening of the Union Bank & Trust Center. Earning NCAA Tournament appearances the next two years would help increase excitement around the basketball programs (both men’s and women’s) before opening the new arena. An NCAA Tournament berth would also do quite a bit for recruiting, and the best way for any college program to rise up the national ranks is through recruiting.
JMU women’s basketball sits on the brink of becoming competitive nationally and making runs in the NCAA Tournament. The team wants to take a step from beating CAA teams to competing with the best in the country. It’s doable, and now is the perfect time to take a step forward with an phenomenal roster.
I love JMU’s roster this season. I think the Dukes eclipse 25 victories, win the CAA title and make an NCAA Tournament appearance.