Photo courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
When JMU men’s basketball started the season 4-0, it looked like the team was finally turning a corner under Louis Rowe. After going 2-4 in their next two games, the Dukes looked average. Then, JMU put together a 73-66 win over a Radford team with victories over Texas and Notre Dame. The Dukes were picking up steam before CAA play before losing by a combined 40 points to George Mason and Fordham. Ouch. So, what should you make of JMU men’s basketball?
JMU is 7-6 heading into conference action. Before the season, I believed the Dukes needed at least eight or more nonconference wins to be happy going into CAA play. I stand by this assessment. Losing six games against the team’s current schedule is bad.
The Dukes have lost to the Citadel, Oakland, Oral Roberts, Old Dominion, George Mason and Fordham. The losses to Oakland and Oral Roberts are the most troubling, as the Citadel, ODU, Mason and Fordham all have records of .500 or better. Oakland and Oral Roberts, however, are a combined 8-20. If JMU takes care of business against those two mediocre teams, the Dukes are 9-5 with a good win over Radford. Instead, they’re one loss away from being a .500 team. In fact, the Dukes are just 5-6 against Division I opponents.
After posting consecutive 10-win seasons under Louis Rowe, there’s a very good chance the Dukes exceed 10 wins this season. If they put together a 9-9 CAA record, the Dukes will finish the regular season 16-15. That’s a step in the right direction from where JMU finished the previous two years.
The CAA isn’t a great conference. Hofstra, Northeastern and the College of Charleston are all competitive teams that would likely represent the conference well in the NCAA Tournament, but it’s unlikely any of those teams win a game in the Big Dance, and it’s extremely unlikely the CAA gets a team into the Sweet 16.
Teams like Elon make the conference weak this season. The bottom of the conference isn’t mediocre, it’s awful. Elon lost to the UMKC Kangaroos 95-59 in its most recent outing. Yes, the Phoenix lost by 36 to the University of Missouri-Kansas City. With so many subpar teams, winning 10+ conference games won’t be too much of a challenge for Hofstra, Northeastern and Charleston.
What does this mean for JMU? The Dukes’ schedule sets up favorably. Playing in the CAA isn’t a daunting task. Unfortunately, JMU looks like the abysmal CAA teams at times. The Dukes lost by 27 to Fordham the last time out, and nearly lost at home to Coppin State, one of the worst teams in the entire country. On the other hand, the Dukes looked phenomenal against Radford. Inconsistency is a theme for JMU.
I’m predicting the Dukes to go 6-12 in conference play. JMU likely goes 2-4, 1-5 or 0-6 against the top three teams previously discussed. From there, I expect JMU to be roughly a .500 team against CAA competition. JMU’s talent should yield 10+ conference wins this season, but the Dukes look awful at times and have had the same glaring mistakes for three seasons. They turn the ball over at alarming rates, and there’s rarely energy on the court. The team looks like its going through the motions lately. There are sparks of Matt Lewis and DeShon Parker playing with passion, but the team looks out of sorts and there’s no offensive organization. This year’s record says the Dukes are better than the previous two seasons, but my eye test disagrees.
JMU has the talent to go 12-6 in conference play and finish the season with a 19-12 regular season record. From what I’ve seen, though, I can’t pick the Dukes to reach a win total anywhere near 20. This team isn’t playing well, and I’m expecting a rocky conference season with subpar road performances. I’ll take the Dukes to go 6-12 in the CAA and finish the regular season with a 13-18 record.
The Bottom Line
JMU commits far too many turnovers, and can’t seem to pick up meaningful road victories. Under Louis Rowe, JMU is just 8-28 on the road. To make matters worse, the Dukes are 8-19 under Rowe following wins. The team’s inability to win back-to-back games is a legitimate concern, especially considering JMU only plays three consecutive home games once during conference action. It’s hard to see this team putting a meaningful win streak together. It’s much easier to see the Dukes piling up losing streaks of three or more games.
This program desperately needs a good conference run. The Dukes won 21 games, including nine on the road, in Matt Brady’s final season as head coach. He was fired after a 21-win season because the season fell short of Jeff Bourne’s standards. Rowe has won 27 games across 2+ seasons and has just eight road wins in 36 chances. The on-court product has regressed in two seasons under the first-time head coach. With a new arena coming and fan engagement dwindling, JMU men’s basketball needs to turn this season around.
Correction (12/25/18 at 3:12 p.m.): An earlier version of this post said Elon lost to UMKC by 46 points. The Phoenix lost by 36, and I’m bad at math.