Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
This team is going to be special. The Dukes return a surplus of talent and depth, and it’s hard to envision a scenario where this team doesn’t make it into the NCAA Tournament.
We could’ve said the same thing last year, however, and injuries and poor shooting derailed JMU’s season. The Dukes missed the NCAA Tournament, but finished strong with a deep WNIT run and a meaningful win over Virginia Tech.
Can the Dukes make the Big Dance this year in the senior season of so many talented players? That’s the one question that will surround this team all season. If they do make the NCAA Tournament, it’s a team that could pull an early upset.
Potential starting 5
Point guard: Madison Green, sophomore
Shooting guard: Kamiah Smalls, senior
Small forward: Lexie Barrier, senior
Power forward: Devon Merritt, senior
Center: Kayla Cooper-Williams, redshirt senior
The lineup is experienced and loaded. Green played well in relief of Logan Reynolds last season, and she’s ready to be a team leader and facilitator at the point guard spot.
Smalls and Barrier are two of the best players in the CAA, and Merritt and Cooper-Williams are elite defenders and rebounders. It’s an ideal lineup for a team wanting to win the CAA.
Sean O’Regan won’t lack tools this season, as he holds the best starting lineup in the CAA and it’s not even close.
Guard – Kiki Jefferson, freshman
Guard – Jackie Benitez, redshirt senior
Forward – Breyenne Bellerand, junior
Also keep an eye on sophomore guard Eleanore Marciszewski. The Canadian can score with the best of them, and she’s a future star. I think Bellerand adds important defensive ability in the forward spot off the bench, and she’s someone who could spell Merritt or Cooper-Williams.
Benitez is as good as a starter, and she’s an elite scoring option off the bench. She’s a tremendous player who could easily average 15 points per game off the bench.
Jefferson might be the most exciting JMU women’s basketball prospect since Kamiah Smalls. Jefferson can score and defend, and she can impact this team immediately. She’s only an inch shorter than Cooper-Williams with the athleticism of guards. She’s elite.
The Dukes face a difficult schedule before CAA play. They play Villanova, Maryland, St. John’s, Georgetown and Liberty over a 15-day stretch in November.
We’ll learn a lot about JMU in November given the tough teams on its schedule. The challenging slate also gives the Dukes a chance to build their resume for a potential NCAA Tournament at-large berth.
It’s a bit harder to nicely screenshot the women’s schedule than the men’s, but here’s the link to the team’s full slate.
I expect JMU to go 25-4 on the season and enter the CAA tournament as the No. 1 seed. The Dukes will win the CAA Tournament and make the NCAA Tournament for the first time under O’Regan.
This team is loaded, and we’ll dive into their season much deeper in the coming weeks. This squad deserves hype and fan engagement because it’s a stellar group.