Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
Sean O’Regan has never led the women’s basketball team to the NCAA Tournament. He’s been close, but the Dukes have fallen just short in his first three seasons.
This year, the Dukes are well on their way to making the Big Dance. O’Regan’s team is 13-3 and 4-1 in the CAA. Kamiah Smalls is the best player in the league, and Kiki Jefferson is the league’s top freshman.
Add in Lexie Barrier, Kayla Cooper-Williams, Jackie Benitez and others, and you’re looking at an elite roster.
The roster is stacked, but it takes more than a stacked roster to win games. O’Regan was disappointed in his team’s showing in a 76-75 loss at Towson, and the Dukes have left opportunities on the table. The Dukes were arguably better than each of the three teams that beat them.
JMU should’ve beaten Maryland. It struggled in a loss to a Virginia team that is competitive, but isn’t an ACC contender at the moment. The Dukes could be 15-1 or 16-0. Alas, they’re not, and those games are in the past.
O’Regan said in a recent press conference that he doesn’t play the “What if” game. While the Dukes would be in prime position to make the NCAA Tournament at 16-0, they’re 13-3 and on the bubble. That’s reality, but it doesn’t diminish what could lie ahead for this squad.
Moving forward, there’s so much for JMU fans to be excited about with this team. Smalls is scoring 19.4 points per game, and five Dukes average at least 7.5 points per game.
It’s a balanced offensive attack, and the scoring threats are the best in O’Regan’s JMU tenure. The talent is off the charts.
When the Dukes play with energy and focus, like they did in an 87-53 win over the College of Charleston, they’re special.
JMU enters the meat of CAA play as the league’s team to beat. Winning the conference title in March would result in a spot in the NCAA Tournament. A loss in the conference tournament puts the Dukes squarely on the bubble.
They lack quality wins, but a close loss to Maryland and a superb overall record should at least put JMU in the discussion to earn an at-large berth. Given the current resume, it’s unlikely the Dukes make the Big Dance without a CAA title, but add in a few more dominant conference wins and the narrative could change. The Dukes do rank 44th nationally in RPI entering Thursday.
ESPN has the Dukes winning the CAA and making the Big Dance as a 12-seed.
They’d certainly enjoy their first-round foe in this hypothetical bracket.
A JMU basketball team hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since the women qualified in the 2015-16 season.
With the roster and leadership on this year’s women’s team, a spot in the Big Dance appears very possible. It’s an exciting time for JMU women’s basketball, and despite three winnable losses, the Dukes still have all their goals in front of them.