Analyzing JMU Men’s Basketball’s 2020-21 Nonconference schedulE

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

Behold, JMU men’s basketball’s 2020 schedule!

Home games are in bold, and the matchup with Bridgewater is an exhibition.

Nov. 4Bridgewater
Nov. 11Maryland Eastern Shore
Nov. 14Longwood
Nov. 16at Georgia Tech
Nov. 19Virginia
Nov. 22Mount St. Mary’s
Nov. 24Bryn Athyn
Nov. 27Radford
Nov. 30George Mason
Dec. 3 Fordham
Dec. 7Old Dominion
Dec. 10Clarks Summit
Dec. 19at ECU
Dec. 22at Florida

Let’s dive into this rather fascinating nonconference schedule, which will be the first under Mark Byington. It’s also the first season in the Atlantic Union Bank Center, although it’s unclear how many — if any — people will be allowed to attend games in person due to COVID-19.

Regardless, a new facility and coach usher in a new era of JMU men’s hoops.

An easy opener

There were some rumors that UVA would open JMU’s new arena. That’s not the case, as Maryland Eastern Shore is first up on the list for the men’s team.

There are 353 Division I men’s basketball teams. Maryland Eastern Shore ranked 349th in the 2020 KenPom rankings. What’s that mean? It means the team went 5-27 last season while being one of the worst all-around teams in the country.

Pencil in a win right away.

Division III games

One of my first thoughts seeing the schedule was joy that the game against Bridgewater wouldn’t count in the record books. Finally, the Dukes are getting away from padding the win column by playing Division III teams.

Right?

Wrong.

JMU’s nonconference slate lists 13 games. Of those 13, two come against Division III squads. Between that and the game against Maryland Eastern Shore, the Dukes should have three very, very easy nonconference games.

While it’s a bit disappointing to play two Division III teams, the marquee games more than make up for the lackluster opponents. That wasn’t the case in previous seasons.

Power 5 chances

Georgia Tech, Virginia and Florida all sit on JMU’s schedule. That’s fantastic.

While it’s unlikely the Dukes win any of those games, it’s good for the program to suit up against Power 5 opponents. JMU’s men’s basketball program has taken a step back in recent years (decades) and beating and competing against top-tier competition has been a thing of the past.

Don’t expect a drastic change from those results during the 2020-21 season, but at least the Dukes will have chances to take on the best of the best. We’ve seen JMU women’s basketball host teams like Tennessee and Florida State in recent seasons. Now the men’s squad gets to host UVa while also facing two other foes on the road.

“We have laid out what is, without a doubt, a very difficult and challenging schedule,” Byington said in a JMU press release. “I want our players to be in tough situations in our non-conference schedule so that it will pay dividends once we return to league play. I was fortunate to walk into a strong schedule that was mostly finished and only needed to add a handful of games. On paper, we could have the opportunity to play three teams that will be in or around the top 30 teams in the country.”

He’s not wrong. UVa should be a top-10 team to open the season. Florida and Georgia Tech should both be in the mix for at-large spots in the Big Dance. Those three games are solid.

Commonwealth connection

For a CAA team like JMU, nonconference schedules can often become boring. It’s hard to schedule multiple power conference teams, while also adding other interesting opponents to the schedule.

JMU’s 2020-21 nonconference schedule is anything but boring. That’s largely due to games against teams from Virginia.

Five of JMU’s 13 nonconference games come against teams from Virginia. The best part? JMU hosts all five.

Longwood, UVa, Radford, George Mason and Old Dominion will all visit JMU in November or early December. That’s great news for JMU fans — even if the arena limits capacity and fans are forced to stream the contests.

Outside of adding Virginia Tech and VCU, that’s about as good as a JMU fan can ask for when it comes to facing nonconference foes from the Commonwealth. It’s a great opportunity for the Dukes to start strong under Byington. Going 3-2 or better in the five games would be ideal for the Dukes, although it might be unrealistic given the volume of turnover on the team’s roster and coaching staff.

“My favorite part of the schedule is that we have really good home games,” Byington added. “I know the Virginia game sticks out and it will be great, but we are also hosting some great teams from the state of Virginia in our new home.”

Home, sweet home

Of JMU’s 13 nonconference games, 10 come in its new arena. It’s clear the team wants to bring fans to the new arena. There are now 10 chances for fans to return to Harrisonburg for games, assuming it’s safe for them to do so.

COVID-19 could certainly put a damper on this schedule, especially if there’s a second wave of the virus around flu season, but the program deserves credit for putting together a stellar schedule for the first season in “The Bank.”

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