By Jack Fitzpatrick
James Madison announced on Wednesday, Dec. 30 that it would be adding Morgan State to the non-conference schedule. The game is slated for Sunday, Jan. 3 at 6 PM ET, filling the originally scheduled CAA opener against Towson.
Naturally, we now look ahead to the Bears and prepare ourselves for just the 10th meeting between the programs, the first since 2001. JMU is no stranger to the MEAC the Dukes lost earlier to Norfolk State 83-73 and fell last season to Coppin State at home.
Morgan State currently sits atop the MEAC standings at 3-2 overall and is coming off a win over CAA opponent Delaware. The Bears have some solid wins: taking down Rick Pitino’s Iona squad and Delaware while also taking care of business against Lincoln University, a DII school from Pennsylvania. The most questionable loss was to WV Tech, an NAIA school, 73-67 that leaves us with some questions.
JMU comes into this game at 3-3, and that record is a clear indication of this team. By that I mean, we truly have no idea just how good, or how bad, it is. Two of the Dukes’ three wins are against non-Division I opponents that left us with more questions than answers. It has been a weird season… to say the least.
Let us dive into this matchup.
By the numbers
James Madison (3-3)
Opponents PPG: 67.8
Scoring Margin: 10.9
FG %: 44.8%
RPG: 38.2 (+1.9)
Other Numbers: 67.4% from the FT line only hitting 95 of 141.
Morgan State (3-2)
Opponents PPG: 72
Scoring Margin: 2.4
FG %: 44.9%
RPG: 34.8 (+1.4)
Other Numbers: 42% from behind the arc, 9th best in the nation
While Morgan State is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country don’t expect them to sit behind the line and just chuck up threes. The Bears rank 285 in three point attempts in the nation. Morgan State has three guys averaging double figures and has a balanced offensive attack.
JMU has every opportunity to win and while the two sides might look similar on paper there is some distance between them in terms of talent. Morgan State is ranked 308 in KenPom rankings while JMU is ranked about 50 spots higher at 251. (Norfolk State, the other MEAC school JMU lost to, is at 226 FWIW.)
JMU squandered its opportunities against VCU, shooting poorly from the free throw line and turning the ball over 14 times in the first half and 18 in total. JMU was sloppy to start that game and despite that, they were right there and almost pulled off the in-state upset.
The expectation is for JMU to win and do it by 10+ points, it is the better team on paper and on the court.
It is worth noting that the team won’t have Vado Morse available as he is coming back from injury so we will see a little different of a rotation. However, as long as Matt Lewis plays like himself and Christmas & Co. can get some of their shots to go JMU will be in prime position to win and set itself up for conference play.
Things I want to see
Bennett talked a little about this in his latest article, and the major point was wanting to see more of Michael Christmas and I agree with that 100%. I don’t want to see that, I need to see more of Christmas in this matchup. He has had a weird season, from being shut down to getting going again to another shutdown, his conditioning has seemed to be a problem but now at this point in the season and his performance in the VCU game, we need to see more Christmas in this rotation.
Another thing I want to see and is something that we never saw in the Rowe era, is JMU to handle its business. Granted in the Rowe era there never was a game they should have won, each game was a fight no matter who it was against. In this game though, JMU should win. I want to see JMU go out there and make a statement before heading into conference play. The CAA is weak this season and the winner of this league could very easily have six losses, the importance of this game can’t be understated. I view this as a tone-setter, almost like a ‘get right’ game. If they can go out and handle business against a lesser team that would be amazing to see.
And finally, fewer turnovers. Not much more to say than that. JMU is averaging 14 turnovers a game and I want to see that number shrink.
You can catch the game on Sunday on Flo Hoops, and if you are in the Harrisonburg area, on 106.9 FM or 1360 AM. Tip-off is set for Sunday, Jan. 6 at 6 PM ET.