Can JMU Men’s Basketball Upset UVA?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

JMU men’s basketball hosts UVA on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. Can the Dukes beat Tony Bennett and the Wahoos?

That’s the question on everyone’s mind … or at least mine.

It appears to be a “down year” for Virginia, which essentially means it’s pretty darn good but isn’t a lock to finish in the top four of the ACC. Most years, JMU wouldn’t stand a chance against a Virginia team. This UVA team isn’t quite as scary.

Also in JMU’s favor is the location of Tuesday’s game, which will be played at JMU. The Atlantic Union Bank Center is sold out. Oh, and the Dukes (7-2 with wins over Old Dominion and George Mason) are actually competent this year!

So you’re saying there’s a chance? Well, maybe.

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index thinks so. BPI actually gives JMU a slight edge in the matchup, as of Sunday night.

KenPom, another wonderful basketball metric, doesn’t feel quite the same way. KenPom predicts a 65-60 UVA win. That prediction is also as of Sunday night.

The betting line for the matchup isn’t yet available.

JMU’s last three matchups against UVA have not been pretty. The Dukes lost 65-34 in 2019. In 2014, they lost 79-51. In 2013, JMU fell 61-41. Three matchups against Tony Bennett have led to three blowout losses.

The metrics suggest Tuesday’s game should at least be closer than those blowout defeats.

JMU wins if …

The Dukes have a few things going for them. They need to take advantage of every edge.

Perhaps most importantly, the game is in Harrisonburg. The atmosphere will be the best in the early history of the AUBC. Significant fan support gives JMU an edge, especially when considering this UVA team has only played one true road game. The team’s one trip to an opponent’s home court resulted in a 20-point loss to Houston. JMU isn’t Houston, but having home-court advantage certainly helps.

It’s also noteworthy that JMU is decent. Yeah, the Dukes are OK, folks. I’m not saying the Dukes are a top-25 team, but I think they could end the year as a top-100 team. They’re competent, which is actually an improvement from many of the teams this century. Players like Charles Falden, Vado Morse, and Jalen Hodge need to be at the top of their game.

When it comes to UVA, this isn’t Tony Bennett’s best. The Cavaliers are 6-3, and they needed a last-second shot Friday to beat a dreadful Pitt squad.

UVA lost its season opener to Navy, and Houston blew the Wahoos out. Iowa clipped Virginia by one point last week, clinging to a double-digit halftime lead and avoiding disaster as UVA played a superb second half.

The Cavaliers go on lengthy offensive droughts at times, and depth is limited this year. Perimeter shooting can be an issue for UVA, as guards Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, and Armaan Franklin can be streaky with their jumpers.

KenPom lists UVA at No. 51 currently. The Cavaliers are solid, but they’re not elite. Given the apparent mediocrity of the ACC this season, the ‘Hoos might be in a battle to make the NCAA Tournament this year.

UVA wins if …

UVA has plenty of matchup advantages over JMU. Kadin Shedrick is a 7-footer with 26 blocked shots in nine games. JMU doesn’t have anyone taller than 6’8″ on its roster.

JMU is shooting poorly from 3-point range and struggles with sloppy turnovers. UVA plays good on-ball defense with Clark, Beekman, and Franklin. If JMU can’t get to the rim with Shedrick manning the paint, they Dukes have to deal with a pair of strong perimeter defenders as they look for 3-point shots.

Offensively, Franklin and ECU transfer Jayden Gardner are tough guys to stop. Franklin can get hot shooting the ball, while Gardner is a bully on the block. Gardner even knocked down a pair of 3-pointers against Iowa, showcasing surprisingly good outside touch. JMU knows Gardner well, having faced ECU in each of the last three seasons.

UVA’s team, even in a down year, is solid. If UVA plays reasonably well, it could be tough for JMU to do more than just keep it close.

The bottom line

If the teams play 10 times on a neutral floor, UVA probably wins at least seven times. Fortunately for JMU fans, the game isn’t on a neutral floor.

The atmosphere should be a factor, and this JMU team is capable of competing with top-100 foes. JMU needs a good 3-point shooting game to win, especially given UVA’s size and shot-blocking ability. The Dukes also need to limit turnovers and hope for a few UVA scoring droughts.

It’s possible JMU wins Tuesday. I won’t say it’s likely, but it is possible. That’s an improvement from the last few times these teams have played.

I officially grant you permission to believe, JMU fans.

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