Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
From 2005-2020, JMU women’s basketball won at least 23 games in every season. In 2020-21, the Dukes went 15-10. Last season, they went 14-15.
The recent results and HORRIBLE luck (injuries and COVID-19) make it hard to adequately assess head coach Sean O’Regan. When COVID-19 ended the 2019-20 basketball season, the Dukes had one of their best teams in years. They were capable of not only making the NCAA Tournament, but winning games in the event.
When O’Regan has a fully healthy roster, there’s reason to believe he could make JMU a Sweet 16 threat every few years. He’ll have a chance to prove his supporters right this season, as the Dukes have a deep roster with talent at every position. If JMU stays healthy, the Dukes could have a special season.
There’s a lot to like about JMU’s roster, and it starts with Kiki Jefferson. The senior guard averaged 18.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game last season despite some struggles from beyond the 3-point line. She’s exceptional defensively, often creating steals and blocking shots. Jefferson does everything well, and she’s one of the best players in the conference.
Caroline Germond is expected to be a key option at point guard. The TCU transfer is a pass-first player who can take the ball handling pressure off Jefferson.
JMU needs to see some combination of Jamia Hazell, Peyton McDaniel, and Kobe King-Hawae help Jefferson as a scoring threat. If two of those three can average 10+ points per game to aid Jefferson, the Dukes could have a tremendous season. King-Hawae, a Texas transfer, is expected to be eligible in December.
On the wing and at forward, JMU has talent. Claire Neff was a key contributor when healthy last season, as she plays with energy, defends well, and can shoot the 3-point shot.
Kseniia Kozlova adds tremendous height in the post, which should help the Dukes defensively. Annalicia Goodman has proven that she can contribute in the post as well, and Mikaya Tynes is bright young prospect who developed nicely as last season progressed.
Steph Ouderkirk is a dependable player with nice shooting touch, making her a veteran option who could see time off the bench. The group of talented freshmen will have to prove they’re capable of making an immediate impact to earn playing time over the group’s returning players.
I like the nonconference slate! There’s a nice mix of quality games and recognizable in-state foes.
A home showdown with North Carolina highlights the schedule, but games with Liberty, VCU, and William & Mary are plenty fun as well. It’s a solid nonconference schedule that will give us an early idea of just how good this team could be this season.
The conference schedule isn’t overly exciting, but games against Old Dominion figure to be intense. I’m interested to see where the Dukes factor into the Sun Belt picture, as they were chosen to finish sixth in the preseason.
Sixth-place feels low for this JMU team, given the transfer additions and the returning talent. The Dukes can build around Jefferson, which is a scary proposition for opponents.
Expectations externally might not be that high, but JMU has the tools to contend for a Sun Belt title. At the very least, the Dukes should pick up 20+ wins, returning to their winning ways.
With Jefferson as the team’s star, the Sun Belt is winnable. JMU needs to improve its overall offensive efficiency, as shooting and turnovers were massive issues a season ago. Adding Germond should help with turnovers, and if several players make minor increases in their 3-point shots, the Dukes figure to take a step forward offensively.
Defensively, a healthy JMU should defend effectively. There have been defensive lapses the last two seasons, perhaps due to relative inexperience. This year’s team has plenty of veterans and impressive overall athleticism, so there’s no excuse for the Dukes to struggle defensively.
After a pair of subpar season, JMU appears poised to return to the WNIT or NCAA Tournament, assuming the Dukes avoid awful injury luck that’s doomed them in recent years.