Can JMU Men’s Basketball Upset Virginia Again?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

JMU men’s basketball upset UVA last season, winning 52-49 in Harrisonburg. While the game was objectively ugly, it was beautiful for JMU fans.

The victory was JMU’s first over Virginia, and it meant even more with the game occurring at the Atlantic Union Bank Center. Fans stormed the court after JMU’s historic victory.

Virginia hosts JMU on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, and it’s a much improved UVA team. The Cavaliers are a perfect 7-0 with wins over neutral site wins over Baylor and Illinois and a road win at Michigan.

Tony Bennett’s team is a national title contender, not an NIT dropout.

JMU is solid

Look, the Dukes will likely be double-digit underdogs Tuesday — KenPom projects UVA -14 — but they’re not a pushover. JMU is 7-2 with a scoring differential of +258.

But Bennett, the Dukes played two non-D1 teams!!! Okay, fair. Against Division I teams, JMU is 5-2 with a scoring differential of +127.

The Dukes have impressive depth, especially at the guard position. Noah Freidel and Vado Morse are capable 3-point shooters who can stress UVA’s defense, and they’ll need to play their best. They went 3-28 from the floor in an 80-64 loss to North Carolina, which has looked much less impressive than Virginia this season.

Per KenPom, JMU ranks fourth nationally in effective field-goal percentage. They’re 63rd nationally in offensive efficiency and 97th in defensive efficiency. Through November, JMU is one of the better mid-major teams in college basketball. The Dukes have similar metrics to solid A-10 teams.

If UVA played a solid A-10 team like VCU or Richmond, we wouldn’t completely discount the possibility of an upset. JMU isn’t likely to beat UVA, but the 2022-23 version of the Dukes is much better than the average JMU team over the last 5-10 years.

UVA is a tough matchup

Virginia plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country, and while the Dukes like to push the ball up the floor, the game will likely be played at Virginia’s pace. That requires JMU to take care of the ball and maximize each possession. JMU currently ranks 234th nationally in turnover %, according to KenPom. That’s the Dukes’ No. 1 offensive issue through the early season.

Down low, UVA’s Kadin Shedrick is much improved from a year ago. He blocked three shots a season ago against the Dukes, going a perfect 3-3 from the floor and finishing with eight points. His size — he’s 6’11” and long — is a mismatch. This season, he’s averaging 10.1 points per game on 71.9% shooting. He’s blocking 1.7 shots per game, making it tough for teams to successfully drive into the paint.

JMU matched up better with UNC, but Armando Bacot still went for 19 points and 23 rebounds. He crushed the Dukes in the paint. Shedrick isn’t quite as physical as Bacot, but he’s longer with a much better jumper. The Dukes need a plan to slow him down on both ends, and his shot blocking will likely force the Dukes to settle for a lot of 3-pointers.

Defensively, JMU thrives by creating turnovers. UVA is 25th nationally in turnover percentage. The Cavaliers rarely turn it over.

It’s not an ideal matchup for JMU, given the Dukes’ strengths.

The bottom line

UVA is not a great matchup for any team, but it’s an especially tough one for an undersized JMU team that loves to run in transition.

Can the Dukes win? Sure! They’ve looked good through nine games, and if Freidel and Morse shoot well, this game could come down to the final five minutes.

At the same time, JMU isn’t on the same level as national title contenders. If each team puts together its average showing, UVA should win by 10+ points.

The real goal for JMU this season is to win the Sun Belt. The Dukes have the pieces to do just that. They should use this game as a learning experience more than anything. But if Freidel and Morse get hot, Tuesday’s game could be more exciting than the average fan expects. This could be the best JMU team in over a decade.

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