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JMU Sports Roundtable: Men’s Basketball Beats MSU, Football Seeks 10-0 Start

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick

This week’s roundtable discussion goes into more detail than just football. Given the men’s basketball team’s historic upset of Michigan State, we felt it was only fitting to talk hoops as well.

With the men’s and women’s soccer teams putting together strong seasons, we also gave them some shine. There’s a lot to like if you’re a JMU fan.

Let’s break it down.

JMU football obliterated Georgia State 42-14. What’s your major takeaway from the victory?

Bennett: The defense bounced back in a big way. I was slightly concerned after Old Dominion scored 27 points on the Dukes the week prior, but JMU held the Panthers to 14 points and 228 total yards. Of those 228, 88 came on a pair of long touchdown runs by Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger. Georgia State was unable to consistently move the ball, as the Dukes put together one of their best defensive efforts of 2023.

Jack: Bennett hit on the defense, I am going to hit on the offense. For the first time all season the Dukes looked to have a run game that wasn’t dead on arrival and attacked Georgia State in ways we haven’t seen all season. The Dukes had an explosive play on 5% of offensive snaps, the second lowest rate this season, and put up 42 points. For the first time all year, JMU had long sustained drives that ended in points. We’ve seen this offense score a ton with big plays and move the ball quickly, the fact JMU moved the ball in an efficient manner without the big play is exciting for the end of the season. 

Editor’s note: Thanks to Three Notch’d Brewing for their advertising support this season.

JMU men’s basketball beat Michigan State 79-76 in its season opener. What’s your reaction to the win?

Bennett: WOW. JMU took down No. 4 Michigan State in a game I expected the Dukes to lose by 20. I would’ve been pleased with a 10-point loss, but instead they pulled the upset despite only shooting 36% from the floor. I don’t think the win was a fluke. 

I think JMU is capable of competing with really good NCAA Tournament teams this season. My takeaway is that Mark Byington’s team is for real, and the Dukes should have a successful 2023-24 season given their absurd depth and athleticism. T.J. Bickerstaff is a major addition, as his post defense and scoring make him one of the better big men in recent JMU memory. Anything less than 20 wins would be a major disappointment for this team. 

Jack: I apologize in advance but the rest of this answer will be in all caps, as I am yelling this. 

HOLY FREAKING WOW!! JMU REALLY DID THAT. THE DUKES WENT INTO THE SPARTANS HOUSE, PLAYED LOCK DOWN DEFENSE AND REPEATEDLY STEPPED UP IN MASSIVE MOMENTS. WE HAVEN’T SEEN A MEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM DO THAT IN A GENERATION. ABSOLUTELY INSANE. 

This team has real potential to make a deep Sun Belt Conference Tournament run and should be the favorites to win the title and get a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. This win was just electric though, the transfers came up big, the old JMU dudes came up big time and time and again, just awesome. 

Outside of lacrosse, which JMU sport/team do you think is closest to national title contention?

Bennett: You could take this question a number of ways, with softball achieving national relevance/success in 2021 and winning games in the Women’s College World Series. Volleyball has come close to an NCAA Tournament win in recent years, as has women’s basketball which has a rich history. I’m not sure making a Final Four is realistic for either team, though. 

The football team could be in the mix with the College Football Playoff expanding, so that’s another logical option. But I’ll go with men’s soccer. 

The Dukes play in the Sun Belt, which is one of the best men’s soccer leagues in the country. They beat No. 1 UCF to end their regular season, and they made a run to the NCAA quarterfinals (Elite Eight) in 2018. If JMU can compete in its conference in coming seasons, it’ll be able to compete nationally. 

Outside of lacrosse, I think men’s soccer has the most likely path in the next 3-5 years to contending for a national title. 

Jack: I love Bennett’s answer. I think it could also be Women’s Soccer, really either soccer. But Women’s Soccer just got an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, which means they are doing something right! 

JMU football’s effort to receive a bowl waiver has intensified. Do you think the NCAA might change course?

Bennett: Yes, actually. The public pressure is increasing on the NCAA to reconsider JMU’s waiver for bowl eligibility. I think given JMU’s unprecedented move up – the Dukes played a full FBS schedule last year and are 17-3 since moving to the FBS – the NCAA will take a hard look at changing its decision and granting the undefeated Dukes a bowl waiver. 

I’m not expecting a change, to be clear. I do, however, think it’s more possible than it was a few weeks ago. JMU’s administration actively pushing for bowl eligibility in November signals that the Dukes’ higher-ups believe a change of course is possible. 

Jack: So you’re telling me there’s a chance? I am telling you there’s a chance. A small chance, but a chance. I think coming into this week, there was a less than 1 percent chance but greater than zero. Now, as I write this, JMU has sent a letter the Sun Belt reportedly sent a letter and the pressure is mounting daily. I would give it a 5-10 percent chance that the NCAA changes its course. I still think it is more likely that they stand with the original ruling, but there is a sliver of hope that JMU becomes eligible. 

What’s your score prediction for JMU football’s game against UConn?

Bennett: I’ll take JMU winning 38-7. I don’t anticipate this game being particularly close, although I’m not ready to say JMU wins by 50 or something outlandish. JMU controls the game and cruises to a 31-point win, looking elite defensively in the process. 

Jack: Some people said my score prediction last week was aggressive. Weird, I was pretty close!! This week, JMU wins 55-10. UConn can’t stop the pass, JMU has figured out the formula and the JMU secondary is going to cause some turnovers after not causing one against Georgia State and the defense accounts for at least 14 points. 

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