When Might JMU Men’s Basketball Drop Its First Game?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

With JMU’s football season concluded (of course transfer portal tracking feels like an entire season of its own), a sizable contingent of JMU fans will start paying closer attention to the undefeated and ranked men’s basketball team. 

The Dukes are a perfect 12-0, opening the year with a pair of thrilling victories over Michigan State and Kent State. Since then, they’ve looked dominant, playing just two games decided by single digits. 

JMU has won seven consecutive games by at least 10 points, taking advantage of a weak schedule. Thanks to a relatively weak Sun Belt, JMU fans could be looking at a JMU team that brings its undefeated record into 2024. 

Let’s take a look at when JMU might finally drop a game, while also pondering the team’s at-large chances.  

Between Dec. 30 and Jan. 13

The Dukes open conference play Saturday at home against Texas State. Between Dec. 30 and Jan. 13, the Dukes face a few quality opponents capable of taking down the Dukes. 

App State, which defeated Auburn earlier this year, comes to Harrisonburg on Jan. 13. The Mountaineers match up well with JMU, as they limit turnovers and do extremely well to score inside and defend teams inside the arc. Some of JMU’s strengths could be negated by the Mountaineers.

The Dukes also face Louisiana on the road on Jan. 4 in what could be a challenging contest. The Cajuns shoot it well, although their inability to defend two-point field goals and secure defensive rebounds gives JMU a clear edge in at least one area. Playing Southern Miss two days later on the road should make for a battle, especially with Andre Curbelo eligible for the Golden Eagles.

If the Dukes get through this five-game stretch undefeated, it’ll take a few strong efforts. 

(Schedule screenshot below is via basketball analytics site KenPom)

Between Jan. 18 and Jan. 27

A road game on Jan. 27 at App State is probably the hardest game left on JMU’s schedule. KenPom lists this as the only game left on the Dukes’ schedule where they’re projected to be an underdog. That game is also the Dukes’ best chance to build their at-large NCAA Tournament resume in league action.

A road game against App State stands out as a clear spot that could end JMU’s undefeated season or hand the Dukes another loss, if they’ve dropped a game before Jan. 27.

Feb. 1 and March 1

JMU’s best conference opponent during this stretch (according to KenPom) is Arkansas State at No. 173. Woof!

The Dukes should win a bunch of conference games in February and improve upon an already stellar record. If JMU makes it to February undefeated, fans need to consider the possibility the Dukes actually go perfect during their regular season. KenPom projects the Dukes’ as double-digit favorites in six games of their nine SBC games from Feb. 1-March 1.

JMU will also play a home game against a good MAC team (exact opponent TBD) on Feb. 10. That’ll be a good test.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Christopher William Jewelers for its advertising support.

At-large case?

I’m not expecting an undefeated season from the Dukes – it’s really hard to avoid a letdown or two – but JMU is building a case to be considered for an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament if it doesn’t win the conference tournament. That’d be wildly impressive. 

JMU currently sits at No. 30 in the NET rankings, which would be a selling point to make the Big Dance. Will that number dip dramatically given the Sun Belt’s lack of strength? It’s possible, but if Michigan State proves itself to be a Big Ten contender, the Dukes will have at least one signature win that suggests they’re worthy of inclusion in the tournament field. 

If JMU can avoid dreadful losses and instead drop games to top Sun Belt contenders on the road, the Dukes might be able to sneak into the NCAA Tournament with 1-3 losses. Any more than three losses likely ends the Dukes’ at-large case. Even three losses could be too many, given the Dukes’ strength of schedule.

KenPom currently projects JMU to win 15 of its 18 league games, which means going 28-3 ahead of the conference tournament is possible. A loss in the conference tournament, however, could doom the Dukes.

Keep a close eye on margin of victory as well, as the NET includes predictive rankings in its formula. If the Dukes demolish teams, it can lead to notable NET improvements. On the flip side, close wins against bad teams might actually hurt the team’s NET. The more blowout wins, the better. 

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