JMU Men’s Basketball Likely An Underdog Against App State In Important Game

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

When JMU men’s basketball hits the road to visit App State on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET (the game will air on ESPN2), the Dukes will have more at stake than they’ve had for arguably any conference game the last decade. 

Despite having played one of the 30 weakest schedules in Division I men’s college basketball this season (according to KenPom), JMU finds itself in the mix for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. The Dukes’ remaining margin for regular-season error might be zero, but at 18-2 overall, JMU has put itself in the conversation to deserve an NCAA Tournament spot even if it loses in the conference tournament. 

To keep that hope alive – and to avoid losing major ground to App State atop the league standings – the Dukes need a road win against one of the best teams in the conference. 

JMU likely underdog

While most sports betting sites haven’t listed odds yet for the Saturday game, KenPom projects JMU will be a two-point betting underdog. If that line holds true, it’ll mark the first time since November JMU enters a game as an underdog.

JMU opened the year as an underdog against Michigan State (16.5 points) and Kent State (3.5 points). The Dukes won both games outright, with each victory coming in overtime. 

Saturday means a lot for the Dukes, as it’ll be one of their few remaining chances to secure a notable victory. Outside of Michigan State, JMU doesn’t have a victory against a team currently inside the KenPom Top 100. App State sits at No. 79. 

Akron, which JMU will host on Feb. 10, is 92nd. The Dukes going 2-0 in those games would bolster a resume in desperate need of quality wins to go with the season-opening triumph over the Spartans.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Christopher William Jewelers for their advertising support this season.

First matchup went App State’s way

In the first meeting with the Mountaineers, JMU struggled to consistently attack App State’s defense and lost 59-55 at home. The Mountaineers lead the Sun Belt with 6.8 blocked shots per contest, and they swatted seven of JMU’s shots in the first meeting. 

Head coach Mark Byington sounded frustrated after the game, suggesting the game plan was to use shot fakes to throw off App State’s shot blockers. The Dukes instead tried to force off contested shots in the lane, getting multiple shots blocked. Perhaps JMU will rely more on 3-pointers – JMU was a dreadful 3 for 17 from deep in the first meeting – and shot fakes inside the arc to score more efficiently. 

The 55 points scored by JMU in the first meeting is the Dukes’ season-low scoring output. 

A fast (or at least respectable) start will be critical for JMU. The Dukes trailed App State 26-10 in the first meeting, and the slow start forced JMU to battle just to make the game competitive in the second half. 

In JMU’s other loss this season, a 10-point road loss to Southern Miss, the Dukes trailed by as many as 11 in the first half. Even in a recent conference road win against Louisiana, the Dukes were down 12-4 after the first few minutes of the contest. Against ODU the last time out, JMU put the Monarchs in a hole quickly and held a commanding lead throughout the final 20 minutes. 

JMU needs a decent opening half Saturday to beat a quality conference foe on the road. 

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