2024 SBC Tournament Preview: Will JMU Men’s Basketball Make the Big Dance?

Image courtesy of the Sun Belt Conference

By Bennett Conlin

The Sun Belt men’s basketball tournament begins Tuesday, but JMU won’t hit the court in Pensacola, Florida, until Saturday. It pays to be a top-4 seed. 

JMU, the No. 2 seed, opens play Saturday at 8:30 p.m. The Dukes’ quarterfinal opponent is to be determined. Here’s a link to the bracket.

Let’s break down the 2024 SBC Tournament on the men’s side. 

What’s at stake for JMU?

The obvious prize of any conference tournament is the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. That’s no different this season. 

If JMU wins the Sun Belt Tournament, they make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. This JMU team is a lot better than that 2013 squad, and if the Dukes make the field, they’ll have a legitimate chance to win a game or two. This is going to be a huge tournament for the Dukes, as making the NCAA Tournament field and winning 30+ games would elevate the national perception of the program. 

Additionally, JMU has played itself onto the NCAA Tournament bubble. If the Dukes make the Sun Belt championship game and lose to App State, the Dukes could still earn an at-large berth into the field. 

The No. 1 goal is the tournament championship, but at minimum, making the final could keep the Dukes’ bubble from completely bursting. 

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

Expectations for JMU

The goal is to win the championship. The expectation should be to reach the championship game. 

The Dukes were swept by App State in the regular season for a reason – the Mountaineers are good. Just like JMU has realistic NCAA Tournament dreams, so does App State. 

JMU has what it takes to win the Sun Belt title – and the Dukes are the betting favorite – but fans shouldn’t expect a championship. It’s fair, however, to expect this JMU team to make the championship game. 

Biggest threat

This one is obvious. It’s App State, the Sun Belt’s No. 1 seed and a team that swept JMU in two regular-season meetings. 

The Mountaineers are shot-blocking machines, pacing the league’s defenses. They lead the nation in blocked shots per game, swatting 6.8 per contest. 

App State plays exceptional defense, and the offense holds its own at the mid-major level. JMU struggled with App State’s size in the first two meetings, and it’ll be a major challenge again if they meet in the championship.

Dark-horse contender

Can the No. 4 seed be a dark horse? I’ll say yes, given the gap between the top two teams in the league and the rest of the conference. 

Arkansas State is 12-6 since the calendar flipped to 2024, and they’re one of the most dangerous offenses in the conference. Head coach Bryan Hodgson is young and highly respected, and he’ll probably be leading a Power Conference team in the not so distant future. Arkansas State is extremely dangerous, having been the most efficient offense in the SBC during conference games, according to KenPom. 

Georgia Southern could be considered a threat as well given their recent improvement, but the Eagles haven’t won more than two games in a row this season. They’re not winning the conference tournament. 

Prediction

JMU wins the Sun Belt Championship. 

The Dukes are 28-3 for a reason. They opened the season winning at Michigan State, and they’ve won their last 10 games, including four in a row on the road to close out the season. JMU enters the tournament playing spectacular basketball with a deep roster that features multiple Power Conference caliber players. 

JMU looks the part of an NCAA Tournament team. Their metrics are good. They pass the eye test. Mark Byington’s squad deserves to go dancing in 2024, and I think they will. 

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