JMU NCAA Tournament Preview: Three Keys to Beating Wisconsin

Photo courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

JMU men’s basketball plays in an NCAA Tournament game Friday. I’m excited. You’re excited. We’re all excited.

Unfortunately – perhaps fortunately if you’re in the workforce and making the trip to Brooklyn – JMU fans have to wait until 9:40 p.m. ET on Friday until the fifth-seeded Dukes tip off against the fifth-seeded Wisconsin.

In the meantime, here are three keys to Friday night’s game, according to my big basketball brain.

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Shoot it efficiently from deep

Ahhh yes, the always bold statement that a team needs to shoot it well from 3-point range to win basketball games. That’s why you come to JMU Sports News, folks! Our analysis is unmatched!

In all seriousness, 3-point shooting should be massive in this particular matchup. Wisconsin struggles with 3-point defense, ranking 345th nationally, per KenPom. Wisconsin opponents are 4-12 when shooting worse than 35% from 3-point range.

The only teams to beat the Badgers when shooting less than 35% from 3 are Nebraska, Iowa, Purdue, and Tennessee. Nebraska and Iowa both needed overtime to win those games, and Purdue and Tennessee earned top 2 seeds in this year’s tournament.

In JMU’s three losses, the Dukes shot 35.3% or worse from 3 in each contest. In two of the three losses, JMU shot under 20% from deep. JMU needs to avoid an awful performance from 3-point range, as the Badgers’ defense is vulnerable from beyond the arc.

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

Attack the basket

Wisconsin’s program prides itself on defending without fouling. In fairness, there probably aren’t many programs that pride themselves on defending and fouling.

Still, a well-coached Wisconsin defense can be infuriating to play against, as the Badgers are often in the right position and make you earn everything.

It’s really hard to beat Wisconsin when it plays defense without hacking you. The Badgers are 15-2 when committing 15 or fewer fouls in a game. They’re a pedestrian 7-11 when they go over the 15-foul mark, though.

Can JMU’s players draw contact in the lane and force officials to make calls? Every little bit of offense helps, and Wisconsin opponents are 11-5 when making at least 15 free throws.

While 3-point shooting will be critical for JMU, Wisconsin has one of the lowest block rates in college basketball. The Badgers haven’t blocked more than five shots in any game all season, and they’ve only blocked five once. They’ve played 10 games without blocking any shots.

Terrence Edwards, the Sun Belt Player of the Year, plays his best when he aggressively attacks the basket instead of settling for jumpers. The same goes from T.J. Bickerstaff and Jaylen Carey. Both post players should attack the rim, as the Badgers aren’t elite shot blockers and teams generally fare better when they get to the free-throw line against Wisconsin.

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Embrace the moment

Not to be too much of the “happy to be here” guy, but it’s OK if JMU loses this game.

Don’t get me wrong, winning an NCAA Tournament game would be massive for JMU’s basketball program, but losing to Wisconsin won’t sour a great season. The Dukes have a program-record 31 victories, including a win over Michigan State. They won a conference championship, and built an electric home atmosphere in a top-end arena.

There’s a lot to love about not only JMU’s 2023-24 season, but also the future trajectory of the program (and athletic department as a whole).

As cliche as it sounds, Friday is an opportunity for JMU. There’s not much pressure on JMU to advance, and a win would be an incredible bonus to a special season.

JMU should play freely Saturday, embracing the upset chance as an underdog. If the Dukes come out engaged and confident, they’ll have a legitimate chance to win.

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