What happens when an 11-7 team with no All-CAA first or second team members defends their championship after graduating both of their All-CAA third team members? What if you add in suspending their former all rookie team sophomore point guard for half a season? And throw in only having one senior on the roster, who the head coach has less than no trust in.
Welcome to the 3-6 James Madison Dukes, the pride of Harrisonburg, Virginia, "The Rest Stop City!" It's not been a pretty year for the not really defending CAA champs, and strong rumors continue to circulate that Athletic Director Jeff Bourne is drooling like a freshman boy at a JMU houseparty at the thought of parting ways with Coach Brady. On the court, the biggest open wound is the guard play, what was a fantastic trio in Moore, Davis and Nation had none of those three for the first half of the season and it showed. JMU sits in the bottom ten in the country in three point shooting percentage and in the bottom third of the country in defending the three as well. They turnover the ball too much and haven't rebounded either. With the return of Nation, the turnover count decreased significantly as we expected, but the shooting still isn't there, namely because Andre himself is shooting a miserable 24% from downtown.
Supplementing the shaky guard play is senior Semenov, who Matt Brady sat for most of the second half of their last game and Taylor Bessick, who needs work but at 6'9" and having decent skills is a project worth investing in for the Dukes. Drexel has struggled this season when opposing forwards drag a DU defender out to the perimeter, and Semenov can do that, as he often shoots more threes then twos. That will open up the middle for Bessick to work as well as for the guards to drive though. Defending penetration has been the Dragons biggest struggle this year, and going at the basket has been JMU's biggest strength. Don't be fooled by all of the Dukes struggles, this is a bad matchup for Drexel's defense. Add to that DU's struggles at home and anyone who looks at JMU's record and assumes this game will be a walk is likely to be rudely surprised.
The three men that will determine this game for the Dukes are Semenov, Nation and Cooke. Two guards who drive and a forward who shoots, go figure. For Drexel fans its Cooke that will be especially telling. The 6'6" sophomore has been drawing fouls like its his job, at a rate faster then any Dragon not named Massenat. With Semenov drawing out the defense, Cooke will have his chance to test Drexel's defense with his driving ability and if he's watched the tape of what Rafriel Gutherie did to the Dragons, he will be at the line all night if the Drexel staff hasn't made adjustments. Cooke is a local boy, going to high school at Trenton Catholic, so expect the usual robust JMU cheering section to be especially loud for him when he gets to the basket.
With four days off since their last game, the Sons of Flint have had some time to ice up and the staff has had some time to prepare for this game, and make some defensive adjustments. How they did in that stretch (and the upcoming break from Saturday until a Thursday game in Charleston) won't determine the outcome of the game, it will determine the outcome of the season. All eyes on Cooke and Nation, they won;'t just be supporting Matt Brady, but they'll also be telling Dragon fans just how real this team might be.
It's a tough matchup. Losing Kazembe Abif for the season won't help, especially with potential foul trouble in this one. My prediction is below, but if you read my pre-conference season predictions, you'll know I've been higher then I should be on JMU for most of the year. If Matt Brady continues his experiments, this might break better for Drexel, but if the Drexel staff hasn't made defensive adjustments, the Dragons may lose this one outright. The era of the DAC being a house of horrors for the home team needs to end, so lets come together and give a toast to the Dragons best friend in this game: The three ball. Chris Fouch, run the curl man and lead this team on.
Prediction: Drexel 76, JMU 71
Vegas Line: Drexel -8