Tuesday, February 18, 2014

JMU Pregame - Step Two

The Dragons will visit the 5-8 JMU Dukes on Wednesday in front of a mediocre crowd in the not at all state of the art JMU Convocation Center!  CAA Basketball, fun for the whole family!  While the atmosphere might rival that of a second tier state fair, the game on the court might just be a dandy.

The Dukes losing record in this years weak edition of the CAA may look less than impressive, but don't overlook what they have done at the Convo this year.  Currently 3-3 at home (4-4 in all competitions), every game in The City that VDOT Built has been tight - JMU hasn't won by more than 6, or lost by more than 4.  Add this to the reminder of these teams last meeting, when Andre Nation wasn't present, a full Drexel squad was, and yet DU only had a 1 point halftime lead.

The issues in this game for the Dragons are the same, but magnified.  Charles Cooke got to the line 10 times last game, and this time will have a hometown whistle to help.  Andre Nation will be out there, and he'll be looking to score from the stripe as well.  Fouls have been the primary problem for the Drexel defense in conference play, and as thin as they are in the frontcourt, Nation and Cooke can create a two headed problem, putting points on the board and watering down the DU frontcourt at the same time.  They'll do this as Semenov drags one of the forwards out to the perimeter.  Drexel's guards not named Massenat have shown no ability to stay in front of their man this year, and with one forward out of position to help, there's a ton of pressure put on the one left over bigman.  This is what helped W&M tear the Drexel defense apart, and what got Charles Cooke to the line 10 times in the first meeting.  It is a critical concern for this matchup.

Well this game certainly doesn't project as low scoring as the Charleston affair, it looks to be just as close.  In a close game, it may very well come down to foul shots, and it's time that the team turns its eyes to Chris Fouch in that spot.  He's the second best free throw shooter in the conference since the beginning of conference play, and has a 10% cushion on the next best shooter on the Dragons.  While Frantz's contributions to this team have been immeasurable, and while he is certainly a top three player of the year candidate in this conference (Benimon, Thornton alongside) the numbers don't lie when it comes to something as simple as foul shooting.  When it counts, the ball needs to be in the hands of CF3.  He's not perfect, and no one knows that he won't miss a few either, but the coaching staff needs to play the hot hand, in this game now more than ever.

The Hofstra game was an important first step towards looking like the team that we all know this can be.  The Dukes shot 30 foul shots on the road at the DAC, and if they shoot more than that this time, this will be a significantly uphill battle for DU.  If the Dragons show their teeth on D, keep their man in front of them and the Dukes off the line though, this will be an important step two.  Either way, a bad matchup for the Dragons is offset by a miserable matchup for the Dukes - they don't have the horses to defend the Drexel guards.  

Bruiser said himself this week that the team "hasn't turned the corner yet" but acknowledges that they're starting to look better.  This is the right time of year to be doing that, and while this game will be a challenge, the Dragons can't afford a step backwards now with just four to play. 

Prediction:  Drexel 67 - James Madison 63
Vegas Line:  Drexel -1

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