Thursday, January 21, 2016

James Madison - Away

The Dragons traveled from Philadelphia to God's Rest Stop, Harrisonburg, Virginia, on Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of a Thursday night showdown at the Convo.  Coming off of back to back seasons of 200+ finishes in the Kenpom ratings, it comes as something of a shock that Matt Brady's gang are in the top 100 this year in both Kenpom and the RPI, backed by a 13-5 D-I record.  This team seems for real, and had they been able to defend their home court in the early CAA season, would be locked into an NIT bid.  Instead JMU is just 1-2 at home in CAA play with losses to Elon and College of Charleston which has to be frustrating to a team capable of much better.

The Dukes cup runneth over with upperclassmen depth, led by senior sharpshooter Winston Grays and perennial underrated CAA Player of the Year candidate Ron Curry.  Not only will Curry hang out around 40% from downtown all season long, he will be in the top 250 nationally in both assist rate and turnover rate.  The fact that Curry came in alongside Andre Nation and not only stood tall on his own, but ended up being the better basketball player, is a testament to Curry both on and off the court.

And therein lies the rub.  It was going into a game at Drexel last season that Andre Nation's last major suspension was handed down.  He was removed from the program at that time, at which point the team's record was 9-8.  The Dukes went 10-4 from that point on and clinched a share of the regular season title.  This year the tide kept rolling behind a sudden attention to detail, defense and discipline.  The Dukes may finish in the top 100 nationally in defensive efficiency this year, a far cry from the past two years where they have been at or near the CAA basement in that category.  Inside Yohanny Dalembert continues to build towards his potential and is a formidable body for opposing big men to deal with.  At the other post position, the Drexel big men will be forced to go and do that which they don't want to do and guard the perimeter as the rotation of Shakir Brown, Tom Vodanovich and Dimitrije Cabarkapa all can shoot from 18 feet.

So there you go:  As long as you have a big that can guard the perimeter, all you have to deal with is a talented mountain of Yohanny Dalembert, an all CAA point guard, a senior sharp shooter and a junior 6'7" sg/wing who has hit 37% from distance over his career.  And they have instilled discipline and defend now too.  It might be time to be less surprised about how good JMU's record is and more surprised by how they lost two home league games.  This game shapes up to be a serious uphill battle for the Dragons.

And maybe that's not a bad thing.  Bruiser Flint was factually correct in saying that his players were outtoughed at Towson.  They have also lacked discipline for the vast majority of the season.  Coming off of an embarrassing performance last weekend, maybe going into the lion's den will show them how tough they can be.  Without a doubt, another performance like they showed at Towson will mean an even bigger blowout this time.  This game will be all the proof needed to know if the coaching staff still has a hold on their team.  That question has been asked before, both this year and in years past, and the team and its staff have always risen to the occasion.  Between that, the slow pace that both teams have played at this year and the old home court disadvantage theory that JMU seems to be abiding by, there's a chance this might just be a ballgame.

Prediction:  JMU 65 - Drexel 62
Vegas Line:  JMU -11.5

Addendum - The CAA All Underrated Team

PG - Luke Eddy (Yes, I took him off the ball so I could cheat)
SG - Caleb Donnelly
Wing - Ron Curry
SF - John Brown
C - Kazembe Abif

Addendum two

Open question:  Are the ladies of JMU good looking enough that, were Rick Pitino to coach there, he wouldn't bother hiring strippers to help recruit?

Alan Boston's Take:

It would appear to be teams headed the opposite way in Harrisonburg. Experienced and well coached JMU is coming off the week of all weeks, with upset wins at both Northeastern and then even more impressively at a very focused Hofstra in overtime. With 5 returning starters and an excellent Senior point guard, Ron Curry, you would think this team would be consistently good, Strangely, they did lose at home to both C of C and Elon.

Drexel arrives off an embarrassing and given their recent improvement, a very disappointing effort at Towson. On paper looks like a mismatch. JMU after last week, is certainly one of the favorites to win the Colonial. Drexel is one of the favorites to finish last. However, it does not work quite that way with sports. The Dukes recent home run efforts could lead to a bit of complacency and Drexel off their worst effort of the year, will certainly be all in here. Doubt it will be good enough to get the win, but I do think Drexel gets back to some of the good they showed and keeps this close.

JMU 65 Drexel 61

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