The CAA Basketball Banquet took place this evening in Baltimore. The highlight of the event was the announcement of All CAA honors. Towson’s Jerrelle Benimon was selected as the conference player of the year for the second year in a row. We didn’t have a vote (imagine that), but if we did it would have gone to him. There were a number of outstanding players in the CAA this year, but nobody in the league could match the all around play of Benimon.
As far as the Dukes go, sophomore’s Andre Nation and Charles Cook both earned Third Team All CAA honors. Fellow sophomore Ron Curry (who could arguable be the team MVP) finished 20th in the All CAA voting. As the official JMU basketball Twitter feed revealed, the top 20 players in the league consisted of 12 seniors, 4 juniors, and 4 sophomores. Three of those four sophomores were Dukes. We’ve said all season that this year was more about taking a step forward and preparing for the future than it was about wins and losses. JMU’s “Big Three” took a step forward this year with their play on the court. Assuming Nation can avoid any additional struggles off the court, this team should have a dangerous core of players the next two seasons.
But it’s not time to think about the next few seasons. It’s time to focus on the tournament. A And the defending champion JMU Dukes have a very tough match-up Saturday night against Jerrelle Benimon and his Towson teammates. The Dukes played Towson tight in their second game this season. As is often the case with close contests, it came down to free throws. Towson nailed them. JMU didn’t. Ballgame. JMU can definitely pull off the upset, but it’s probably going to take their best effort of the year to do it. If they manage to win the opener, it’s wide open.
Actually the entire tournament is wide open. Delaware stormed out of the gate and won its first 11 CAA games. However, the Blue Hens hit a few speed bumps down the stretch losing 2 of their last 5. They’re the #1 seed, but by no means an overwhelming favorite. For my money Towson is the best team on paper and William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton has the talent to end his schools lifetime NCAA tourney drought. And it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that CofC, Northeastern, or the Dukes get hot and rattle of a few wins. Don’t even put it past Hofstra or UNCW to shock a higher seed. It should be a great weekend of hoops in good ol’ Baltimore. Hope to see y’all there.
Last night we were messing around on Twitter, trying to figure out who will be attending JMU’s CAA Tournament opener against Towson. There was the usual back and forth between hoops fans and next thing we know, a couple of alums were offering to buy tickets for folks. The two alums in question are @richpriz and @ChristensenEconomics. And yes, they’re serious. And it’s a great idea, so Todd and I are going to do it to.
Here’s how it’s going to work. There are a total of 4 tickets up for grabs. Leave us a comment here on the blog telling us why you deserve one. And because this thing started on Twitter, we’re requiring that your response be 140 characters max. We’re holding you to that. No long winded diatribes. Just get to the point in no more than 140 characters. All comments must be entered by 8:00 EST Thursday. Tomorrow night the 4 of us will review the comments to choose winners and notify everyone via email (so use your real email when you comment please). Then we’ll either leave a ticket for you at will call or Todd and I will hand off the ticket prior to the game at a bar or restaurant TBD, whichever you prefer. Oh and if you choose the hand off option, we’ll also buy the first round of drinks (provided you’re 21 of course). We’ll get you in the arena, provided you get yourself to Baltimore.
That’s it. Pretty simple right? So let us know why you deserve a free ticket and maybe we’ll see you Saturday.
Yesterday, the women’s team broke their own attendance record at the Convo after packing in a crowd of 6590 who didn’t let a little looming storm ruin their (hopefully) last opportunity to see two program-defining seniors play their final home games in Seniors Nikki Newman and Kirby Burkholder. Incredibly, in addition to continuing Kenny Brooks’ teams unprecedented run of improvement and success over much of the last decade, both Newman and Burkholder are graduates of Turner Ashby right there in the Valley so to say this was a special one is a huge understatement.
And of course the Dukes didn’t disappoint, destroying William & Mary 83-42 and pushing their already championship-winning CAA record to 14-1. The women’s tourney isn’t till the week after the men in Upper Marlboro, MD so the team has one more regular season game left at Northeastern this Wednesday.
We really can’t do justice to what Coach Brooks and his players have done during his tenure, so we’ll let three incredible stats speak for themselves. First, yesterday’s attendance was 2471 more than attended the top CAA men’s game this weekend. Second, the JMU women have AVERAGED more attendance than seven of the ten men’s programs in the conference for the season (incredibly, JMU’s men’s team leads the way if that tells you something about the appropriateness of continuing to remain in the CAA) trailing on JMU, UNCW, and CofC (barely). And best of all, that’s NINE straight seasons the women’s team has won at least 24 games. All while producing some of the finest student-athletes on campus in the true sense of that term.
Now if they could just avoid the 8/9 game and its inevitable matchup with a one-seed in the Big Dance (yes, this is one of those rare instances where a lower 10/11 seed might be a blessing in disguise).
JMU closed the 2013-2014 regular season with an 82-71 loss to Hofstra on the road. Charles Cooke and Ron Curry each scored 15 points. Jackson Kent, starting in place of the suspended Andre Nation, hit double figures with 10 points. Andrey Semenov managed to lead the Dukes with 17, despite going 3 for 12 from behind the arc. Zeke Upshaw and Jamall Robinson paced Hofstra with 18 and 22 points respectively. As a team, Hofstra shot 55% from the field. The Pride’s efficient attack made the JMU defense look like it was missing a key piece. Oh, wait. Anyway, JMU finished the regular season 11-19 overall, and 6-10 in the CAA. The win got Hofstra to 9-22, (5-11).
When the day began, JMU had a chance of finishing as high as fifth, provided the Dukes won and got some help. They didn’t get the help they needed and they didn’t win anyway. As they often have this year, JMU took a lead into halftime only to surrender it and lose after the break. I guess we can chalk that up to youth and inexperience, but it’s still frustrating.
After being picked to finish 7th in the preseason, that’s exactly where the Dukes ended up. Their reward is a match-up with Towson, the second seed and best team in the tournament (in my opinion of course). With the tournament in Baltimore, Towson gets to play the role of pseudo home team. It’s a role that VCU rode to great success back in its CAA days. However, JMU played Towson pretty tough last week and could win. To do it, the Dukes will need to avoid one of those extended second half scoring droughts that have plagued the team all season. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a full roster and a lack of distractions. Keep your fingers crossed.
Just confirmed: JMU coach Matt Brady has suspended Andre Nation indefinitely. Academic reasons.
— Nick Sunderland (@NSunderland4) February 28, 2014
It happened again. JMU sophomore guard Andre Nation has been suspended as reported above by the DNR’s Nick Sunderland. Nation missed the first 15 games of this season for a “violation of athletic policy.” And just last month, Nation sat out of JMU’s loss to Drexel for undisclosed “personal reasons.” Coach Brady said the decision was his, and not the school. Without venturing too far into pure speculation, that probably means Nation is still academically eligible, but has failed to meet the academic standards set by Coach Brady and the basketball program.
This is one of those situations where I could probably write thousands of words on the topic. Thousands of words filled with too many caveats to ensure that I don’t offend anyone or come across like an old man on a soap box. And I’d probably fail to make any cogent argument behind stating that this sucks. So let’s just go with that. This sucks. It sucks for Coach Brady. It sucks for the basketball team. It sucks for the school. It sucks for Andre. And it sucks for all of us who are JMU basketball fans. Yes, it’s only sports and there are more important things, and blah, blah, blah. There I go with the caveats. So let’s just bring it back to my main point, which is, this sucks.
As many of you know, we are just one of the many little corners of JMU fandom that has beating the dead conference realignment horse over and over for years now. Since we started this project in ’09, no other issue (not even losing a bid to Eastern Kentucky, the run/pass ratio, or even the closing of Dave’s or a soccer star marrying a guy from N’Sync) has even come close to causing us more disagreements, more conversations, more questions, more stress, and more general frustration than conference realignment. All the angles have been covered at one time or another so we won’t dive that deeply on any specific aspect again now. But for two reasons, we wanted to recap a few things and help prep the landscape for the next couple of months. Warning, this is long and there’s nothing really new here for those already following this matter intently. In short, it’s time to focus on hoops, but we’re hopeful/wishful that it’s time for things, or at least the soon-to-be-shattered dreams of Dukes fans, to be cranked up again.
First, we don’t want to talk about this the next couple of weeks with conference tournaments coming up for men’s and women’s hoops. The women are now ranked #1 in the national mid-major poll, and today’s shock-loss notwithstanding, have become one of the best JMU teams in any sport in a long time (seriously, what kind of bullshit publicity stunt is a weekday game at 11:30 a.m.?!). They have a chance to be special in the postseason. And if last year’s watered-down, but wide-open CAA men’s tourney taught us anything, it’s not to count our boys out just yet. Are there less favorable potential matchups on the men’s side? Sure. But is there really a team in the CAA that scares you with a combination of talent AND experience winning a title? Nope. In any case, the next two weeks are about basketball and with big games all the time, we’re not going to be reopening the conference box for every rumor. But…our second reason for recapping now is that it sure seems like the next month is going to be a goldmine of rumors, hints, and hopefully, an actual result that at long last doesn’t involve the letters C-A-A, at least not in that order. And yes, we’re aware that if JMU history tells us anything, it’s that we’re probably crying wolf at this point by even bringing it up again and we should all just try to convince ourselves that matchups in perpetuity with the Elon Fightin’ Christians are worth everything we all invest already and just shut up and like it.
But that said, here’s the rundown in bullet form:
- The CAA is a vindictive, spiteful league led by a pissed off little Tom Yeager and so any team that announces it’s leaving is immediately ineligible in all sports for conference championships and tournaments, and thus autobids to NCAA tournaments, for the rest of the time they are in that conference. JMU voted in favor of this rule and to a small extent benefitted from it last year so no whining about it now. But this is also the reason that when the January Board of Visitors meeting came and went with no announcement of a conference move, most of us haven’t expected anything till after the CAA hoops tourneys. Why not wait a month if that’s all that stands between you and an NCAA berth. At this point, Kenny Brooks’ team has a decent shot at an at-large berth, which the CAA does not control, but it’s no guarantee if they don’t participate in, and win, the CAA tourney. The men have to defend their title on the court in Baltimore this year. If you recall, George Mason announced it was leaving immediately following the end of hoops season last year and similar timing seems likely. Technically, a move MUST be made by June 1st to start the transition clock mandated by the NCAA in the 14-15 year, but with the season ticket deadline for football coming up on May 15th, if an announcement is to EVER be made, the six weeks between the end of the CAA tourney and that date seem most likely.
- Realistically, the field of potential destinations for JMU has been whittled down to two (more on that below), Conference USA (CUSA) and the Mid-American Conference (MAC). JMU has shown little interest in its one known suitor, the Sun Belt. And the AAC or anything else still seems out of reach, assuming of course you think that’s a step up from CUSA or the MAC in the first place.
- There are a ton of reasons including some new ones out there on the rumor mill (including that the MAC has just dropped an affiliate member for soccer thus reducing it’s membership in that sport to the NCAA minimum which seems to indicate they expect a new squad soon). And the clear focus on academic alignment highlighted by the Carr Report only reinforces our long-held thoughts that Alger and co. think more highly, and rightly so, of the MAC than CUSA on that front. Really, our thoughts from last year that the MAC is the best and most likely destination have only been bolstered in recent times. Depending on perspective and how much you choose to let ODuh supporters influence your beliefs, the MAC may be the only logical option left as CUSA may not be interested in expansion, or at least not with JMU. We’ve always thought JMU to the MAC was the admin’s top choice thanks to an actual academic pedigree, some reasonable level of stability, and the ESPN deal regardless and sometimes there’s a chicken and egg thing going on with who does or doesn’t want who here.
- For the millionth time, the CAA is not even crap, it’s worse than that. Simply put, JMU’s CURRENT spending levels are utterly preposturous for FCS and the CAA. If you want to argue that JMU should downshift it’s focus on athletics, that’s a valid position, but to argue that switching conferences at this point is somehow the point at which the dam breaks the other way just shows you don’t understand the issues. FCS is dead. While the G5 (the non-BCS conferences currently in FBS) will never be the same as the power conferences, that group has expanded rapidly and is set to settle for a while. If JMU misses out now, then you have to be alright with third-tier athletics as the FCS conferences are being shuffled backwards in the pecking order from their former (no longer current) second-tier status while the G5 takes that spot. Besides, a CAA w/out GMU, VCU, and ODU is no CAA. And a CAA with Charleston, Maine, Albany, and Northeastern is no cheap, easy travel conference when compared with a MAC East comprised of Ohio schools and maybe Delaware someday so stop with that bullshit.
- Two last things for sure: We’ll be watching with great interest today when the MAC’s newly renegotiated television deal with ESPN is possibly announced (renegotiated a couple years early we might add) and we’ll definitely be debuting some MAC/Yeager themed signs in Baltimore next week! We’d love to have company on this front!
JMU lost to Towson 69-66 on Senior Night in the Convo. It was a game that the Dukes could have, and probably should have, won. Unfortunately, JMU missed free throws down the stretch (and throughout the entire game really), while Towson shot lights out from the stripe. The Tigers were an incredibly 30 or 31 from the free throw line. JMU only managed to make 17 of 26. Ballgame. The loss eliminates any chance of JMU finishing at .500 in league play. The Dukes are now 11-18 overall and 6-9 in the CAA. Towson moved to 21-9 and 12-3. Here are a few quick thoughts on the game. read more…
Athletics marketing has really upped its game this year with the game day giveaways. Tonight’s giveaway is a bro’s dream, ironic tank tops for Spring Break. Tank tops with pictures of James Madison in a backward hat and sunglasses with “In Jmaddy We Trust” beneath it. And Radio Raheem’s boom box on the back or something.
It’s not that we don’t like it. We do. It’s yet another example of the school and athletic department not taking themselves too seriously and doing something fun. It’s just that as bloggers we’re obligated to be snarky about anything that can be interpreted as part of bro culture. Seriously. It’s in the internet bylaws. Anyway, well done Athletics Marketing. Well done.
We’re a week late on this, but for your Monday morning go ahead and check out that link and enjoy this pretty cool piece on what Coach Withers is trying to build. (And try to ignore the part about the “CAA championship.” In fact, we’ll be back with a quick rundown/update on the conference situation later this week to put the issue aside before the conference hoops tourneys).
JMU avenged an 18 point loss to Drexel two weeks ago, with an exciting 63-61 overtime win over the Dragons last night. The win moves JMU to 11-17 and 6-8 in the CAA. Drexel is now 14-12 and 6-7. After really letting Drexel’s experienced team run all over them in Philly, the Dukes battled all night game earned a hard fought win in the rematch. The Dukes defense pestered Drexel seniors Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch, holding them to a combined 28 points after the duo burned JMU for 42 in the first match-up. After an ugly first half, JMU stormed out of the locker room to take the lead. Drexel hung in there and managed to keep it tight by hitting free throws. Late in OT when the pressure was at its peak, Ron Curry showed once again that he’s JMU clutch performer. With 6.5 seconds remaining and the game tied at 58-58, Curry hit a step back 3 from the top of the arc to take the lead. Andre Nation then stole Drexel’s inbound pass, was fouled, and hit two from the stripe. Drexel scored a bucket with time expiring, but it wasn’t enough and JMU walked away with a big win.
Talk about a tale of two halves. It was brick city in the Convo for the opening 20 minutes. The visiting Drexel Dragons shot a miserable 7 for 26. JMU was even worse, going 5 for 28 from the floor in the first half. Thankfully, the awful shooting was short-lived for the Dukes. In the second half and overtime, JMU knocked down 14 of 23 shots. JMU’s defense helped Drexel remain consistently awful on offense throughout the entire game. The Dragons improved on their 27% first half shooting performance. Not by much however, as they managed to hit only 10 out of 30 after the break.
JMU’s big three of Curry, Nation, and Cooke carried much of the scoring load for JMU. Curry led all players with 18 points. Nation and Cooke contributed 12 and 13 respectively. The big highlight was obviously Curry’s clutch three in OT. There was a lot to like about this win though.
Both teams are pretty solid defensively, but the shooting in the first half was unspeakably awful. It was so bad, that you assumed it couldn’t possible continue. Yet, for the very experienced Dragons it did thanks to some suffocating defense from the Dukes. On the other hand, the young and inexperienced JMU team made adjustments, and turned the game around offensively. Even when they hit a field goal scoring drought, they retained their composure and continued to control the game. There was no panic in the young Dukes. Freshmen Tom Vodonavich and Yohanny Dalembert had a block party down low, combining to swat 4 shots in the paint. And Vodanovich was a beast on the boards, finishing with a career high 11 rebounds. And for the cherry on top, he also hit two big buckets as the shot clock was expiring. It was the best game I recall seeing him play all year. Dalembert didn’t start due to an injury ankle, but he was aggressive on both ends and chipped in with 9 points on 3 for 4 shooting.
It was only one win. And a regular season win at that. But it gave fans a glimpse of this young team’s potential. The Dukes offense was atrocious in the first half. Somehow, they turned it around after the break and kept an experienced Dragons team from turning things around themselves. And as a fan, it was really fun to watch. Which is pretty much what it’s all about anyway.