Jan 17 / Rob

A Little Bit Better and a Little Bit Worse for JMU Hoops

If you listened to the most recent episode of the JMUSB podcast, you’ll know that we here are not ready to abandon ship with JMU hoops. We didn’t do much more than keep a watchful eye on Head Coach Lou Rowe’s squad for much of the early season, but we slowly got more involved as football wound down. Now that football is over, we’re all in. And that’s not as easy as it sounds thanks to the team being 4-15.

After watching a few games more closely though, our eyes told us that this roster is more athletic and has more upside than any recent Dukes squad. It certainly seems to be more talented than last year’s JMU team. But 4-15 is 4-15. So we thought we’d take a look at the numbers and see how this year’s team really does stack up to Rowe’s first squad.

There’s a wealth of data available to college hoops fans, but we decided to keep things simple and just focus on the “Four Factors” of basketball success. Here’s a quick primer on the Four Factors. If you’re unfamiliar with them, they’re essentially a quick way to sum up how good a team is by looking at the things that most contribute to winning. Those things are shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws. Keep in mind we are not claiming to be any sort of moneyball, data analytics types. We just thought we’d take advantage of the KenPom subscription we paid for and see if we can learn anything.

Here are the Four Factors for last year’s squad:

Offense Defense D1-Avg
Effective FG%: 50.2 51.1 50.5
Turnover %: 21.4 17.6 18.5
Off. Reb. %: 29.1 25.5 29.3
FTA/FGA: 36.1 38.5 35.3

And here they are for the current Dukes team:

Offense Defense D1-Avg
Effective FG%: 47.8 54.9 50.8
Turnover %: 16.8 19.3 19
Off. Reb. %: 27.8 25.4 29.1
FTA/FGA: 35.3 42.9 33.9

So what jumps out at us? First the positives. This year’s team has done a much better job in terms of ball security. The Dukes are only turning the ball over on 16.8% of possessions. Last year, they coughed it up almost 5% more often. And they’re now forcing turnovers on 19.3% of the opponents’ possessions. That’s only slightly better than the D1 average, but an improvement from last year.

But there’s some bad stuff here too. First off, the current team has taken a bit of step back in terms of field goal shooting and defense. Last year’s team was just about average in terms of offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage. The 2017-2018 team shoots only 47.8% and lets opponents shoot 54.9% though. (Please note we’re talking about effective field goal percentage, not field goal percentage.) Neither of those marks are great. In fact, in terms of defense, it makes the Dukes 312 out of 351 teams in Division 1. So in short, this year’s team doesn’t shoot particularly well and does a pretty miserable job of forcing opponents into bad or difficult shots.

What else? Well, the Dukes foul too damn much. The team has a defensive free throw rate of 42.9. That’s nearly 30% above the D1 average and lands them squarely as 316th nationally. Defensive free throw rate might not sound like a big deal, but it really is. It simply means that JMU puts its opponents on the line more often than the typical team. And more free throw attempts, translates into more points. Not to mention how much easier it makes it for teams to mount comebacks in close games, but that’s a topic for another day.

At first glance, these numbers paint a lousy picture for Rowe. And we’ll be the first to admit that he has room to grow as a coach. But there is no reason to panic. For one thing, we’re talking about a very small sample size. We’re in year two under coach. He’s inexperienced with a relatively inexperienced team. We’d expect a team this young to struggle shooting the ball. And we’d expect young players to possibly have trouble adjusting to playing defense at the college level, which could easily result in more fouls and higher percentage shots for the opposition. So we’re not about to push the panic button because of slips in those areas.

What we really wouldn’t expect is for an inexperienced roster to take care of the ball and limit turnovers. Yet this team is doing just that. And freshman Matt Lewis is doing a particularly good job of it. He’s got a turnover rate of only 8.0. That’s extraordinary for a freshman (or sophomore, or junior, or senior). Devon Moore and Ron Curry, who both were pretty good point guards for JMU, had turnover rates of 28.2 and 16.0 respectively as freshman. Lewis is currently ranked in the top 30 for in the nation for the category. Plus, while he’s only got an effective field goal percentage of 41.6%, he’s trending up since conference play started. And since he shoots over 75% from the stripe, we have reason to assume he’s got a good stroke and just needs time to adjust to the college game.

So the Dukes aren’t sharpshooters and their tendency to foul on defense hurts. Both of those things typically improve as players gain more college experience. We’re not saying that they definitely will, but with a team this young, it’s not outlandish to expect improvement.

In terms of wins, the Lou Rowe era is absolutely not off to a good start. But he’s got some good young players who are gaining valuable experience. Next year the team will bring back all its major contributors other than Joey McLean and Ramone Snowden. There are 5 freshmen getting regular playing time right now. This year was never about wins and losses. It was about resetting and starting over. Last year was really more about playing out the string with Matt Brady’s team. This is really year one of JMU hoops with a Lou Rowe roster. We all expect more wins, but look at the positives. We don’t know what the future holds, but there are at least a few reasons for optimism. And we’re not waiving the white flag for the 2017-2018 season in January. We actually are looking forward to JMU pulling off a few upsets and giving teams fits down the stretch.


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  1. ShadyP / Jan 18 2018

    You really hit the nail on the head with the observation of the 2016-2017 season was really playing out the string with Brady’s team and the 2017-2018 season is what I really consider the first year of a Lou Rowe team.

    The recruiting improvements under Rowe are obvious to those that actually attend/watch games. This team even with the number of newcomers playing is night and day more athletic and versatile than what JMU had last season.

    I seems like there have been 6-7 games that JMU ‘should’ have won and played well enough to win for 38 minutes. The hardest thing for a young team/new team to do at any level in any sport is to close out games and learn to win. This team does not seem to be giving up and is working harder which is a credit to the coaching staff and players.

    I see this as a team that can compete athletically with any team in the CAA (which has not been the case in years). I look for JMU to get it going during the 2nd half of CAA play and finish with 6/7 conference wins. Once the wins come I believe more will follow. This is a team that can beat anyone in the CAA with the potential to make noise in the CAA tournament. The CAA is a one-bid league so while wins are nice for positioning, but what matters most is are you ready and peaking for 4 days in the beginning of March.

    I think we have some JMU fans that are bit spoiled by football success and expect Rowe to work a miracle in 1-2 seasons. The jury is still out and won’t really know until at there is a full recruiting cycle (4 seasons)

  2. OBXDuke1983 / Jan 19 2018

    Loved seeing the guys come back from what looked like another collapse. Hopefully this will be one to build on.
    Go Dukes!

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