Feb 1 / Rob

Are the Dukes Pointed in the Right Direction?

JMU Basketball plays at Drexel tonight. The Dukes currently sit at 6-17 overall and 2-8 in league, with just 8 games remaining before the CAA tourney. They’re last in the CAA. This is coming on the heels of a season in which they went 10-23 and finished 8th in the league. On paper at least, things are looking pretty bleak. But are they getting better or worse?

We don’t want to debate whether or not Matt Brady, whose JMU team won 20 games in his final year, deserved to be let go. And we don’t want to have an argument about whether Head Coach Lou Rowe was the right guy for the job. What we’d like to figure out, is if folks think there’s light at the end of this tunnel, or if this is a train headed for a crash. So try to forget all of the Brady and Rowe stuff and just think about the team right now. Do you think it’s trending up or trending down?

Based on the records, the most reasonable response is probably to shrug your shoulders and say it doesn’t matter. The bottom of the CAA is the bottom of the CAA. Unfortunately, it seems like most fans have just sort of checked out and probably won’t return until the Dukes see rise in the standings. We’ve stuck around though. And surviving the Dillard and Keener years, we’ve developed a thick skin when it comes to JMU hoops. Things could always be worse.

Positive Indicators

There are a few reasons to believe JMU is getting better. And the primary one is that the overall talent level of the roster has been upgraded. We don’t want to name names or disparage any past Dukes, but from our perspective there are guys who started or got major minutes over the last 3-4 years, who probably wouldn’t see the court for this team. Rowe has recruited a number of freshmen and transfers who are more athletic and gifted than many recent players. Stucky Mosley and Matt Lewis have deservedly gotten the majority of the hype, but Phillips, Banks, Wilson and others are have a lot of upside.

And despite the poor record, the Dukes do some things well. They’ve been the best at taking care of the basketball in league play, with a turnover percentage of just 13.5%. For a young team that has virtually no experience playing as a unit, that’s a positive sign. And despite the fact that they’ve let opponents shoot well, they’ve blocked a lot of shots and forced a lot of turnovers.

They’ve also played team’s tough and have been in virtually every game. They’ve suffered some heartbreaking close losses and aren’t getting blown out of the gym. If you just tuned in for a single game, it’s almost unquestionable that you’d think the Dukes were on the brink of turning the corner.

Negative Indicators

That talk above about JMU playing team’s close? Well they’re still losing. As they saying goes, “you are what your record says you are.” If that’s your belief, then we’ve got nothing for you. They’re going to end up in the play-in round of the CAA tourney and are guaranteed to finish with a losing record. Again.

The Dukes don’t shoot well either. They can get to the basket and score using their athleticism, but the team struggles to create easy shots. In today’s game, that’s a tough thing to overcome. Other mid majors have shown that sometimes the quickest path to success is to develop a drive and kick offense featuring a few reliable long range shooters. JMU hasn’t been able to do that. They’ve got an effective field goal percentage of 47.9% (286th in the nation). They’re not very good from long range and well, they’re not outstanding shooters from anywhere on the court. Watching the games, our eyes tell us that the poor shooting is more a result of bad shot selection than poor technique. The fact that JMU is pretty good from the FT line backs up the notion that the technique isn’t the problem. Maybe the offense will improve as these guys get more experience. Or maybe there’s a problem with the offensive philosophy in general.

Now What?

The record is bad. We get that. And some of the underlying metrics don’t paint a pretty picture. The offense looks lost at times and things have fallen apart late in games. But, Matt Lewis has earned CAA Rookie of the Week three times. Stucky Mosley is averaging 19 points a game. Develle Phillips gives the Dukes a post presence and can rebound the basketball. Darius Banks has had several big double-doubles and shown flashes of greatness. So Rowe can recruit. But the late game execution is concerning, which points back to both inexperience and coaching. We still think that the talent upgrade is reason enough to think the Dukes are are pointed in the right direction. We won’t argue that they’ve taken a weird step back route to get here, but we think things will get better. Maybe we’re crazy or drunk on Purple Kool Aid though. We’ll see.

4 Comments

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  1. Purple Pride / Feb 1 2018

    I definitely feel that the team is pointed in the right direction. No matter who we brought in to coach, I feel we would be at the bottom of the CAA this year no matter what. 7 seniors in one year (Brady’s doing) would decimate the majority of any team’s roster and hopes. There is talent on the squad, and that is attributed to Coach Rowe. He is inexperienced as a coach as well, and I believe that the talent he has brought in does have us heading in the right direction. There should be a noticeable difference next season, and we should be able to be a better judge of his abilities as a coach. To be fair, I believe (and have been saying this for years) that the demise of the men’s program (record, attendance, etc) clearly falls at the feet of the AD. His abysmal extensions (Dillard after 1 winning season), and hires have generated the apathy toward the program. The program has continually declined under his watch.

  2. Ken Woodburn / Feb 1 2018

    Less than stellar shooters combined with an offense that looks like the closing credits of a Benny Hill episode gets you a 6-18 record. I think it’s another 2 seasons before drawing any conclusions on Coach Rowe.

    I think we’re anesthetized at this point on MBB. They are 10-19 in the CAA tournament since Sherman Dillard replaced ‘the legendary Lefty Driesell.’ 12 of the last 16 years, JMU has played on Pillow Fight Friday, including a mind-numbing 11 in a row from ’02 – ’12. They’ve lost 4 times as the higher seed on PFF.

    I don’t know if the fan base will ever come back in large #s until they get consistently better. The new arena will bump attendance for a time, but w/o a good on-court product the fans’ consensus attitude will most likely be ‘meh.’

  3. Mike in OHio / Feb 1 2018

    I just finished listening to the game tonight and clicked on the blog and saw it was about basketball. I am more of a basketball fan than a football fan so the poor or mediocre teams we have had for a long , long time disappoints me. I remember the enthusiasm our school used to have around basketball and what exists now is very disappointing and I agree with Purple Pride that most of this can be laid at the feet of the current athletic director who seems to care about little in terms of men’s sports except for football. But all of that said, I disagree with the Blog somewhat in that I don’t see much improvement other than they lose by closer margins that what they used to. that is nice but it is still losing and at this point in his tenure, while it may be too much to expect a total turnaround, I don’t see much progress. Rowe seems to get them to play just well enough to lose by close margins. Still seems to be a losing culture. And I disagree a little in that you say we should not focus on the coaching. I may end up being wrong about Coach Rowe and if so, I will be happy to be wrong but I don’t see much there. When one listens to him on the post game shows on radio, I hardly understand what he is talking about. I have only seen 2 games and they were early in the season when I was back for football games and there was a basketball game also those weekends so I have not seen much and mostly just listen over the internet. I appreciated the blog’s analysis of a few days ago where you analyzed things such as shooting percentages, shot selection, defensive effort, etc but I felt those stats just were signs of a losing team and losing culture. What they really seem to perform poorly at is on defense, at crunch time, especially against the 3 point shot. Tonight’s game was a portrait of that. Way too many 3 point shots allowed and when they really needed a stop at the end of the game, they either fouled and put Drexel on the line or gave up a basket. That has occurred many times this year and at some point one would think the team would learn from that and see less of that. So to me that is either poor coaching or a group of players who can’t put into practice what the coach is teaching. But I will give them that they seem to be in most games and seem to be trying hard but you often wrote that last year’s team always seem to be giving maximum effort. Nice effort tonight in coming back and not giving in while on the road but really it was a game between 2 teams at the bottom of the league; equally matched poor teams. Ok just venting at this point. Great to see some blog articles on basketball even though I know there is not much interest there any longer as we have become a “football school” but there is not really any reason why we should not be able to compete for the CAA title every year if we would just put the same effort into finding the right coach who would recruit players who would stand out in the mid-major level.

  4. Rob(not that one) / Feb 2 2018

    Regardless of what it is we are running out of time to fix it before we open a new arena with a last place team. Hopefully, with all the youth getting playing time now we are working towards having a decent squad that can pack a new arena that would love to celebrate W’s.

    I believe we opened the updated Bridgeforth by going 4-1 at home and losing the 1 in OT. Hoping by the time Union Bank Arena opens we are ready to make a similar opening impression.

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