Feb 2 / Rob

JMU Lost Again and Now We Question Everything

Stop us if you’d heard this one before, but JMU lost another one possession game. They played tough and had several chances to close it out, but poor offensive execution, sloppy play, and defensive lapses plagued them in crunch time. Good job, good effort, but the Dukes still lost to Drexel by the score of 76-74. The loss moved JMU to 6-18 overall and 2-9 in league play. They’re all alone in last place and barring a few big upsets down the stretch, are very likely to stay there.

Stucky Mosley and Matt Lewis both played well, despite some costly mistakes in crunch time. The duo combined to score 48 of the Dukes’ 74 points. JMU had a chance to tie, but a layup at the buzzer was blocked. Tough break, but at least JMU took its best shot (read: not an ill advised 3 pointer). It’s great to see the Dukes hang tough in close games, but they’re still losing. And last night they lost due to sloppy execution on offense in crunch time, and an inability to lock down perimeter shooters all night.

It’s not an easy time to be a JMU hoops fan. Yesterday we tried to make the case that JMU was pointed in the right direction. Thanks to some astute comments, we realized that was a bit much. We know things are bad. As fans staring down the barrel of another losing season, we’re just looking for reasons to not abandon ship. Yesterday’s post was an attempt to say that there is enough talent on the roster to believe that things can improve. Whether or not that talent is surrounded by the right coaching and resources to succeed is up for debate.

Matt Brady took the JMU program from the pits to respectability. He had a mix of good seasons and bad seasons, but never a great one. Yes, he took a team to the dance, and we loved it. But that same team didn’t even win the regular season title. It was a good team, but far from a great one. And that’s how we’d sum up the Brady era. It was good, but not great.

We loved Brady and think he was a vastly underrated Xs and Os coach. But things seemed rocky behind the scenes and the program had kind of plateaued at that “good, but not great” level. It made sense for Brady and JMU to go their separate ways. He did a terrific job of rescuing the program from the doldrums of the Dillard and Keener years, but maybe there was someone else better suited to take JMU to that next level. At least that’s what we thought. Then JMU hired a guy with no head coaching experience and hit the “reset” button.

Was that the right move? We don’t know. Maybe the program had to be blown up completely and rebuilt. But it didn’t seem that way from the outside. It appeared like JMU was in a position to hire a coach who could take the Dukes from a respectable, top half of the CAA team, to one that was regularly competing for NCAA tourney bids. It seemed like the perfect time for JMU to put forth some serious resources and get a coach with tremendous upside. Instead they paid less for a guy who’s best experience was arguably as an assistant for the coach they let go.

Which brings us back to yesterday’s attempt to convince folks (and ourselves if we’re being honest) that things are pointed in the right direction. They’re not. JMU is headed for the Dean Keener round of the CAA Tournament again. But we still think there is reason to believe things can be turned around quickly and get pointed in the right direction. In short, we are more optimistic (or less pessimistic) about the future of the program of year two of the Lou Rowe era, than we were in year one. That’s much different than saying the future is bright. And it’s on me that I did such a poor job of explaining that.

Head Coach Lou Rowe was our favorite player back in the day and he’s coaching our Dukes now. So we are all in and rooting like hell for him to succeed. That has made us reluctant to be too critical in public. But behind the scenes we’ve had a lot of doubts.

It basically comes down to this. Rowe hasn’t shown us that he’s a great (or even good) coach yet. Which isn’t terribly surprising, given that this is his first gig. But he has shown us that he can identify talent and recruit. And he has a passion for JMU. Mosley can score. Lewis looks like a future All CAA player. The other freshmen are getting valuable minutes and showing flashes.

The CAA is not what it used to be. It’s far from an impossible climb from the bottom to the top though. And we think that Rowe is a good enough recruiter, that he can bring in enough talent to make up for some of his shortcomings in the next year or two. And here’s the big thing. He can improve as a coach! Plenty of successful coaches started slow and were fortunate to have schools and ADs be patient as they developed. We don’t understand why JMU chose to start over, instead of try to leverage Brady’s success. But that’s what happened. The wins haven’t come yet, but the talent has improved. We happen to believe the CAA is a league that can be won almost on talent alone.

If all this sounds like a desperate attempt to find a silver lining, that’s because it is. We wish the Dukes were battling it out for a CAA title. They’re not though. And with all due respect to some of the players from the recent past, we happen to believe that guys like Mosley, Lewis, Banks, Phillips, Jacobs, and others have a much higher ceiling. The poor late game execution and defensive mishaps point to coaching. They also point to inexperience. As the players and coaches mature, things can get better. We happen to believe they will. That’s all.

6 Comments

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

    What happens at the end of the season when Lewis figures out what you have and decided to transfer? Hopefully, this does not become 2014 with Cooke and the others again.

  2. Priz / Feb 2 2018

    I think it comes down to cost. I don’t think JMU was willing to spend to get that coach you talk about. It is an issue we’ve talked about before: what is the ‘bang for your buck’ in basketball. Does getting to an NCAA tournament get you more applicants? more donations? Does that bang justify paying a coach more than any other coach? I’m not sure but it might. It only takes one or two great players to make a run in the CAA. if you get a few good ones to stick around you could conceivably make a run in the NCAA a la GMU.

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

    Honestly, I think you get a lot more “bang for your buck” in bball than football or any other sport. We went to 2 consecutive NC’s in football and not much of a blip on the radar of the mainstream sports world outside of CGD. You go to the Sweet 16 in NCAA tournament and everyone is talking about you. VCU going to the final 4 has had a much larger and long lasting positive effect on them, in terms of the sports world. And as you mentioned you can get 1-2 good players and get into the tourney at which point millions of people ae at least looking at your name on a sheet of paper and if you win a game millions are talking about your Cinderella story.

    IMO, men’s basketball is the quickest and easiest way to make a splash in the sports world. I would feel confident in saying that the average sports fan outside of VA and ND is more familiar with VCU basketball than they are with NDSU football. And that is one final 4 vs 5 championships in a row!

  4. The Fly / Feb 2 2018

    Well, things are in the crapper for sure. There’s no defensible reason why JMU shouldn’t be dominating this weak-ass conference year after year. You make up the extra money you spend on a solid young coach with one appearance in the show. That said, I think you need to give any new coach three years, particularly when there’s a massive rebuilding job underway.

    I also agree with “Rob(not that one)”. The least expensive, highest velocity way to maximize exposure to the school’s brand is with a standout men’s hoops program. Uncle Ron understood this. It’s a different environment than when I was on campus watching three straight years of NCAA appearances and camping out in front of Godwin for tickets, but I believe the rewards are even greater now than when Sports Illustrated put us in their preseason Top 20.

    I’m with Rob and the guys as well when it comes to Lou. Nobody exemplified the toughness and discipline of those mid-90s teams more than Rowe. I really hoped he could take this program to the next level, still do. But signing him at this stage of his career was a huge risk, as big as Sherm, and it’s even harder that it’s one of ours that’s struggling with this team.

    The new gym will help recruiting, but at the end of the day, Lou needs to establish an identity with his guys by next season. Otherwise, we know what to expect for the last couple of years of his deal. I’m rootin, and I’m being honest.

  5. ShadyP / Feb 2 2018

    Barring various off-the-court issues which has not been the case any coach needs a minimum of 3 years and most likely 4 years to make an impact. Last year was basically a wash with the late hire that Rowe was basically coaching a team of Brady’s hold-overs minus Curry who was maybe the best player in the CAA. Folks like to point to last year’s team as being senior heavy with all this experience and that is true, but usually those same folks fail to mention that is was for the most part a big collection of role players, none of which were dynamic nor playmakers.

    This year’s team is very young with only 2 players (Snowden & Mclean) who played last year. Everyone else that plays is a new player (transfer or freshman). And if we want to be honest with ourselves any player transferring into JMU to play bball probably has some type of baggage or another. (Smith – injury issues, Scissom – thought he was better than he is an xferred again, Phillips – seems to have attitude issues on the court and just lacks effort at times……Mosely – seems to be the exception and a good player). The freshmen all seem to be quite an upgrade in talent to what was there prior, but they are still freshmen and make those freshmen lapses at times and Rowe has to lean on them for major minutes, not ease them into things on an established team. And let’s not forget this absurd class imbalance issue that Rowe inherited were a mess left from Brady.

    The hardest thing for a young team to do is play defense b/c playing defense takes much more communication than offense so that is a work in progress that will be good in stretches but then have head-scratching lapses form time to time. If you have watched all season this team has made some significant strides since Nov/Dec. They are playing much better since the CAA schedule started….even though the record does not show it…..and yes I know that Ws/Ls is what matters.

    I think the jury will still be out on Rowe and this team until about mid-January next year and then we will start to have a much better picture of what we have in a coach and a team.

  6. 92 Grad / Feb 2 2018

    The talent is better on this team than in recent years, but they are still players that need to mature in college over time. The ceiling is high, and this team will win a lot of games they are losing this season if they all stay together for 2-3 more years. Let’s not fool ourselves. We are not competing with a freshman class that rivals Duke and Kentucky. These are the type of players who hardly anyone outside their hometowns had ever heard of in high school, and that is the kind of kids JMU and the CAA will always rely upon. Based on the quality of their play, the athleticism they have and how close they have been in their league games, I fully believe they will get better and be a winning team over the next couple years.

    I believe the same about Lou Rowe. I wasn’t in favor of his hiring, but given the dumpster fire of a roster he inherited and the quality recruiter he has proven to be, I do believe he is a good coach. And as the JMUSB boys have pointed out, he will continue to improve as a coach with experience. It would be foolish to write him off this quickly, not to mention horribly unfair. Give him at least two more years with this team. Assuming there is not a mass exodus of current players, I think they will be competing for a CAA championship at the very least.

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