Mar 10 / Rob

Dukes Go Down Swinging in CAA Tournament

That’s a wrap on the 2018-2019 JMU Basketballs season. The Dukes are done after day 2 of the CAA Tournament. After a beating Towson 74-73 in the opening (Dean Keener) round, JMU fell to top seeded Hofstra by the score of 76-67. JMU battled all day and definitely made a game of it against the Pride. Matt Lewis lead the way with 23 points and Darius Banks had a double-double with 15 points and 12 boards. Both guys went the full 40 minutes. This came after Lewis hit a clutch three in the closing seconds to defeat Towson. Stuckey Mosley chipped in 9 points in his final game as a Duke. It was revealed after the game that he’s been battling a shoulder injury for the past few games and was unable to lift his arm without pain.

While it would have been nice to see JMU go on a Cinderella run, we can’t say we’re disappointed in the way the Dukes played in the tournament. They battled hard both games and ultimately just fell to a more experienced and deserving #1 seed. The regular season on the other hand? Yeah, there were some moments of disappointment. But rather than dwell on the negative, or dwell on the employment status of Coach Rowe, let’s take a look at two reasons to be excited for the future of JMU hoops, and maybe one to be concerned.

Class of 2021

Two sophomores, Lewis and Banks, paced JMU in the loss to Hofstra. Against Towson, Lewis not only hit the game-winning shot, he lead all scorers with 26 points. Their classmate Dwight Wilson, had 26 against the Tigers on 10-15 shooting. The three of them will likely anchor the Dukes starting lineup for the next two years. That’s worth getting excited about.

We saw the potential of both Lewis and Banks last season. While they didn’t make the giant leap forward to propel the Dukes into contention that many fans wanted, they did make significant progress. We can guarantee no Hofstra fans feel good about the prospect of seeing Lewis line up against the Pride in the future. Wilson is the least heralded of the three, but could easily be a consistent double-digit scorer down the line. These guys compete night in and night out, and had some of the best games in critical match-ups. It was probably unrealistic for fans to expect a relatively young JMU team to contend for the CAA. With Lewis, Banks, and Wilson as upperclassmen though, it becomes a little more realistic.

Winners Coming to Town

One thing people constantly talk about when discussing Coach Rowe, is his ability to recruit. He got the terrific sophomore class we discussed above, to come to JMU. He also recruited Deshon Parker, who gained valuable experience as a freshmen this year, and is poised to start for the next three years. And in limited minutes, Matt Urbach showed us enough to believe that he could play a valuable role as he matures. And Rowe is bringing in a batch of recruits, who look like difference makers on paper.

Michael Christmas, Mike Fowler, Quinn Richey, and Julien Wooden can all ball. And all three have already signed national letters of intent with JMU. Christmas is a three star and the guy getting lots of hype from the fans. He recently scored 27 points in the Virginia Class 6 State Championship to lead his team to the title. Richey is a 6’4″ sharpshooter who could help spread the floor for the Dukes. Fowler is a 6’9″ power forward, who should help the Dukes down low. He recently helped his Greensboro Day team win a third straight North Carolina state title. Julien Wooden is another 6’8″ forward, who chose JMU over offers from Wofford and George Mason. He scored 22 points to lead his Northside High team to the Virginia Class 3 state title. There’s a lot to like about all of these recruits. Perhaps the thing to like most is that they’re proven winners. 

The Other Stuff

So based on the talent returning, and the talent headed to the ‘burg, there’s reason to be optimistic. But things are not perfect. Far from it. In fact, other than the obvious talent upgrade compared to the last few Brady teams, there’s a lot to be concerned about. And the biggest reason for concern is Coach Rowe. He has yet to prove that he can turn JMU into a consistent winner.

This is NOT to say we don’t have faith in him or that we want him gone. We’re fans and we are rootin’ for him. Hard. But in terms of wins and losses (you know, the things you judge basketball programs by), the Dukes have failed to meet expectations under his leadership. There’s no other way to say it. JMU was 14-19 this year. The Dukes are 34-64 overall since Rowe became coach and have finished no better than 7th in a CAA that is a shadow of its one proud self.

Rowe has done a good job identifying talent and getting recruits to sign. He appears to have gotten the guys to buy-in to the program. The guys seem to love playing for him and they come to play game in and game out. They’ve even managed to pull off a few impressive wins against the better programs in the league. But this year, they also gave a few away to the dregs of the CAA. JMU lost 4 games to teams in the bottom four of the standings, including being swept by Elon. That can’t happen. The Dukes played an out of conference schedule that was cherry picked for easy, confidence building wins before CAA play. Instead, the treaded water and went 7-6. If not for a pair of wins over D3 opponents, they would have been under .500. 

We’re not going to advocate for Rowe’s firing. That’s up for Jeff Bourne and others to decide. For now, he’s our coach. And he’s a Duke. We’re pulling for him to turn this thing around and we think he’s got a roster that is good enough to do it. To be successful, JMU is going to need all the players to improve and make a leap forward. The same thing applies to Rowe. We sincerely hope he can do it.

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