RE: Official Game Thread: James Madison
Team preview: James Madison
Blue Ribbon Yearbook
James Madison Dukes
Last Season 21-12 (.636)
Conference Record 10-8 (6th)
Starters Lost/Returning 1/4
Coach Matt Brady (Siena '87)
Record At School 55-47 (2 years)
Career Record 128-97 (6 years)
RPI Last 5 years 300-216-122-241-90
COACH AND PROGRAM
James Madison was cruising along at 15-3, and 5-1 in the CAA. It was the kind of year proud alumni has been waiting for -- a return to success and the glory years.
But when the CAA race entered gravel-chewing time in middle January, the Dukes blinked. They went 5-8 down the stretch, losing to 11th seed William & Mary in the CAA Tournament before being drubbed by Davidson in the CBI Tournament.
It left those alumni wanting something new, something that didn't hurt their head or make them feel three feet thick. After all, JMU could get up and down the court and led the conference with 68.3 possessions per game. But lazy defense, or no heart, or whatever, conspired to sink their hopes. Matt Brady knew the reason.
"There's not a basketball reason why we cannot be competitive with the best teams in the league," he said. "The ongoing issue for my team is whether or not we're going to be mature enough to take the next step. The immaturity of one or two guys hurt us. We're hopeful that we'll take another step forward."
That step forward may be most impacted by point guard Devon Moore (11.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.2 apg), who will miss the first semester because of academic issues. That's significant because the 6-4 junior could be the most important player to his team in the conference. Moore can fill a boxscore, but his best traits are leadership and court savvy.
Moore returned from a torn ACL and was superb down the stretch. In JMUs last 13 games, Moore handed out 50 assists against 21 turnovers and scored in double figures 11 times (14.3 ppg).
Moore isn't overly quick but is tough to stay in front of his opponent; he thus disrupts defenses as well as anyone. The result is a lot of time in the lane and a lot of free throws (113-of-153, .739). Moore became a better three-point shooter last year (20-of-55, .364) but still needs to work on his push set-shot.
Until Moore's return, and then afterward, point guard duties will fall to Humpty Hitchens (8.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.0 apg). The 5-9 senior plays with a fire that borders on reckless. Focus can be an issue. To wit: in last season's CAA Tournament, it was Hitchens who alerted William & Mary's Quinn McDowell that McDowell had scored 30 points.
Still, Hitchens is a huge talent and fun to watch. Despite his mercurial nature, Hitchens is dependable with the basketball. He committed just 43 turnovers last year to go alongside his 66 assists. Hitchens is also a high-volume shooter with a hair trigger -- 64-of-155 from three (.413) was better than his performance from two (38-of-103, .369).
"He's a critical piece because he has to play two positions," Brady said. "He plays with a fire, and that can be contagious, but he needs to develop some basketball maturity so when he speaks to his teammates in practice they follow him."
Julius Wells (10.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.9 apg) is a handful, for Brady or the opposition, depending on the night. Wells is an old school gunslinger who doesn't worry with basketball nuance such as "being open" in order to shoot. The 6-5 senior took 80 fewer three pointers last year than his sophomore season (61-of-177 overall, .345) and his production predictably dipped.
Still, Wells can carry the Dukes. He made 9-of-11 from three, scoring 28 points, in a close win over Northeastern and followed that with three early threes in a drubbing of Towson.
For Brady, it's a matter of Wells paying attention to the facets of the game that don't involve shooting.
"Defense was an issue for him, and he worked on it," Brady said. "He needs to get to the foul line a little more and takes less guarded shots, but we're looking forward to this season. He needs to be a guy that makes basketball plays, not just shots."
Brady smiles when he talks of 6-6, 260-pound Rayshawn Goins (9.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg). The senior transferred from Cincinnati State and quickly adapted to the on-court rigor of Division I basketball.
Goins is a load (think former Arkansas star Oliver Miller) who can also play face-up. He grabbed 83 offensive rebounds and cannot be moved once he establishes position. Goins had five double-doubles in the first half of the year, including 25/12 in a win over Eastern Michigan. But he reached double-figure scoring just once in JMUs final 10 games. He didn't grab double-figure boards once in that span.
Brady sees the issue.
"His fitness level deteriorated," Brady said. "When we recruited him we thought that he could be a difference-maker, and now we feel even stronger about that. He's lost 20 pounds and is much more fit."
Every successful team needs a tough, tenacious, never-back-down player -- the kind of player you hate to face -- and JMU has one of the grittiest in 6-7 junior Andrey Semenov (7.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg). Semenov is a skilled passer and can shoot. In fact, Brady calls Semenov his best shooter (33-of-76, .434 3PT), even though he loves the intangibles Semenov brings to the floor.
The problem is that Semenov has never been 100 percent, battling back, knee, and elbow problems in his career. Semenov injured his foot in last season's final game -- worth watching.
"It's a concern," Brady said. "All his teammates respect how he plays and he's hopefully injury free. He's become as good a shot maker as we have on our team."
A.J. Davis (10.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg in 2009-10) is a transfer from Wyoming and has the ability to make a difference. The 6-5 junior is a high-level athlete and a terrific rebounder. He racked up nine double figures scoring games in an abbreviated sophomore year at Wyoming, including 26 against Adams State and 20 against Pepperdine.
Davis improved his shooting immensely in his year off -- he was 3-of-28 from three (.107) in his last season -- and is now a multi-dimensional threat.
"He's a different kind of player, but he does for us what [Kent] Bazemore does for ODU," Brady said, referring to the CAAs defensive player of the year. "He's an outstanding on-ball defender, and we know he can score."
It will be interesting to see if the light comes on for 6-11 southpaw Trevon Flores (1.5 ppg, 1.3 rpg). The 230-pound junior prefers open spaces and lacks aggressiveness and the edge needed to thrive. However his skills look awfully enticing when he locks in.
Flores hit for 11 points and four rebounds in 11 minutes against Towson and had six points and six rebounds in a win over Drexel. But he scored 10 points and grabbed 13 rebounds the rest of the season.
"The fact is that he hasn't had a great opportunity; now he has that opportunity," Brady said. "We'll see if he can seize the chance."
The final returnee is Alioune Diouf (2.2 ppg, 0.9 rpg), an athletic 6-5 junior who is the poster child of not getting an opportunity. For that reason Brady is looking at a redshirt, as Diouf is just 19 years old and this better balances the classes on the roster.
Brady signed three freshmen but also picked up 6-11, 260-pound Gene Swindle, a transfer from Virginia Tech. Swindle battled injuries for three years and had given up on basketball, but he chose to give it one more shot at JMU.
Two of the freshmen will push for time, as their competitive spirit is what Brady thinks has been lacking in past teams. Enoch Hood is a 6-8 burst of energy and a gym rat who can run the floor well for his size. Hood mainly scores around the basket, but Brady has shooters. Arman Marks is a 6-4 lefty billed as a deadeye deep shooter, and Brady appreciates his will to win.
"They are both hungry young players and can put themselves in the rotation," Brady said.
Keynan Pittman is 6-10 and a slightly longer version of Hood. Pittman is physically gifted but needs to dedicate himself to getting stronger and working on the things needed to succeed in college.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
James Madison clearly has the talent to finish in the upper third of the league. The Dukes have a quality point guard, shooters, gritty role players, and experience. There is a hunger to get over the hump.
"I'm really excited about being able to coach a team of committed players, especially at the defensive end," Brady said. "Everyone understands we didn't have a committed team defensively for 40 minutes. There were games we did and we were very good."
Brady can see that progress taking shape. For the first time since he took over the program, he will have a full senior class.
"To talk about 21 wins and not be satisfied is a statement about where our program is headed," he said. "Thankfully for the first time we've been here, we have a few seniors who have played in the program, and that's a great positive and gives us optimism for the next step."