Continuing with our previews of each CAA school in reverse order of finish from 2010-11, here’s what you need to know about the James Madison Dukes.
2010-11 Recap: As has been the case for the Dukes over the past few years, Matt Brady’s team entered the season with high expectations. Many thought that they would be among the CAA’s elite, battling George Mason, Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth for time slots on Saturday in Richmond after a Friday off. Instead, the Dukes finished conference play with a 10-8 record, good for 6th place in the league standings. After starting the non-conference schedule with a 14-point loss at Kansas State, James Madison won 6 in a row, dropped 2 (including their December CAA game against Georgia State), then won another 9 straight which led to the team receiving votes in both the AP Top 25 and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. In all, the Dukes were one of six Colonial teams to reach the 20-win mark, finishing at 21-12. They took a 4-point loss to William & Mary in the first round of the CAA Tournament, but earned an invitation to the College Basketball Invitational where they fell at Davidson by 20.
Against Northeastern: The Dukes and Huskies met on the court just once last season, a January 3 contest in Harrisonburg, Va. Julius Wells led JMU by tying a school-record with 9 three-pointers made as the Virginians walked away with a 75-69 victory. All 11 of Wells’ field goal attempts came from beyond the arc, and he added a free throw for a total of 28 points. Devon Moore chipped in with 12 assists, 6 of those coming on three-pointers from Wells. Northeastern was playing without senior guard Chaisson Allen, who had stayed in Boston with a hamstring injury, and was instead led by 23 points from sophomore center Dinko Marshavelski. After JMU’s Rayshawn Goins scored the first bucket of the game, Northeastern gained the lead, built it up to 8 later in the first half, and did not surrender the advantage until James Madison took over for good just a few minute into the second half. The two teams combined to shoot 52.5% from the floor (NU 50.9%, 27/53; JMU 54.2%, 26/48).
- Denzel Bowles: Probably the best offensive big man in the league, Bowles graduated and will continue his basketball career by playing professionally in Lithuania. After being the 3rd-most prolific scorer in the conference in both total points (581) and points per game (17.6, 33 games), he became the first Duke to earn first-team all-CAA honors since the 2001-02 season (David Fanning). Bowles was the centerpiece that opponents based their game plan around because of his pure offensive ability. Although he wasn’t a defensive player, his 8.8 rebounds per game ranked behind only Drexel’s Samme Givens (10.1) and Old Dominion’s Frank Hassell (9.4) on the league-leaders list, and he also swatted away 53 shots – 4th most in the conference.
- Julius Wells: The senior should be on the preseason all-conference first team, and will be the clear leader of the pack. Through three seasons, he already ranks among the best players in JMU history and will solidify his standing in that group with a strong final year. Wells is a strong shooter and has demonstrated that he can drain the long ball and really take over a game when needed. His 10.7 points per game and .345 3-point percentage in 2010-11 were his lowest career marks, but his overall shooting percentage of 39.9% was his best. He has a strong supporting cast of shooters, but will still draw double coverage which could limit his opportunities at times. Nonetheless, there’s nothing to suggest he won’t have a great season.
- Devon Moore: A solid all-around point guard, Moore can shoot and share. As a red-shirt sophomore, after missing 2009-10 with a knee injury, he started the season as a candidate for the Bob Cousy award which is given to the best point guard in the country. He was 2nd on the team in scoring at 11.4 points per game, and set the record for assists by a James Madison sophomore with 137. Also an efficient shooter, Moore and Wells will form one of the better backcourts in the CAA. He’ll have to work through academic eligibility issues, but when he’s on the court he will be a force.
- Rayshawn Goins: At 6-6, Goins is a versatile forward who will complement Wells and Moore. He came in after two years at Junior College and lit up the floor right away, including a double-double in his Division 1 debut at Kansas State. He wasn’t as strong down the stretch, but if he can play the way he did last November and December, he’ll be able to make some great contributions to the team and get the Dukes off to a running start while they await the return of Moore.
What to Expect: Could this be the year? Again, it seems like we’ve been asking that question for the last couple of seasons. The Dukes only lose one meaningful player and return a handful that could wind up on all-conference squads come March. The loss of Bowles is going to be painful, as they don’t really have any other proven big men. Trevon Flores has been in Bowles’ shadow, but hasn’t had enough opportunities to prove himself. He’ll be helped in the paint by Virginia Tech transfer Gene Swindle and a pair of freshmen. Look for James Madison to shoot – a lot. They’ll earn their wins on offense, not defense, as that’s simply the style of game they play. Though a cursory look at their CAA schedule might make it seem as if it will be difficult year, the traditional powers have all lost significant talent to graduation, transfer, and other miscellaneous reasons. Don’t be surprised if James Madison finishes towards the top of the standings, but don’t be disappointed if they fail to live up to expectations. Either way, Matt Brady’s squad shouldn’t be playing their last game in Richmond – some form of postseason play is likely.