2020–21 CAA Preview: James Madison Dukes

Last season: 9–21 (2–16, 10th place CAA), lost to Elon in CAA First Round

Head coach: Mark Byington (first season)

Preseason Poll Projected Finish: Ninth

Departures

  • G Deshon Parker — 10/3/4 (44/24/53)
  • G Darius Banks — 12/5/2 (36/33/81)
  • F Dwight Wilson — 10/9/0 (53/X/51)
  • F Devon Flowers, F Dalton Jefferson, G Antanee Pinkard, G Zyon Dobbs, G Quinn Richey — played few minutes

Additions

  • F Justin Amadi
  • G/F TJ Taylor (junior transfer)
  • G Rashawn Fredericks (senior transfer)
  • G Vado Morse (junior transfer)
  • G/F Terrence Edwards
  • G Terell Strickland
  • G Tyce McNair
  • G Jalen Hodge (junior transfer)
  • G Hollman Smith
  • F Joel Mensah (junior transfer)

By Milton Posner

Only in the Trump cabinet is this kind of turnover normal.

It began when James Madison dismissed Head Coach Louis Rowe just two days after a heartbreaking, buzzer-beating loss to Elon in the first round of the CAA Tournament. In four seasons in Harrisonburg, Rowe never notched a winning season, winning just 29 percent of conference games and never finishing higher than seventh. His final season wound up being his worst record-wise, as the Dukes went 2–16 in conference play before their first round exit.

The press conference after that game spoke volumes, especially given what came next. A visibly emotional Rowe took the blame for the outcome and spoke sincerely and movingly about his love for his players, his dedication to them, and their inspiring persistence and dedication in the face of adversity. In most circumstances those sentiments would be written off as sports interview clichés, but it was obvious in Rowe’s voice and demeanor — as well as the reactions of his players — that there was a lot of mutual love and respect there.

I have no idea whether the players Rowe recruited saw his dismissal and decided to transfer because of it. But given that more than half of the would-be returners did not return, it was likely a big factor in their decisions.

Three of those transfers were rotation mainstays. Defensive stalwart and second-leading scorer Darius Banks bailed for Chattanooga. Scorer and top playmaker Deshon Parker set sail for Appalachian State. And the conference’s third-leading rebounder, bruising big man Dwight Wilson, packed his bags for Ohio.

This leaves Preseason Player of the Year Matt Lewis, four other returners who averaged a combined 12 points per game last year, and ten newcomers — five freshmen and five upperclassmen transfers.

Perhaps appropriately, the head coach tasked with guiding this new team is a newcomer himself. Mark Byington comes to James Madison after seven years at Georgia Southern, during which he won 59 percent of his conference games. While William & Mary’s Dane Fischer had a stellar first season last year — he was voted CAA Coach of the Year — he was gifted two all-conference players and a solid supporting cast. Byington is not so lucky, and as he admitted on last month’s preseason conference call, he is still trying to figure out which play style is best for his new squad.

Bottom Line: Matt Lewis is arguably the best scorer in the conference, and possibly the best overall. But after the Dukes sank to last place in 2019–20, then lost three of their top four scorers, this year is not shaping up well for them. They will need a few major surprises from newbies to keep them out of the cellar.

Men’s Basketball Jackhammers JMU

By Michael Petillo

BOSTON — The Northeastern Huskies defended home court on Thursday night, defeating James Madison 77–57 to secure a first-round bye in next week’s CAA tournament. Graduate transfer Guilien Smith led the Huskies with 20 points and Shaquille Walters dropped in 15 points to go along with six assists.

Northeastern (15–14, 9–8 CAA) jumped out to an early lead thanks to three early three-pointers by Smith and used a balanced scoring effort to stretch the advantage to 20. The second half was more even, but JMU never mounted a significant run.

The contributions of Smith and Walters were particularly valuable to due to the absence of starting point guard Tyson Walker, who is day-to-day after injuring his shoulder during Saturday’s game against Drexel. In his stead, Smith stepped into the starting lineup and played a season-high 36 minutes, nailing five threes and playing his signature lockdown defense.

“It felt great to get that first one to go and from there I was just feeling it,” Smith said.

Walters assumed most of the ballhandling duties with Walker sidelined. He comfortably handled JMU’s pressure and got Northeastern into their halfcourt offense throughout the game. 

 “He had to be the primary ball-handler out there tonight,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said of Walters. “He had really great court composure and was able to quarterback the offense.”

In addition to overcoming Walker’s injury, the play of Walters and Smith allowed Northeastern to secure a win despite an uncharacteristic off night for Jordan Roland. Normally the Huskies’ leading scorer, Roland managed only 11 points amid stifling JMU defense.

The win gives Northeastern a two-game winning streak heading into Sunday’s regular season finale against Towson, who knocked off CAA-leading Hofstra on Thursday night. Coverage begins at 3:45 PM EST with Milton Posner and Alex Bensley on the call.

CAA Preview: James Madison University Dukes

Last season: 14–19 (6–12, eighth place), lost in CAA quarterfinal

Head coach: Louis Rowe (third season)

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Fourth

Losses

  • G Stuckey Mosley
  • G Matthew Urbach
  • F Greg Jones
  • F Develle Phillips
  • F Cameron Smith

Additions

  • G Zyon Dobbs
  • G Quinn Richey
  • G Jayvis Harvey
  • F Dalton Jefferson
  • F Julien Wooden
  • F Michael Christmas

By Adam Doucette

The JMU Dukes will look to rebound from their lackluster, eighth-place 2018–19. It won’t be easy after graduating second-leading scorer Stuckey Mosley, but JMU returns the other four starters and has added some depth with new recruits.

One of those recruits is Michael Christmas, a three-star prospect according to 247sports. He is ranked as the 14th best prospect from the state of Virginia for 2019.

Junior guards Matt Lewis and Darius Banks look to build on fantastic sophomore seasons. Lewis averaged 16 points, four rebounds, and three assists per game, making the All-CAA third team in the process. He will likely become the offensive centerpiece. Banks averaged 12 points and five assists per game, and his 56 steals were second only to Defensive Player of the Year Desure Buie. Banks also made a mind-boggling 49 percent of his threes last year.

Sophomore point guard Deshon Parker will look to become a leader after earning a starting spot last season and averaging six points, two rebounds, and three assists per game. JMU also returns 6’8” junior forward Zach Jacobs, who paced the team defensively with 26 blocks.

JMU will face one of the nation’s toughest teams early on. In just their second regular season game, the Dukes will travel to Charlottesville to play the reigning national champion Virginia Cavaliers. JMU has faced Virginia ten times in the past; they’ve lost all ten.

The Dukes head into the season under the direction of head coach Louis Rowe. Rowe played two years at JMU, was an assistant coach for five, and has been head coach for the last two. In his first season at the helm, the team finished last in the CAA; last year they finished eighth. The Dukes have not earned a top five seed in the CAA tournament since they were third in 2015–16.

Bottom line: JMU has hung out at the bottom of the CAA standings for the better part of the last three seasons. Digging themselves out won’t be easy, especially with the loss of leading scorer Mosley. But with an added year of experience for coach Louis Rowe, the maturing of Lewis, Banks, and Parker, and the addition of some talented recruits, the Dukes should jump in the standings.