Coach Matt Brady's Dukes squad actually opens its regular season against the Bruins. The only reference point for James Madison is their relatively difficult exhibition victory over Division II University of Philadelphia last week. Looking at last year's statistics and results is a rather pointless activity because James Madison was one of the most injured teams in the country in 2011-2012. While they return a bevy of experienced players, some of them last played a meaningful game in 2010-2011.
Like UCI, the Dukes like to get up the floor as quickly as they can and set ball screens to set up the drive and dish. They collectively use the 3-point shot as a main cog in their offensive arsenal. Against Philly, the Dukes hoisted 22 three-pointers out of 55 total shots. That's exactly 40% of their shot attempts. They hit 9 of them, for a 41% success rate. If Bruin fans thought Irvine was raining threes in the second half on Tuesday, wait until they get a gander of the Dukes.
Although Brady doesn't have a player as unique as UCI's Michael Wilder, he does have a roster that is made up of physically similar players to Irvine. There isn't a great deal of size on the James Madison roster, but the Bruins saw that meant very little on Tuesday night. The guards are almost universally in the 6'4" to 6'6" range and they are pretty athletic. The Bruins are going to be presented with some matchup issues, especially with regard to Larry Drew II, who could be as much as six inches shorter than the Duke he is assigned to guard.
Speaking of UCLA's defense, it was pretty poor against UCI in a number of areas. Keep in mind that the Bruins were without Tyler Lamb and his status for the James Madison game is uncertain, which left Coach Ben Howland with a backcourt rotation of Norman Powell, Drew and Jordan Adams. Playing without Lamb, let alone Shabazz Muhammad, really handcuffed UCLA's half-court defense. Adams, to his credit, offensively carried the Bruins in this game with 26 points, including 16-16 on free throws. The problem was at the other end. The Anteater that Adams was guarding at any given time was probably responsible for 22 points. Adams is still learning, with this being only his second "real" collegiate game. Powell and Drew were generally solid on defense, with Howland using Powell to try to put out fires all over the floor. The problem was when Powell was assigned to a different UCI player, the one he was guarding before that typically was able to do something to hurt the Bruins.
The Bruin post defense was a mess. The defensive rotations, even when they were on, tended to be late and only lasted through one or two Anteater pass rotations. Take the final play of regulation (where UCI missed two free throws with the game tied and 2.6 seconds left). Four Bruins flew to the ball, and to use a football term, they lost gap integrity. The one Bruin not on the ball allowed his player to get inside of him at the top of the key and receive the pass that led to the situation that gave UCI a chance to win.
James Madison is going to run the same kind of offense, which is almost a hybrid dribble-drive motion coupled with a traditional motion. The good news for Howland is that the Dukes aren't quite as quick in the backcourt as UCI was Tuesday night.
The main cog in James Madison's offense is redshirt senior A.J. Davis (6'6" 210 lbs.). He led the Dukes in scoring last season at 15.9 PPG and scored 17 in the exhibition victory over Philadelphia. He is more of an outside shooter than a slasher, though he can do both more than adequately. Chances are that Howland will ask Kyle Anderson (if he gets a clean bill of health after his Wednesday MI) to guard Davis. Adams will also see time on Davis.
The other backcourt players are also redshirt seniors, Devon Moore (6'4" 175 lbs.) and Alioune Diouf (6'6" 220 lbs.). Neither is truly a shooter, although they are both capable of hitting the outside jumper, but rather slashers. If Brady were smart, he'd post up whichever one of these guards finds themselves being guarded by UCLA's Drew. Drew and Powell will have an advantage in athleticism over the Duke guards and Adams should be able to hold his own on the defensive end, at least in terms of quickness.
The "post" players are also seniors (yes, James Madison starts an all-senior line-up). They are Russian Andrey Semenov (6'7" 200 lbs.) and Rayshawn Goines (6'6" 265 lbs.), who is probably the closest thing James Madison has to UCI's Wilder.
Semenov is an interesting player in that he is expected to defend the low post (he was the Dukes' second-leading rebounder last season) yet he is almost strictly a three-point specialist on offense. Fully almost two-thirds of his shots last season came from behind the arc.
Goines is the only true post threat in Brady's starting line-up. His balance is very good because of his low-to-the-ground build and he knows how to use his 265 lb. frame. Like Wilder, he can step out and hit the outside shot, but his consistency is far below that of the UCI player.
The Duke bench is filled with players of similar size as the starters. Freshman Ron Curry (6'4" 190 lbs.) and Charles Cooke (6'6" 190 lbs.) will see a great deal of action, as will sophomore Arman Marks (6'4" 195 lbs.). The one exception is senior post Gene Swindle (6'11" 265 lbs.), who will try and "steal" a few minutes here and there…okay, bad joke. Swindle is the one James Madison player who is a non-factor offensively outside of the paint.
With Semenov setting up shop around the arc, it opens up the lane for James Madison's wing players to drive to the basket. The offense will look very similar to what the Bruins saw on Tuesday against UCI. Obviously, the Bruins need to work on their defensive rotations and on getting a hand up to a shooter. All of the Dukes' starters can hit that outside shot and all have quick releases. It would help the Bruin cause if they could limit James Madison's ability to dribble penetrate, and UCLA has a realistic chance of doing that. James Madison isn't nearly as quick as UCI.
The key to the game, other than defense, is rebounding. Unlike UCI, who entered the game with a proven record of getting quite a few offensive rebounds, James Madison's M.O. is that of a poor rebounding team. The Dukes were outrebounded by almost 6 RPG last season and their leading rebounder graduated. Certainly Goines helps, but he can't do the job by himself. If nothing else, the Bruins certainly shouldn't be on the wrong end of an 11-rebound margin on Thursday night.
From a personnel standpoint, it might be a good idea for Howland to give Josh Smith and/or Tony Parker more run in terms of minutes. The Wear brothers are playing too many minutes and, to be blunt, they almost cost the Bruins the game. Smith looked engaged and Parker very active on Tuesday.
The Bruins won a game they should have lost on Tuesday, a game they would have lost a year ago. That game will prove either to be a harbinger of things to come or a wake-up call for the Bruins with regard to intensity. The Bruins and their fans should see where the Bruins truly stand on a national scale next Monday and Tuesday in Brooklyn. The game against James Madison presents the Bruins with the same general dilemmas that UCI gave them, but the differences should help UCLA to a relatively comfortable victory.
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