SCOUTING THE DUKES
James Madison (1-0 / 0-0) showed shooting prowess and excellent execution down the stretch against the Spiders in nabbing a season opening win for the first time in four years. Led by senior guard Ron Curry (6-3, 200 lbs.), junior forward Tom Vodanovich (6-7, 215 lbs.) and transfer sub Shakir Brown (6-6, 220 lbs.) JMU won on the road at an in-state rival to get their season off to an unexpected good start. Curry, a preseason all-Colonial Athletic Association first team selection, was stellar across the board, scoring 19 points and dealing out eight assists in the win. He also snared five rebounds. Vodanovich added 15 points and scored inside and out, making half of his shots from three-point range, while Brown, who previously played at Angelina College and Iowa Western, recorded a double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds) in 30 minutes of action.
The Dukes feature a lineup that can match many others in terms of physical size, strength and length. Brown and Curry aren't going to be muscled out of the way in the backcourt, while swingmen like Paulius Satkus (nine points, eight rebounds) and Jackson Kent (11 points) are rangy enough (6-8 and 6-7, respectively) to give trouble on the boards and on defense. JMU can also deploy Dimitrije Cabarkapa (6-10, 240 lbs.) and Ivan Lukic (6-9, 225 lbs.) to help defend and clog the lane. Another big, Yohanny Dalembert, will miss the game while recovering from knee surgery. A second team all-conference preseason pick, Dalembert is a force on both ends of the floor, and while the Dukes appeared to get along just fine with him in their opener, his presence will be missed
With just one game to look at this year, it can be tough to pick out strengths, but the Dukes again appear to be a team that shoots the ball well. They hit almost 51% of their shots from the field against Richmond, and were 45% (11-24) from three-point distance. Curry helped set up a number of those shots while running the offense, but Satkus also moved the ball well in the opener. In the halfcourt, that will present a problem for WVU, which has not yet faced a team with the patience or shooting ability of JMU.
James Madison's offensive efficiency will test West Virginia's recovery from the press, which again has showed some major cracks. While WVU does hustle back when traps are defeated or the ball gets out, it doesn't do the best job of identifying shooters or closing out on open players in transition. There are also problems with stopping the ball and forcing it to go sideways, something that Mountaineer forward Elijah Macon said he and his fellow back line players are working on doing when the ball moves quickly into the front court. If WVU doesn't improve in that area, a team that shoots it like JMU did in its opener could be in position to spring the upset.
The Mountaineers have gotten off to quick starts in their early games, but have faltered in the second half. While its true that WVU held big halftime advantages in both contests, it has to work on being ready to play when the horn sounds for the final 20 minutes. Guard Daxter Miles doesn't think that he or his teammates had a focus problem in those instances, though. He noted it was more of a matter of continuing to run the offense and being patient. JMU has showed that it won't lose poise down the stretch, so West Virginia really needs to have the game in control entering those final minutes.
While WVU's point guards didn't give the ball away in the opener, head coach Bob Huggins is still concerned with how the offense is run at times and where the ball gets delivered. Jevon Carter and Tarik Phillip, who hand;ed the bulk of the set-ups, had a total of just three turnovers in a combined 50 minutes of action, but that's not the whole story.The motion offense, as well as some called sets, depend on making the right pass more than once to set up a shot. It's not just finding an open player – it's moving the ball to induce a defensive reaction, reading the result, then making the next pass or two to find the open man. It's one of the things that many players struggle with coming to college, and one that makes the difference between a smoothly-functioning halfcourt attack and one that appears disjointed and struggles to find open looks.
The Dukes have an eclectic roster, with only two players from the home state of Virginia. Head coach Matt Brady has cast far and wide to build his class with players hailing from Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, North Carolina, Lithuania, New Zealand, Serbia and Haiti.
One of the Serbians, Cabarkapa, shares a tie with a former Mountaineer player. Can you name that connection? Answer at the end of this column.
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The Dukes have established a pattern of one year in, one year out for post season play under Brady. Over the past eight seasons, starting in the 2008-09 campaign, JMU has been selected for a post season tournament every other year. That includes single invites to the NCAA and CBI tournaments, as well as two CIT appearances.
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West Virginia will face Richmond ten days from now in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. In addition to the Spiders and JMU, the Mountaineers also play Virginia and Virginia Tech from their neighboring state.
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WVU head coach Bob Huggins has faced 221 different teams during his head coaching career, but James Madison is not among them.
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JMU's road win over Richmond shouldn't have been a big surprise, even given the respect the Spiders had going into the year. James Madison was 7-6 on the road last year, including a 6-3 mark in their league. Banking on a junior-heavy roster that has just one sophomore in its rotation, the Dukes don't figure to be fazed by any road venue.
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TRIVIA ANSWER: Cabarkapa shares a home town, Novi Sad, with former Mountaineer guard Nenad Grmusa, who played three years for the Mountaineers from 1992-94. At that time, Novi Sad was in Yugoslavia, which broke up after a devastating war.