The Dukes, as befits a rebuilding team under a first-year coach, are led by a pair of sophomores in the absence of senior standout Daniel Freeman, who has missed the last two games with a foot injury. Freeman (6-0, 195 lbs.) averaged a team-leading 19 points per game in JMU's first four outings, and complemented those numbers with 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
In his absence, guard Ray Barbosa (6-2, 180 lbs.) and forward Cavell Johnson (6-8, 200 lbs.) have provided a good bit of the Dukes' productivity. Barbosa has averaged 15.7 points per game, with almost one-fourth of his points coming from the free throw line, where he converts at an 88% success rate. Johnson averages 12 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, mostly on shots from close to the basket. Barbosa is the team's leading three-point threat, making 15 of his 39 attempts so far this year.
Joining Barbosa in the backcourt will be junior Jomo Belfor (6-0, 190 lbs.). The solidly-built Belfor averages 6.5 points and 3.5 assists per game from his point guard position, but sometimes struggles to handle the ball, as he has six more turnovers than assists on the campaign. If Freeman can play, he will likely make it a three-guard lineup for the opening tip, but if not, his spot will likely be taken by frontcourter David Cooper.
Cooper (6-7, 215 lbs.) has been battling back from a knee injury, and made his first start last week against Georgia Tech. In just two games this year, he has shown his ability, averaging seven points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. Joining Cooper and Johnson on the front line is big Gabriel Chami (6-11, 250 lbs.), who tosses in 7.2 points per game, but underachieves on the boards, with only 2.5 caroms per outing.
Providing minutes off the bench are junior guard John Naparlo (6-3, 180 lbs.), center Eddie Greene-Long (6-9, 245 lbs.) and forward Chris Cathlin (6-7, 230 lbs.). Although they provide a games' worth of time between them (42 minutes combined among the three), they produce just seven points and eight rebounds per contest between them.
West Virginia center D'or Fischer vs. James Madison center Gabriel Chami
If Fischer, who aspires to an NBA career, wants to make the jump to the highest level of basketball, he needs to dominate opponents like Chami, who, while respectable, probably doesn't have a pro career in front of him.
|Sat 12/18 7:00 p.m.|
WVU 6-0, 0-0
JMU 2-4, 0-1
WVU - 60
JMU - 193
That's not to hurl any disrespect in Chami's direction. The Argentina native is a respectable Division 1 player who eats space in the middle and can score and rebound enough to be a threat. However, he's not Emeka Okafor either. And if the Mountaineers want to realize that NCAA dream, they need to have their center doing more than blocking shots or throwing down the occasional dunk.
Fischer has noted, quite correctly, that teams have been double-teaming him, which has resulted in lower point totals than he expected. That analysis is true, but scoring isn't the only place that the big guy can contribute. He needs to be more aggressive on the boards, and go after the basketball rather than waiting for it to come to him. He also could do a better job of shutting down offensive forays into his area from the start, rather than allowing opponents to catch the ball in his zone.
This isn't to say that Fischer is playing poorly. He's not, by a long shot. But the time has come for him to put the hammer down in the form of a dominating, all-around performance. After all, the big boys are just a little more than a week away.
JMU: Daniel Freeman (Foot) Questionable, David Cooper (Knee) Probable
It's tough to get a handle on this James Madison team, as the Dukes were without team leader Daniel Freeman in losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. New head coach Dean Keener was likely just getting comfortable with his rotation when Freeman went out, and JMU thus struggled to mount a smooth offensive attack against their two ACC foes.
The one item that is apparent is that the Dukes aren't a one-note team. They don't depend on a guard-dominate lineup, or lean on going inside. They have players that can shoot and score from both inside and outside, and have to be played honestly on the offensive end of the court.
That said, JMU is definitely a different team when Freeman is on the floor. He gives the Dukes a boost in just about every facet of the game, on both the offensive and the defensive end. If he appears in this game, he gives his team at least a shot at an upset. Without him, getting a win on the road at the Coliseum will be a much tougher task.
This is the first of three home games at the big mushroom without the students on campus, and that fact takes a bit of the home court edge away from the Mountaineers. With finals just concluded and Christmas around the corner, it can be tough to get a team's attention focused on the game, to say nothing of fans and students. While most of the student body will likely already be home for the holidays, hopefully enough will still be around to provide the team with the emotional boost that usually comes from playing in front of friendly fans.
This game, along with Monday's game with New Hampshire, is a dangerous one from the "trap" aspect if nothing else. Coming off a week-long break, with an anticipated low-energy crowd and plenty of holiday distractions, the Mountaineers must be careful not to lose their concentration. Although the Dukes have never defeated WVU in the Coliseum, they have shown the ability to knock off talented Mountaineer squads. And with WVU entertaining thoughts of an NCAA bid among its Christmas dreams, the Mountaineers can ill-afford to lose a game such as this one.
Despite a pair of point guards with an outstanding combined assist to turnover ratio of six to one, neither J.D. Collins nor Darris Nichols leads the team in dishes. That honor goes to forward Mike Gansey, who has tallied 26 assists so far this year.
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Want an even more amazing stat? Only center D'or Fischer has more turnovers than assists on the season. That's not a knock on WVU's big shot blocker, as most frontcourt players wind up on the negative side of this comparison, mostly due to the fact that they handle the ball in traffic and have fewer opportunities for assists than front court players. Instead, it's yet another tribute to the way this team has taken to John Beilein's system of play. The Mountaineers take care of the ball, and pass it well. Simple, but a recipe for success.
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WVU and JMU share a common opponent, but it came during the exhibition season. The Mountaineers crushed Pan American of Mexico 97-42, while the Dukes pounded the Panteras 91-57.
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West Virginia has five players shooting 50 percent or better from the field this season. The list starts with D'or Fischer (70.6 percent), and continues through Mike Gansey (56.6 percent), Tyrone Sally (55.9 percent), Kevin Pittsnogle (52.3 percent) and Johannes Herber (51.4 percent). The fact that many of these players shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor, and not just close to the basket, only adds to the luster of this stat.
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For the second time this year, WVU will be playing a team nicknamed the Dukes, while James Madison will be facing its second set of Mountaineers. West Virginia defeated Duquesne 72-69 while James Madison lost to Appalachian State 78-69. This is the sixth straight year West Virginia and James Madison have met, and the series is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
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JMU's mascot, Duke Dog, is currently competing to be named "Mascot of the Year". Duke Dog's biography lists one of his favorite moments as "beating up the Hokie Bird". You have our vote, DD.