Head coach, Matt Brady's squad is coming off of the school's first NCAA tournament bid since 1994. The Dukes must replace six key contributors from last year's CAA championship squad, as this season's group is one of the youngest teams in all of college basketball.
James Madison's rebuilding task got even tougher in the offseason, as projected starter and CAA all-freshman team selection, Andre Nation will be suspended for the first 15 games of season. Nation was a well-rounded contributor for the Dukes last season, averaging 9.3 points per contest, and finished the year with 53 assists, 52 steals, and 47 blocks.
A key strength of this JMU basketball team is its length, as the Dukes are sixth tallest team in the country. Leading the charge will be sixth-year senior, Andrey Semenov, who averaged 11 points per contest in just six games last season. Semenov was sidelined early with a nagging groin injury, before officially being shutdown for the season following the ODU game in January. At 6-7, 200 pounds, Semenov is the prototypical "stretch four" and ranks fifth in JMU history with a .403 three-point percentage.
The foundation of this year's JMU team will be built from it's four-man sophomore class, including point guard, Ron Curry. Curry backed up the school's all-time assist leader, Devon Moore last season, averaging 5.7 points per game. In 2012-13, Curry delivered a respectable 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, and dished out 61 assists. Much will be asked of the former Paul VI standout, as he will need to create on offense for a team that lost the bulk of its scoring from a year ago.
Versatile 6-6 swingman, Charles Cooke is primed for a breakout season in Harrisonburg. Cooke is a long and athletic wing that can use his large wingspan to defend multiple positions. Cooke averaged 5.2 points per game last season, and closed the campaign with a career high, 18 points in JMU's loss to Indiana in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In the low post, 6-9, Taylor Bessick will see his role dramatically increase this season, after only averaging 11 minuets per contest last year. In limited action, the Philadelphia native averaged just 2.3 points, and 2.1 rebounds per game. In his first test as a starter, Bessick will have his hands full against a deep and talented Virginia front- court.
Former Western Albemarle standout, Christian Peirce missed all of last season, and developed into one of the team leaders off the court according to players and coaches. With the game likely to get out of hand, look for Brady to go to his bench to work in members of the eight-man freshmen class.
Five things we'll be watching:
With the depth and experience on this year's roster, many have questioned how head coach, Tony Bennett will handle the lineups. Bennett said during media day last month that the true rotation will likely not be defined until ACC play begins, but tonight should provide a snapshot of who has developed the most since last season. All ACC selections, Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, as well as sophomore sensation, Justin Anderson are locks to start, but there are so many ways that Bennett could use this roster. The UVa head coach said this week that he is looking at a possible 10-man rotation to start the season. The biggest question mark appears to be in the front court, with sophomore, Mike Tobey, sophomore transfer, Anthony Gill, and junior, Darion Atkins all viable options to start alongside Mitchell at the five There is depth and experience at every position, and that is an excellent problem to have.
It has been 18 months since the former four-star guard has seen any action on the court. Brogdon missed the last month of the 2011-12 season, was sidelined for all of last year with a foot injury. Tonight, the Atlanta native will make his much anticipated return to the floor at John Paul Jones Arena. Will the promising redshirt sophomore be able to pickup where he left off in 2012? And what position will he play?
The point guard battle:
Piggybacking off of the point above, Brogdon is one of four Cavaliers that could possibly see time at the point guard position. Brogdon is the most experienced of any of the candidates, and at 6-5, he could be a potential matchup nightmare for opponents. The only real questions are his ball handling and his rust after being out for so long. Sophomore, Teven Jones is the only returning pg from a year ago, after spending the season backing up Jontel Evans. Jones disappeared from the rotation midway through the season but came back to average 13 minutes, and 2.9 points per game. The Kannapolis, North Carolina native developed into solid scoring option at the point, but his inability to stay in front of opponents on defense kept him out of some games. Virginia will welcome in two freshman point guards, London Perrantes and Devon Hall. Perrantes is a 6-2 floor general from California, while Hall is a bigger point guard, at 6-5, 210 pounds. Like every position on the team, their minutes will likely be determined on how quickly they can learn the pack line defense.
While two freshmen will play in their first colligate games, Gill will take the court at John Paul Jones arena for the first time, after arriving in Charlottesville last off-season. The former South Carolina transfer averaged 7.6 points 4.7 rebounds during his freshman season with the Gamecocks in 2011. Gill is a force on the glass, at 6-8, 230 pounds, and brings a new type of physicality that this team was missing a year ago.
With the additions of Brodgon and Gill, the Cavaliers have plenty of firepower on offense. Bennett has said time and time again that he will run if the situation is right, and if he feels good about the personnel on the roster. UVa also has plenty of low post scoring options as well, and this will be the deepest frontcourt of the Bennett era in Charlottesville. What changes can we expect to a Cavalier offense that was lacking at times last season?
The bottom line:
The Cavaliers enter this game as 21.5-point favorites, and for good reason. Virginia is loaded with depth, and the Dukes have more questions than answers. This matchup provides Bennett with an opportunity to truly see what he has to work with, and to possibly figure out the rotation. While all signs point to a UVa blowout, Wahoo fans have not forgotten about last season's dreadful 0-3 performance against teams from the Colonial Athletic Conference, that likely cost Virginia a spot in the NCAA tournament. At times UVa's style of play allows inferior teams to stick around, which the Hoos have had issues with in previous seasons. Tonight should give the Cavaliers plenty of confidence heading into next Tuesday's huge game with VCU.