Given how much production James Madison lost from last season’s NCAA tournament team and the fact that Andre Nation won’t be available until the Dukes begin CAA play, it comes as no surprise that they’ve struggled offensively this season. Charles Cooke (15.6 ppg, 4.0 rgp, 2.1 apg), Ron Curry (11.9, 4.5, 2.7) and Andre Semenov (11.3, 4.8) are all averaging double digits, but from an efficiency standpoint the 2013-14 season has been a struggle for Matt Brady’s bunch.
JMU entered Saturday’s game against Hampton ranked 261st in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy, and if not for their ability to get to the foul line (48th in free throw rate) it can be argued that the Dukes would be even worse than their 3-9 record. JMU once again struggled offensively on Saturday, scoring 0.85 points per possession and turning the ball over on nearly 28% of their possessions.
But they still shot better from the field than the Pirates, who made just 32% of their shots from the field and 24% (6-for-25) from beyond the arc. The end result: a much-needed 55-49 victory in the first game of the Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic, with Curry leading all scorers with 19 points and being the most polished offensive player on the floor. Curry shot 7-for-10 from the field, and in a game that saw James Madison (4-9) turn the ball over 18 times (Cooke was responsible for six) the sophomore guard didn’t commit one.
Cooke (1-for-7, five points) and Semenov (3-for-10, eight points) struggled offensively, but the 14 points and 21 rebounds supplied by the combination of Taylor Bessick (eight points, ten rebounds) and Tom Vodanovich (six points, 11 rebounds) helped James Madison account for two of their top three players having off afternoons. Brian Darden led three Hampton (5-7) players in double figures with 14 points.
Will much change when Nation returns to the rotation next month? Probably not, but he is a key component for James Madison and he’ll help them as the Dukes move towards the all-important conference tournament in March. The good news, and the difference, on Saturday was the fact that they still have Ron Curry.
The second annual Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic will be played at the Richmond Coliseum on Saturday afternoon, with the doubleheader matching four of Virginia’s 14 Division I men’s basketball programs. In the opener Hampton takes on James Madison, with the Dukes looking to round into shape after winning the CAA tournament and making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1993.
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At 3-9 on the season Matt Brady’s team has struggled due to factors such as Andre Nation’s 15-game suspension and the fact that they’re averaging less than a point per possession (0.95). In the Pirates, JMU will face a team that has also had issues when it comes to offensive efficiency. However, with senior forward Du’Vaughn Maxwell and sophomore guard Deron Powers leading the way offensively Hampton’s (5-6) been able to do enough defensively to compete on most nights.
The nightcap is the game that will receive most of the attention however, with the hometown team (VCU) looking for a sweep of the Commonwealth’s ACC schools when they take on Virginia Tech. With the new legislation regarding contact some have assumed that Shaka Smart’s team would have a difficult time adjusting defensively given how active their “HAVOC” system is. But that hasn’t been the case, as VCU’s averaging 20.2 fouls per game (up from 19.7 last season) and they still rank 32nd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (45th last season) and first in forced turnover percentage per Ken Pomeroy.
Offensively VCU’s still a work in progress, with newcomers and players who may not have enjoyed prominent roles last season looking to mesh with established veterans such as Treveon Graham, Briante Weber and Juvonte Reddic. The Rams will look to take the next step against a Virginia Tech squad that’s 7-3 and can use every win they can get prior to the start of ACC play. Jarell Eddie leads three Hokies in double figures with an average of 19.3 points per game, and the obvious key for Virginia Tech on Saturday will be their turnover count.
Naturally that number (Virginia Tech averages just over 13 turnovers/game) will rise some against a team like VCU, but how much that figure rises and the kind of turnover that is committed will have a major impact on the outcome. Dead-ball turnovers, while unfortunate, are a much better outcome for Virginia Tech than the live-ball turnover that VCU has been known to feast off of. Virginia Tech doesn’t do a good job of forcing turnovers itself (346th in forced turnover percentage), making this area one of huge importance.
The doubleheader, in addition to providing area fans with some quality entertainment, will also serve as a fundraiser for the state’s food banks. Last season the Classic raised nearly $50,000, with the funds being divided amongst seven food banks. So while two teams will leave the Richmond Coliseum with wins, even more will benefit from the action.