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The 2012-13 Dukes put together quite the run at the end of the season to make last year's tournament. How does your fan base feel about last year's results?
Absolutely thrilled. It had been nearly two decades since JMU made the dance and a lot of fans probably thought the Dukes would never get back. Prior to last year, JMU hadn't been dancing since 1994. That's a long, long time ago. Google didn't exist. Ace of Base was a big band. Heading into the season, fans thought JMU had the talent to knock off any CAA team on any given night, but were skeptical that the Dukes could play consistently and string together wins. Seeing the way the team came together down the stretch and got hot at the right time was great. And to top it off, last year's squad played a really fun brand of basketball. Overall, it was a great season that reinvigorated the fanbase.
What's the biggest piece you've lost since last season?
Devon Moore was the team leader at point guard. His leadership and consistent play will be missed sorely. A.J. Davis is the guy who will be toughest to replace though. Davis transferred to JMU and showed flashes of his great potential during his junior year. He struggled to stay focused on both ends of the court—so much so that he was actually suspended indefinitely midway through last season. Unexpectedly, the suspension caused something to click and he was a different player when he returned. Finally playing to his potential, he was a dangerous defender and pretty much unstoppable as a scorer in the league down the stretch. He was a human highlight film and a big loss for JMU and the league as a whole.
Who is the player who needs to step up the most this year?
Can we say all of them? With a roster as young as JMU's, the Dukes need a lot of guys to step up. If we have to call out one guy though, it would be sophomore point guard Ron Curry. Curry saw a lot of time last year and played well backing up Devon Moore. With such a young team, JMU will need Curry to establish himself at the point and take control of the offense. If he does, JMU could surprise some folks come CAA play.
Who is the player UVa fans ought to look out for the most?
We would have said Andre Nation, a sophomore shutdown defender with plenty of offensive game as well. Unfortunately, Nation is suspended for 15 games due to a violation of team rules. JMU fans have higher expectations for Nation than they've had for any player in years. With Nation out, UVA fans should keep an eye on Andrey Semenov. He's one of those guys you love if he's on your team and despise if he's not. He's been around forever due to multiple injury redshirts (seriously forever, he played with Kevin Durant in high school) and he's a good long range shooter. He's also a complete pest. I mean that in a good way. Other CAA fans might describe him in less favorable terms.
What's your outlook for the season? What's a success, what's a failure, and what's something you can live with?
Despite winning the CAA last year, JMU was picked to finish 7th in the preseason poll this year. While the team has a ton of upside, that's not entirely unfair. Last year JMU had a very experienced senior class. This year's team will need to replace its top 3 scorers. And it's a very, very young roster. Semenov is a senior. After him there's one junior (a walk-on), four sophomores, and seven freshmen. All four sophomores saw major minutes and showed plenty of upside last year. They now represent the core of the team however.
The Dukes are talented enough to knock off any CAA team. Nation's suspension is a huge loss though. If the team can hold its own in his absence, they should be alright in league play when he returns. They're still probably a year away from challenging to return to the tourney. They could be better than 7th in the CAA however. Success would probably be finishing above .500, seeing at least one or two of the freshmen establish themselves as contributors, and winning at least one game in the conference tourney. A failure would be seeing shades of JMU's past when the Dukes flat out couldn't compete night in and night out. We could live with the team playing the same sort of excellent defense it did last year and seeing real evidence that young roster improved throughout the entire season.