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The Big Basketball Preview: Virginia at JMU

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

By the skin of their teeth, Virginia opened the ACC season with a home win over Pitt. Now, Virginia Basketball heads into exam break with one more game, a road game against the JMU Dukes. JMU sits at 7-2, with losses to Kent State and Murray State, the two best teams they’ve faced this season (at least based on KenPom rankings). Both of those losses came in the Naples Invitational.

The Dukes are coming off an easy win over Eastern Mennonite, a local school that plays in DIII. Not exactly a good representation of what JMU can do as a team.

The Wahoos are 11-0 all-time against the Dukes, with three of those games coming on the road, including a 28 point win in 2014. They last matchup between these two teams was two years ago, a 31 point win for the good guys. Virginia won that game despite shooting just 4/25 (16%) from downtown. They won by holding JMU to 22% and dominating inside. Mamadi Diakite scored 19 points with 13 rebounds in leading the Cavaliers to victory.

Despite being just two years ago, only two players who saw meaningful action in that game are still around for their respective team. One is Kihei Clark and the other is JMU big man Julien Wooden. Wooden did not score in 15 minutes off the bench, shooting 0-3 from the field and pulling down 2 rebounds. Wooden did not play in the Eastern Mennonite game, but there is no word of him being out (or limited) for this game. Wooden is the biggest player on the Dukes roster, and is fourth on the team in minutes per game. But he’s just sixth in points per game and third in rebounding. He is not really an interior player. Virginia’s big men will have to play him on the perimeter, and that draws them away from the paint where they want to be. Luckily, he isn’t much of a shooter (just 5/22 this season and under 30% for his career). He’d prefer to slash to the rim.

Notice how Wooden is able to get past the closeout and get to the rack. If Kadin Shedrick is guarding Wooden, he will also likely be leaving Wooden alone mostly on the perimeter. This means he’ll have to make controlled closeouts. And the Pack Line attempts to force action to the middle, so Shedrick can’t get beat on the baseline.

The Duke’s real big men are Justin Amadi and Alonzo Sule (transfer from Texas State). That duo split minutes almost in half (21 for Amadi, 19 for Sule) and they combine for 18 points and 11 rebounds per game (roughly the same as Gardner’s per-40 averages). Both may have a quickness edge on Gardner, but Jayden is bigger and stronger.

This season’s The Dukes have three guys all averaging around 11 points-per-game. That includes Vado Morse, who was the team’s second leading scorer last season behind CAA Player of the Year Matt Lewis. As the second option, Morse shot 41% from the field and 36% from downtown. So far this season as the primary option, Morse is shooting just 31% from the field and 27% from three (those numbers do not include two games against non-DI opponents. It is very difficult to be helping your team with shooting percentages like that. He is 6’0” 170, so Tony should feel comfortable with either Kihei Clark on him.

That puts Reece Beekman on one of the wings, likely either Charles Falden (6’3” 210) or Jalen Hoge (6’1” 180). Falden is a grad transfer from Winthrop and Hodge transferred in last season from ULM. Those are your shooters. That duo has combined to shoot 44% from three. The rest of the team has combined to shoot just 28%. Here is Hodge on a curl. This is a tough shot, especially for a lefty. How do you defend that?

We know this Virginia team can struggle against teams that get hot from the perimeter. Pitt, for example, is not a good three point shooting team. But they knocked down 8/16 and that was very nearly enough (and probably should’ve been enough) to pull off the upset at JPJ. There were some breakdowns.

How does he get that open? Unfortunately, we don’t see this build up here. The Hoos run a post trap, which leaves Beekman and Franklin essentially in a zone against three guys. When the pass comes out of the double-team, both Beekman and Franklin go there, leaving the wing unattended. We can’t know how it was drawn up, but surely Coach knows and will correct it.

Really, most of it was just timely shooting from Pitt.

The first clip here is a good pick-n-pop run from Pitt. Shedrick hedges and can’t get back to the big man. Maybe he should’ve read the pop quicker, but Hugley is 3-15 from downtown for his career, so this is a shot Tony is OK with. The second clip is good defense from Beekman. It’s very late in the shot clock, and it’s not like Jamarius Burton is a great shooter (21% on the season and 32% career). The other guys can play, too.

Takal Molson, a transfer from Seton Hall (after two years at Canisius) leads the team in scoring this season. He’s not much better than Morse from deep (24% this season, 29% career), but he’s a slasher and has a strong mid-range game.

Armaan Franklin is likely on Molson and that matchup will be key. Franklin has not shot the ball well, but has continued to contribute in other ways. That includes his own mid-range game.

This is a tough shot to defend, coming off a good screen from Caffaro. If Franklin continues to struggle from deep, we’ll probably see more of this. It helps to draw the defenders away from the paint, opening things up inside. But it’s seemingly a much higher percentage shot than the trey.

Those struggles from deep have pretty much defined Virginia’s season. The Hoos are getting back to their roots defensively after some early season struggles. As we saw against a very good Iowa team, Virginia can play with anybody when the shots are falling. But as we saw against Pitt, when the shots aren’t falling, Virginia isn’t a lock to beat anybody.

JMU is solid, but their game doesn’t match up very well against Virginia. They don’t have a lot of size on the wings and they can’t shoot. That is a bad combination against a Virginia team that is tough to score against in the paint. JMU will try to speed up the game and will press to force turnovers. But, as we all know, Virginia is very good at not letting that happen. Virginia is favored by 4.5 per DraftKings. JMU can absolutely win this game, but they’ll have to knock down their outside shots to do it.