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The Big Preview: Virginia Basketball looks for payback against JMU

UVA hosts James Madison looking for a win to avenge last year’s road upset.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last year’s Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team had some tough losses, but perhaps none worse than the loss to JMU on the road. That was the first time JMU had ever beaten Virginia in basketball.

That JMU team wasn’t actually good, finishing 15-14 (6-12 in the CAA). This year, they may actually be good. They are 7-2, with losses at UNC (understandable) and to Valparaiso (not so understandable). They are one of the fastest teams in the nation, especially offensively. The combination of quick shots and good shooting is making them very tough to stop. In fact, this team has broken 100 points three times this year (though only once against a DI opponent). They won’t score 100 this game.

All that scoring is coming from their shooting. Their offensive game plan is roughly the same as last season’s, but the shots have dropped at a much higher rate. Last year’s team shot 34% from three. This year’s team is up to 42%. Last year from two: 51%. This year: 56%. Even their free throw shooting is up a bit.

Is it sustainable? Against UNC, by far the highest ranked team they’ve played, they shot just 7/27 (26%). Against 332nd ranked (via KenPom) Hampton: 11/20 (55%). Howard (302): 14/25 (56%). Those games happened, and those shots dropped. But are they really representative of what we should expect in this game and against more legitimate competition? It’s hard to say for certain. That said, considering how bad UVA has been at defending three-pointers this year, it’s absolutely a concern.

Terrence Edwards was 4-4 from downtown in JMU’s last game against Eastern Kentucky. He’s 9/13 (69%) for the season. Edwards is not known as a shooter (14/44 or 32% coming into this season). Even if he was a shooter, 69% is not sustainable especially on 1.4 attempts per game.

Takal Molson is 8/18 (44%) so far this year. He shot 29% last year. Again, that 44% may not be sustainable. Molson, by the way, leads the team in scoring this year.

This was the winning shot in last year’s game. It’s a good move, but a tough shot over Gardner. Like Edwards, Molson is not a shooter. But he is a slasher who gets going in transition and off the bounce. As a sophomore at Canisius, Molson attempted 205 threes. He has attempted 109 in two plus seasons since.

One guy whose shooting probably is sustainable is Vado Morse. The Dukes’ 6’0” point guard, Morse led the team in scoring, assists, field goal attempts and free throw attempts last year. He shot 34% from three, but has shot up to 40% this year, though on fewer attempts. He still leads the team in usage rate, but it’s down from last year. That may be, in part, because of several blowouts skewing some numbers. Don’t be too surprised if Morse ends up leading the team in scoring by the end of the season.

He’s a sniper. This is poor defensively from Clark in last year’s game. Too easy for Morse, who led the Dukes with nine points (yes, nine).

The ironic thing about early season shooting success is that Noah Freidel, a sharpshooting transfer from South Dakota State, has struggled out of the gate. He was brought in specifically to knock down outside shots, but has made just 12/46 (26%) after making over 38% each of the three previous years. Freidel was 0/9 against UNC. If those other guys regress some, perhaps Freidel improves enough to compensate.

JMU didn’t win last year’s game with their offense. They won it with their defense. They won it by holding Virginia to 0.83 points per possession. Virginia shot 4/26 (15%) from beyond the three-point line in that game. The 26 attempts was the real problem. Too often, the Wahoos settled for contested three pointers. Last year, the ‘Hoos took 30% of their shots from three point range. Against JMU, that was 52%. In their upset over Duke later in the year, it was 19%.

This is a great move from Armaan Franklin. When you can do this, why are you settling for outside shots? Franklin was 0/6 from downtown last year. Jayden Gardner had a great game, leading all scorers with 12 points on 6/9 shooting along with 14 rebounds (5 on the offensive glass).

Kadin Shedrick also had a strong game with 8 points on 3/3 shooting (and 2/2 from the line), along with 3 blocks.

Noticing a trend here? Shedrick is 6’11”. JMU big man Mezie Offurum is 6’8”. Put Shedrick out there with Gardner or 6’8” Ben Vander Plas and JMU is going to have trouble inside.

UNC completely dominated inside against the Dukes. Armando Bacot had 19 points on 5/11 shooting and 23 (!) rebounds. JMU like to run and press, and that often leads to open threes.

Look how open he is. UNC shot just 8/25 (32%) from the outside, but they missed some open looks.

The trio of Shedrick, Gardner, and Vander Plas should also dominate inside. The wings will focus on Morse and Molson and on knocking down some outside shots. If that happens, UVA should handle James Madison and get revenge from last season’s upset. For JMU to pull off another upset the Dukes will (obviously) need to get hot from three. find a way to contain UVA on the inside, and hope some of the Wahoos’ struggles shooting the ball continue.