After a successful season opening win over Syracuse, the Virginia Cavaliers return home to kick off their out-of-conference schedule against the James Madison Dukes, a team who hasn’t beaten the Hoos in ten tries. This year, JMU opened with a win at home against UNC-Charlotte.
In a bit of a surprise, Virginia opened against Cuse with three guards on the floor in Kihei Clark, Tomas Woldetensae and Casey Morsell. The speculation had been that Kody Stattmann would start, and actually the game notes to the media listed Stattmann (and Jay Huff) as starters along with Clark, Braxton Key and Mamadi Diakite. Tony Bennett, master of misdirection.
Chances are, Virginia will open with the same lineup for this game. JMU has very little size, with nobody over 6’8” and just one true post player, junior Dwight Wilson. Wilson was fourth on the team in minutes and scoring last year, but led the team with almost eight rebounds per game. Wilson did not play against Charlotte, and I can’t figure out why.
The Dukes’ leading scorer is junior Matt Lewis, a 6’5” wing who was named preseason first team All-CAA this year. Lewis can shoot it a little bit (33% last year), but really excels at getting to the rim off the dribble. Lewis draws a lot of fouls last year and makes his FTs (80%). Considering how well he did defensively against Elijah Hughes, figure on Casey Morsell on Lewis to start things. Lewis had 22 points against Charlotte, but shot just 1/7 from behind the arc and 7/14 from the stripe. He could’ve had a truly huge game. He certainly has the ability.
The above are both highlights from JMU’s opener and show what Lewis can do both shooting and driving. He’s the key. Shut down Lewis, and JMU isn’t going to win.
If Morsell is able to slow down Lewis, that puts Kihei Clark on PG Deshon Parker. Parker and Lewis are the same size, but Lewis is a much better scorer. Tony will want to use Clark to pressure the ball in the backcourt, to help slow JMU down. If Morsell struggles to contain Lewis, then Clark will get a chance on Lewis with Morsell (or Stattmann) on Parker.
A year ago, JMU ranked 301st in tempo. In their opener, they played to 77 possessions. It’s obviously just one game, but their average offensive possession was just 12.6 seconds, an absurdly low number.
They will try to run against Virginia. Lewis and Parker both excel in the open court and controlled the tempo against Charlotte. This is the new game plan touted by head coach Louise Rowe. It’ll be tough to do against the Hoos. Tony has made a career out of slowing down fast teams.
The two other starters for the Dukes are Darius Banks and Michael Christmas. They’re both bigger wings (6’5”, 220). Banks was third in the country in three point shooting last year at exactly 50%. Christmas is a freshman, but looked good in the opener.
This game will be a good test for future games against up-tempo teams. UNC, NC State and Duke are all among the fastest teams in the nation. Those teams all have more talent than JMU does. In particular, it’ll be a good test for young guards Morsell and Woldetensae to learn how to handle these games.
Despite perceptions to the contrary, Tony wants his guys to run when opportunities present, but within reason. There’s a feel to it, and the young guys need to learn. That’s what these early season tune-ups are for.
Virginia’s size and talent up front was too much for Syracuse to handle. And Syracuse actually has a lot of size. JMU does not, and is going to struggle to slow down Diakite and Huff on the inside. That’ll be even more of a problem if Dwight Wilson still can’t go for JMU.