Updated: Feb 9
One thing is clear in what has been a start and stop 2020-21 JMU Men’s Basketball season- Quickness.
First year JMU head coach Mark Byington has immediately changed the trajectory of the Dukes program. In doing so, Coach By has awoken a mid-major basketball giant that has been sleeping for the better part of two decades.
In his first season at the helm, JMU has done the unthinkable thus far- going from the bottom of the conference to the top, all while turning over a roster during a recruiting cycle and pre-season that was severely impacted by the pandemic.
As this team continues to gel, a few things are apparent- 1)this team for the first time in years has an identity 2) it’s an identity that is winning games and 3) the Dukes are giving opponents fits.
That Identity is clearly QUICKNESS.
Style and coaching philosophy have been ever present as Coach Byington and staff put their fingerprints on this year’s Dukes and it is paying dividends on the defensive end of the floor in particular. The guys have clearly bought in and taken a lot of pride in their defense- an Achilles heel on past Dukes teams.
If you watch the games, it all ties back to quickness. The undersized Dukes are winning due to a combination of quickness on the perimeter and with defensive help inside.
JMU ranks #20 in the Nation in Opponents 3 Point Field Goal Percentage. The Dukes are closing out on 3-point shooters. This is something that past JMU teams didn’t do leading to several gut punch 3-point shots at the end of the shot clock or even the regular open 3-point looks other teams used to thrive on whenever they wanted.
JMU ranks #21 in the Nation in Creating Turnovers. Simply said, the JMU defense is very active and the speed by which they defend is giving opponents trouble- forcing turnovers and bad shots. This year's Dukes are in control and dictating tempo. While coaching is a big part of the seismic shift, personnel is a big reason why.
Two true freshmen start for the Dukes and have been the key to unlocking Coach Byington’s defensive style. Point Guard and current CAA Freshman of the week Terell Strickland leads the team in steals at 1.8 per game. In a recent win vs. Drexel, Strickland displayed his quickness late in the game and stopped Drexel guard Camren Wynter during a key possession down the stretch, causing a turnover and later hitting a 3 pointer on the other end of the court to clinch the victory for the Dukes.
Forward Justin Amadi, who at 6’7” really plays the Center position for the Dukes, has been very effective on the defensive end as well. Hedging on the perimeter at the start of the Dukes half-court defense, Amadi has created numerous turnovers for breakaway layups and highlight reel dunks. Inside, although undersized, Amadi’s quick jumping ability has resulted in key rebounds, deflections, and blocked shots down the stretch in JMU wins.
With a defensive mindset and culture in place, the future for JMU Men’s Basketball is bright. As a fan it’s refreshing to see the Dukes impose their style on the opposition the way that other nationally successful JMU sports programs have. The men’s hoop squad has become a very tough team to game plan for and play against. The Dukes are a team that will pressure you outside, close out on 3’s, rotate and help, and when the ball gets inside, make you earn it.