A Small Change Helps Madison
Five-Guard Lineup Has Sparked Dukes Lately
HARRISONBURG — In consecutive games with his team trailing by double digits, James Madison basketball coach Matt Brady has gone small and received big production.
Five guards. Eighty-plus feet of pressure. Two sizeable comebacks.
An all-guard unit helped the Dukes erase a 17-point deficit at home against Georgia State on Feb. 23 (the Dukes lost 66-62 after GSU retook the lead late) and then overcome a 19-point hole in Saturday’s win at William & Mary.
“They went small on us again, and their quickness and athleticism and length really bothered us,” said W&M coach Tony Shaver, who will have to prepare his Tribe for the Dukes’ change-of-pace lineup before the teams meet again Saturday in the first round of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. “We had 13 second-half turnovers, and I don’t think we attacked the press enough. We became a little passive, and we certainly don’t want that.”
Seniors Devon Moore and A.J. Davis, along with freshmen Andre Nation, Ron Curry and Charles Cooke have flummoxed opponents when they share the court. All five players stand between 6-foot-4 and 6-6 (in fact nobody on JMU’s roster is shorter than 6-4), and all are quick enough to interrupt passing lanes and recover to challenge shooters.
Primarily using that lineup in the second half Saturday, JMU (1-14 overall, 11-7 in the CAA) outscored W&M 38-20 after the break.
“It’s tough,” W&M guard Marcus Thornton said after the game about facing a handful of guards at a time. “They have those five guys that can guard each position, so it makes it hard to use the ball-screen and use it as effectively as we want.”
The Dukes began their comeback push against Georgia State almost immediately after resorting to the funky set-up, which had the 6-6, 210-pound Davis occasionally bodying up 6-10, 260-pound Panthers center James Vincent.
JMU’s five best defensive players happen to be guards, and when they’re on the court together, they provide a different breed of energy. Plus, as Thornton noted, the Dukes can switch on all picks, because there are no new mismatches for an offense to generate.
While the lineup has worked, in spots, Brady doesn’t want to be forced into it for extended minutes in the tournament, knowing his players might get worn down in what they hope to be a three-games-in-three-days grind.
“In a perfect world, a conventional lineup is how we win the game, and the minutes are more evenly distributed,” Brady said. “If you had to look down the road to the next game, it would be nice not to play such a short rotation. So we’ll be ready to play a conventional lineup with a couple of forwards in the game on Saturday, and play eight or nine guys. If you play a smaller lineup there’s not as long a bench, it creates some problems for you down the road.”
Another drawback to the lineup is that the Dukes don’t practice with it often, so they don’t have many offensive sets to run with it.
For much of the season, JMU’s offense was built around burly power forward Rayshawn Goins, who can stretch defenses with outside shooting but is most reliable in the high and low posts. Goins, who still leads JMU in scoring with 12.9 points per game, has tallied just 14 points total in his last three contests, frequently facing double-teams.
When Goins is ineffective offensively, he can become a liability for Brady because the 265-pound senior is often slow to react on defense. Goins understands the situation, and has taken late-game benching in stride.
“Especially when we’re down, we need defense,” Goins said. “We’re faster with rotations with the smaller lineups in the game. That’s a coach’s decision, and I’ve just got to live with it and stay positive.”
Goins said that to recharge his scoring punch, JMU will try to put him in some new spots on the floor, like at the top of the key, where it’s tougher for a defense to double-team him.
But it was the threat of five possible drivers and five possible 3-point shooters that overwhelmed W&M (13-16, 7-11), which is a sound but not overly quick defensive team.
“We didn’t match up with them, they got way too much dribble-penetration, got to the foul line too much,” Shaver said. “We went zone a little bit there and had two possessions of success with it, but when they’ve got five perimeter players out there — it’s tough to zone that, too.”
After Goins, JMU’s next five best scorers are the five guards it has used to turn games around. While the unit is young, the components have plenty of game-experience by now. Each of the three freshmen have played more than 625 minutes heading into the postseason.