CAA: JMU No. 7

Brady OK With Preseason Prediction

Posted: October 23, 2013

BALTIMORE — The Colonial Athletic Association had a decidedly Towson flair to it Tuesday at media day. The Tigers topped the men’s basketball preseason poll, senior forward Jerelle Benimon took preseason Player of the Year honors and coach Pat Skerry delivered a lunchtime speech with Baltimore’s Inner Harbor serving as a backdrop.

Defending CAA champion James Madison? An afterthought. The very young Dukes were picked to finish seventh out of nine teams — not that coach Matt Brady much cares.

“I’m fine with it. I think it’s fair,” Brady said at media day. “I think if we were picked even marginally higher, it would have been optimistic. I think where we’re picked is fair and I think we’re so young that we don’t have any proven production. We have a lot of inexperience; we have a lot to learn. We don’t have a double-digit scorer returning, and the one guy we have who is a proven guy, Andrey Semenov, hasn’t had a healthy season aside from his third year.”

Those circumstances could lead to an uncommon drop-off for the Dukes. Only twice in the league’s history has a team won the CAA and then finished seventh or worse the next year: the 2003 and 2006 North Carolina-Wilmington championship teams were seventh (out of 10) and 10th (out of 12) in 2003-04 and 2006-07, respectively. In a somewhat similar circumstance, after winning the inaugural CAA tournament in 1983, JMU finished fifth out of six teams in 1983-84.

Following Towson in this year’s poll is Drexel, the only team with two projected first-team All-CAA performers — guards Damion Lee and Frantz Massenat. College of Charleston, in its first Colonial season after a runner-up finish in the Southern Conference, was picked third in voting by coaches, members of the media and school media-relations people.

Delaware was fourth and William & Mary fifth, each with a preseason first-team guard (Devon Saddler for the Blue Hens and Marcus Thornton for the Tribe). Northeastern, the team JMU routed 70-57 last March in Richmond to claim its first CAA title in 19 years, was picked sixth, followed by Madison, UNCW and Hofstra.

The Dukes, who made a late-season run to the NCAA Tournament last winter to save Brady’s job, had four seniors (three of them in their fifth year) in the starting lineup that night at the Richmond Coliseum. This JMU team, featuring eight freshmen, isn’t quite as far along as Brady would have hoped.

Madison is so young that it scrimmaged freshmen against sophomores last week, and the biggest positive Brady noticed was that “the kids recognized we played poorly.”

“We have a little more to learn than I had envisioned in terms of taking care of the ball and the speed of the game…” he said. “We can’t take anything for granted in terms of simple fundamentals.”

Brady expects a gradual but successful learning curve.

“Conference play begins in January, and by January I’ll be very confident that we can be a competitive team.”

January is also when Andre Nation will return from a 15-game suspension assessed after the sophomore, according to school sources, failed a second drug test for marijuana. Nation, an all-purpose guard who elevated his play last postseason, was JMU’s lone representative on one of the two preseason all-conference teams. Voters had to submit their ballots in September, before the suspension.

Nation is the leading returning scorer, at 9.3 points per game, from a Madison team that finished 21-15.

Joining Nation on the second-team are Charleston forward Adjehi Baru, Northeastern swingman Quincy Ford, William & Mary forward Tim Rusthoven and Delaware guard Jarvis Threatt. Nation is the only player younger than a junior on either all-conference team.

Just because the Dukes are young doesn’t mean the league’s opposing coaches don’t view them as a threat.

“I think they’ll be better [than seventh] because some of those guys there have won,” Drexel’s Bruiser Flint said. “And it’s always a little different mentally when you won like they did last year. And those guys expect a lot out of themselves and they’ll push the younger guys because of that.”

The Dukes have a closed scrimmage at Navy on Sunday and then play a home exhibition game the following Sunday, Nov. 3, against Division II Philadelphia. They open the season Nov. 8 at Virginia, which debuted at No. 25 in the preseason coaches’ poll.

Overall, JMU’s opponents aren’t very daunting this season, but the makeup of their non-conference schedule is. Twelve of their 14 non-league games will be away from the Convocation Center. And without Nation.

Brady anticipates some early lumps but said he believes any one of six teams could win the CAA tournament this year — his included. Skerry, who was selected to give the annual coaches’ speech at media day, agrees that JMU will eventually be a tough opponent.

“Their freshmen are really, really good and they obviously upgraded their defense last year; they were really tough to score on,” Skerry said. “And Matt’s such a good coach offensively; he does such a good job moving people around offensively. I love their length and their talent. Getting Semenov back, that’s an all-conference-caliber guy and maybe the best shooting forward in the conference.

“… They’re going to be really good. Really good. I’m disappointed we don’t play them until late in the year — I’ll put it that way.”

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