Two From JMU?

Brooks’ Dukes Seek NCAA Berth

Posted: March 15, 2013

HARRISONBURG — Kenny Brooks said he just wants his James Madison women’s basketball team to do its part.

The JMU men’s hoops team has already won its Colonial Athletic Association tournament to clinch its first NCAA playoff berth since 1994, and now Brooks wants his squad to do the same.

“Hopefully, we can do our part,” Brooks said. “The men stepped up and did theirs, and we get the opportunity to do the same.”

If the second-seeded Madison women — who open their CAA tournament today with a 5 p.m. quarterfinal against No. 7 seed Towson at the 5,100-seat Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md. — do get an NCAA bid, it would be the first time in school history that both the JMU men’s and women’s basketball teams have made the NCAA tournament in the same season.

For Brooks’ squad to make it happen, it most likely will have to win this weekend’s tournament and claim the CAA’s automatic bid. With an RPI of 66 and a lack of signature wins, the Dukes are on the fringe for an at-large invitation.

But outgoing Towson coach Joe Mathews said JMU may not have to worry about an NCAA Plan B.

“They’re playing some of the best basketball they’ve played all year,” said Mathews, who has gone 147-206 in 12 seasons, and the school announced in February that he would be let go at the end of this year. “I think they’re peaking at the right time, and they had a tremendous effort [in a 61-60 loss Feb. 24] up at Delaware, and they may be the best team in the league right now.”

The Tigers (12-17) haven’t had much success against JMU (21-9) — ever.

While Towson closed the season by winning five of its last six games, it is just 3-31 all-time against the Dukes, who won handily in both of the teams’ meetings this season. Madison won 75-61 on Jan. 31 and 79-45 on Feb. 21.

Today’s winner will face either No. 3 seed Drexel (20-9) or No. 6 seed William & Mary (8-21) in the CAA semifinals Saturday at 4:30 p.m. The championship game will be played Sunday at 2 p.m. Both the semifinals and final will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet. General admission tickets cost $15. Student tickets are $5.50.

The tourney favorite is defending champ Delaware, which went 18-0 in the conference for the second straight season (the first team to ever do that). The Blue Hens are ranked 15th by the Associated Press and have the CAA’s best player: 6-foot-5 guard/forward Elena Delle Donne, who on Wednesday night was named the league’s Player of the Year for a third time. Delle Donne also is the CAA’s career scoring leader.

JMU played Delaware tight both times, losing 71-64 on Feb. 10 and then by one point in the rematch in Newark, Del.

Towson, meanwhile, is led by Tanisha McTiller, who averages 18.5 points, 2.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game. The junior guard was a second-team All-CAA pick. Point guard Dominique Johnson made the All-Rookie team.

 “I’m not sure anyone matches up really well against [JMU],” said Mathews, a Stanley native who graduated from Page County High School in 1983. “...It’s going to take a special effort to be close, and that’s what we’re going for. It’s tournament time, and you can have all the clichés you want, but give those guys a lot of credit. They had a great year, and we’re playing as well as we can right now, and we’ll see where it goes.”

It doesn’t look good. JMU went 15-3 in the CAA this season, losing those two games to Delaware and one to Drexel, which the Dukes beat in the regular-season finale to clinch the No. 2 seed in the tournament. The coaches’ preseason poll had JMU finishing second to Delaware.

Madison won back-to-back conference titles in 2010 and 2011. Drexel, the 2009 champ, eliminated JMU in the semifinals in 2012. Still, the Dukes made the WNIT and advanced to the championship game, where they lost to Oklahoma State.

What would it mean if the Dukes can make it back the NCAA tournament this year and join the men’s team?

“It would create a huge buzz around here,” Brooks said. “… I just think it gives you so much national attention. When we got to the tournament a couple of years, it gave us a lot of attention. But now, alongside the men, it would really give us a lot of attention. I think that would really help our programs … but it also would help all our programs, because the more you see James Madison on national TV, I just think it becomes more of a household name.”

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