Coming off a rare losing season, James Madison enters the 2022-23 season with plenty of new faces and renewed optimism.
But the Dukes also have a good chunk of the core group back as they enter their first season in the Sun Belt Conference. With the unknowns surrounding JMU, the SBC coaches voted the Dukes sixth in the league's preseason poll.
But if JMU is as improved as many around the program expect, a much higher finish could be in store.
Here are five questions about the Dukes they will begin to answer when they open the season Monday at home against Maine.
ARE THE DUKES HEALTHY?
Peyton McDaniel, the 2021 CAA Rookie of the Year, didn't play a minute last season and injury also knocked Clemson transfer Claire Neff out for the year midway through the season. The added scoring load on Kiki Jefferson weighed on her body late in the season.
But McDaniel and Neff are back this season and that should make a huge difference. Freshman Mya Kone, who coach Sean O'Regan has raved about in the preseason, was in an ankle boot Tuesday night at the team's tipoff fan event. That could impact depth early, but JMU seems to have a lot of it on the wings this season.
DO THEY HAVE A POINT GUARD?
Short answer, yes. JMU had just 266 assists against 456 turnovers last season. Part of that was the fact the Dukes simply missed a lot of open shots, but JMU had only one pure point guard to facilitate the offense.
TCU transfer Caroline Germond is going to play a lot of minutes at the one and looks to pass first. Freshman Chloe Sterling could also see some time in that role. That allows junior Jamia Hazell to play more off guard, which should enhance her production.
BUT WILL THEY MAKE THOSE SHOTS NOW?
The Dukes should be a better shooting team. Just adding McDaniel to the mix should make a huge difference. McDaniel made 36 3-pointers in 16 games as a freshman. Neff is also a better shooter than she showed during a slump before her injury last season.
JMU shot just 28 percent from 3-point range and 38 percent from the field. If McDaniel can help from long range it should open things up for Jefferson and Hazell, who like to penetrate, but ran into a lot of traffic in the lane last season.
That doesn’t even bring Texas transfer Kobe King-Hawea into the conversation.
YEAH, WHAT’S UP WITH KING-HAWEA?
Fans won’t get a look at King-Hawea Monday, or until December after the end of the first semester. But the New Zealander who attended the NBA Global Academy in Australia before coming to college in the United States might end up being JMU’s best offensive weapon.
King-Hawea was the No. 1 junior college prospect in the country then signed with Texas. She only played in five games for the Longhorns before suffering an injury and then transferred to JMU.
O’Regan said King-Hawea does things on the court he hasn’t seen any other JMU player do, and she could give the Dukes a huge boost in Sun Belt play.
WHO MUST THE DUKES LOOK OUT FOR IN THE SBC?
JMU was the best overall program in the CAA the past 20 years, but in recent seasons had significant challenges from Drexel, Towson and Delaware. There will be some new teams in line to become rivals in the Sun Belt.
Troy has been the most consistent Sun Belt program over the past several years and was once again picked to finish first in the SBC preseason poll. The Trojans have won at least 20 games in eight of the past nine seasons. Louisiana should also be solid.
There’s also the familiar old rival in Old Dominion. The Monarchs are coming off a 24-10 season last year and picked second in the Sun Belt. What was once the most intense women’s basketball rivalry in the CAA should pick up steam again quickly in the Sun Belt.