Thursday, January 23, 2014

JMU ready for Drexel this time...we think

It may not be the most glamorous game on JMU's schedule, but Thursday night's home showdown with Drexel is certainly among the most interesting.

The Dukes (13-4, 3-0 CAA) spent the preseason establishing themselves by any reasonable standard as no worse than a Top-40 team nationally, and have been nothing short of spectacular through the early stages of Colonial Athletic Association play. But in recent times Drexel (8-8, 3-0) has been JMU's Kryptonite, the team that turns an otherwise high-powered Dukes squad into the gang that can't shoot straight.

Last March, we detailed how the Dukes had more or less become allergic to Dragons:

Consider that in the past two seasons, JMU has lost five games by 16 points or more. Three of those losses have come to Drexel. Two years ago, the Dragons held JMU to just 43 points, the Dukes' lowest point total in three seasons. This season, JMU's two lowest point totals (34, 46) have come against Drexel, and the 34 points they produced in the CAA (Tournament) semifinals represented their most meager output in coach Kenny Brooks' 11 seasons.

The Dragons have also prevailed in their last two trips to Harrisonburg in addition to being the team to evict JMU from the last two CAA Tournaments.

So far this season, it's the Dukes that have been doing the manhandling, particularly in CAA play. They opened by absolutely crushing Delaware, and are coming off a 27-point road beatdown of Hofstra. In addition to her defensive and shotblocking skills, Nikki Newman is making like Magic Johnson with all these assists. Jazmon Gwathmey is holding block parties; Toia Giggetts is a rebounding fool. And Kirby Burkholder - KIR-BEE!! - and Precious Hall have been a devastating scoring combo.

But Drexel is still, well, Drexel, and this year's bunch appears to be following the typical trajectory of a Denise Dillon-led squad. Watch the Dragons in November and you're kind of like, eh. Catch 'em again 10-12 games in and it's more like, hmmm.... Come March, it's, uh-oh.

It's not March yet, but these Dragons appear to be increasingly comfortable running Dillon's stuff and will bring a three-game winning streak into the Convocation Center. They'll also bring the knowledge that their system, properly run, has a recent history of bringing JMU to its knees.

Then again, JMU hasn't been totally powerless against these guys, as they do have two wins over Drexel the past two years. And given that this Dukes team has shown the potential to challenge for the title of the finest Brooks has ever assembled, it's hard to imagine Drexel flat-out having its way in Harrisonburg once again.

Still, weird things have happened when the Philadephia gang shows up, and that's why, as early regular-season conference games go, this one has more than the usual intrigue. The Dukes don't have to win Thursday - the real "big" games are still weeks away. Nor is JMU going to be presented the CAA title if they do emerge victorious.

But we're sure JMU fans - not to mention the Dukes themselves - wouldn't mind putting this whole Drexel hex stuff to bed for a while.

Thursday's games

Maryland at Virginia, 6:30 p.m.

Drexel at JMU, 7 p.m.

William and Mary at UNC Wilmington, 7 p.m.

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m.

Longwood at Liberty, 7 p.m.

Radford at High Point, 7 p.m.

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