After a 19-year drought, James Madison will be making its first appearance in March Madness since 1994 this week after capturing the Colonial Athletic Association title March 11 in Richmond. The Dukes will face LIU Brooklyn as part of the First Four on Wednesday at 6:40 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio at UD Arena with TV coverage on TruTV.
The winner between JMU and LIU Brooklyn advances to second round play in the East Region to face Indiana on Friday at 4:10 p.m. with TV coverage on TBS. All potential JMU games in Dayton will feature Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Tracy Wolfson as the TV commentators.
JMU will be making its first tournament appearance since the field expanded to 68 teams and just its second since it became a 64-team event in 1985. The Dukes advanced to the round of 32 in three consecutive years in the early 1980s and suffered a narrow loss to Florida in the first round in 1994.
Under Lou Campanelli, Madison claimed first round wins in 1981, 1982 and 1983, making a name for itself as a threat to more traditional programs before the now popular "mid-major" term existed. In 1981, 10th-seeded JMU took down No. 7 Georgetown and head coach John Thompson in Providence, Rhode Island by a 61-55 score. The Dukes then fell to Notre Dame and head coach Digger Phelps 54-45.
In 1982, JMU earned a No. 9 seed and dropped No. 8 Ohio State and star forward Clark Kellogg by a score of 55-48 in Charlotte. The Dukes then put a scare into eventual national champion, North Carolina, 52-50. The Tar Heels featured eventual NBA draftees Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins.
The 1983 Dukes earned a No. 10 seed and took down No. 7 West Virginia 57-50. Madison then again squared off with UNC in the round of 32 in its home state, this time in Greensboro, and fell to the Tar Heels 68-49.
Fast forward 11 years and head coach Lefty Driesell took his third of four institutions to the NCAA Tournament after Kent Culuko's baseline three-pointer at the buzzer in the CAA title game defeated Old Dominion 77-76. JMU earned a No. 14 seed in the field of 64 and matched up with No. 3 Florida, which defeated the Dukes 64-62 en route to the Final Four.
Madison had close calls in 1995 and 1997, falling in the CAA title game in each instance, but then fell short of reaching the CAA semifinals from 2001 until this year, when the Dukes earned three consecutive victories at the Richmond Coliseum to punch a return ticket to the Big Dance.
JMU entered the CAA Tournament as the No. 3 seed, its best since the 1999-2000 season. The Dukes dispatched William and Mary 72-67 in the opening round to achieve the semifinal showing. Two Devon Moore free throws with 3.7 seconds remaining then lifted JMU over Delaware and into the title game for the first time since 1997. Both wins marked the third time defeating each opponent over the previous 14 games.
In the CAA Championship, JMU fell behind 5-3 in the early minutes before ripping off a 23-1 run to grab a commanding 26-6 advantage. The Dukes held Northeastern to 21 percent shooting in the half to take a 40-18 advantage at the break. The Huskies made a run to within eight points in the second half before JMU responded to finish the 70-57 win.
A.J. Davis continued his awakening in the final third of the season (20.5 points per game the last 10 games) by averaging 20.7 points per game during the tournament run to collect Most Outstanding Player honors. He was joined on the All-Tournament squad by Devon Moore (14.3 points, 6.3 assists, 5.7 rebounds) and Rayshawn Goins (10.3 points, 7.3 rebounds). JMU had not had a single All-Tournament honoree since 2000 and had never had a MVP of the tournament under the CAA name.
Riding the strength of a six-member senior class, the Dukes will look to continue both their NCAA Tournament success of the past and the success of the recent CAA run. Four seniors accounted for 75 percent of JMU's total points in the CAA Tournament.
JMU also benefited greatly from a rejuvenated defense this season, one that posted the program's best scoring defense (64.4 points per game) since the 1984-85 season. The defensive intensity was boosted by four defensive-minded freshmen, a group that includes starter Andre Nation, who is one of just seven players in all of Division I with at least 40 blocks, 40 steals and 40 assists.
LIU (20-13) will be making its third consecutive NCAA appearance as champion of the Northeast Conference. The Blackbirds defeated Mount St. Mary's on their home court on Tuesday by a 91-70 score to clinch the tournament appearance.
LIU Brooklyn boasts one of the nation's top offensive teams, ranking fifth nationally with 79.5 points per game and ninth with a .484 team field goal percentage. However, the fast-paced system also translates to the Blackbirds ranking in the bottom 15 in the country in defensive scoring, allowing 76.4 points per game.
Point guard Jason Brickman leads the country in assists per game with 8.5 for a season total of 281 in 1200 minutes. He feeds the high-scoring tandem of senior forward Jamal Olasewere and senior guard C.J. Garner. Olasawere averages 18.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while Garner contributes 16.1.
The Blackbirds will play in Ohio for the second straight year after being eliminated by Michigan State 89-67 last year in Columbus. They fell to North Carolina 102-87 in 2011 in Charlotte. Olasewere and Garner combined for 32 points in the Michigan State loss and 31 against UNC while Brickman has 15 career NCAA assists. JMU has no players with experience in the NCAA Tournament.
JMU and LIU Brooklyn have met twice previously with the Dukes claiming both matchups.The Dukes won 91-60 on Dec. 18, 1999 in Harrisonburg and managed to pull out the return game the following year in Brooklyn 69-66.
The teams have one common opponent with the Blackbirds defeating Hofstra at home 88-84 on Dec. 8. JMU defeated Hofstra 62-41 on Jan. 31.