The JMU Men's basketball team (7-4) resumes play on Monday night, December 29th at 11pm EST against the Miners of the University of Texas El Paso (6-4). The teams join Belmont and host Santa Clara in California for the Cable Car Classic.
The Cable Car Classic is the longest-running regular season tournament in the country. In this year's edition, the Dukes are trying to win their first regular season tournament or any tournament for that matter since 2001-02 when they won a tournament in Richmond.
JMU is coached by 1st year head coach Matt Brady (previously at Marist). The Dukes are currently on a 3 game win streak, which includes a quality win at home over Seton Hall of the Big East. Abdulai Jalloh, JMU's leading returning scorer and pre-season 2nd Team All Conference selection, is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
In his absence, the Dukes have been led by seniors Kyle Swanston and Juwann James along with solid play from a trio of freshmen - Julius Wells, Devon Moore, and Andrey Semenov. The Dukes will likely use a starting lineup of:
- G Pierre Curtis
- G Devon Moore
- F Kyle Swanston
- F Julius Wells
- C Dazzmond Thornton
Tony Barbee is in his 3rd season at the helm of UTEP. They too have had some recent success and are enjoying a two-game win streak with victories over Texas Tech and New Mexico State. The Miners faced a pair of ranked opponents earlier in the season in Arizona State and Wake Forest and lost a very tough battle against the Demon Deacons by only 3 points.
The game with UTEP presents what looks like a pretty even matchup on paper.
Keys to the game for JMU:
- Find a way to contain Senior guard Stefon Jackson. Jackson is averaging 23.6 points a game and is on pace to become the all-time leading scorer in UTEP and Conference USA history. One way to slow him down will be to keep him off of the free throw line, where he is averaging about 10 makes per game and shooting 81%.
- The Dukes also need to slow down Sophomore guard Randy Culpepper who scores 19.6 per game and combines with Jackson to create one of the highest scoring duos in UTEP history.
- The good news is that no other Miner is currently averaging double digit points.
- Keep UTEP off of the offensive glass. The Miners are grabbing 14.6 offensive rebounds per game, up from 11.9 last season. Limiting their second chance opportunities is crucial for the Dukes.
- JMU has to continue to hit the 3pt shot. The catalyst in this effort will be Senior forward Kyle Swanston who is shooting 48% from downtown and has emerged as a leader on this team since Abdulai Jalloh went out with a shoulder injury. The Dukes are 7-3 when making at least 6 shots from beyond the arc.
- If the Dukes are hitting from the outside this will open up the paint for Senior forward Juwann James to do major damage off the bench. He is averaging 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game after coming back from an early-season illness.
- JMU needs strong bench play from James, Semenov, and Ben Louis. The Dukes need to continue to get production out of their bench players and take advantage of their depth.
These two teams have never faced each other, but I anticipate a close battle on Monday night in the Leavey Center in this first round match-up of the 2008 Cable Car Classic. In the end, the JMU Dukes will come out on top by 4 points: 77 - 73.