Dukes Set To Host Hofstra In CAA Opener

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James Madison and Hofstra were two teams traveling in different but equally urgent directions when they met twice in the final three weekends of last season. On Saturday, both teams will be looking to establish the same important momentum when the Dukes host the Pride in the CAA opener for both schools at the JMU Convocation Center.

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Each team ended the non-conference portion of the schedule and went into the Christmas break off a victory. James Madison beat host Fordham, 75-69, last Friday while Hofstra knocked off visiting Manhattan, 63-51, two days later.

Hofstra took two of three meetings from James Madison last season. The Pride earned an 85-68 win at the JMU Convocation Center on Jan. 24 before the Dukes spoiled Hofstra’s Senior Day — and ended the host’s hopes for an unbeaten home season — with a 104-99 overtime win on Feb. 23. Hofstra won the rubber match in the CAA quarterfinals March 10, when it never trailed in a 76-67 win.

The three games provided key mile markers in each team’s season. Hofstra’s win in January was the 15th of its 16-game winning streak, a run that established the Pride as the team to beat in the CAA. The loss to James Madison in February was the third in seven games for Hofstra, which was struggling to regain the magic of the winning streak as well as its one-time defensive tenacity. 

The Dukes were the fifth straight team to score at least 80 points against the Pride, which gave up fewer than 80 points 21 times in the first 24 games of the season.

James Madison’s victory was its second over a CAA contender — it also beat Charleston, 69-58, on Jan. 5 — and provided more evidence the Dukes, who finished 6-12 in league play and 14-19 overall, could exceed their seeding with a Cinderella run in the CAA Tournament. 

After beating Towson in a first-round tourney game, James Madison overcame a 12-point first half deficit to twice tie the Pride in the second half and trailed by as few as three points with 3:01 left. 

While playing in late December offers a cleaner slate than doing so in late February or early March, the rapid-fire, condensed nature of CAA play means any game could be viewed as a turning point, especially in a league that may be more wide-open than ever before.

Hofstra and James Madison were among the five teams to receive first-place votes in the pre-season poll, and the Pride and Dukes each had moments during non-conference play in which they looked like candidates to win the automatic bid in March.

Hofstra recorded perhaps the CAA’s signature win thus far by beating UCLA, 88-78 on Nov. 21. The Pride also won the Naismith bracket of the Boca Raton Classic and will enter league play on a three-game winning streak and as the top-ranked team at KenPom.com.

The Dukes beat a pair of Conference USA teams (Charlotte and Old Dominion) as well as East Carolina of the American Athletic Conference before beating the Atlantic 10’s Fordham. James Madison also responded to a 23-point loss to Radford by routing Charleston Southern, 81-60.

Of course, both teams also had the type of hiccups that are to be expected from contenders in a league without an obvious favorite. Both teams suffered home losses to sub-300 squads at KenPom. Hofstra fell to San Jose State, 79-71, in the season opener Nov. 6 while Coppin State upset James Madison, 94-78, on Nov. 26.

Per KenPom, Hofstra ranks second in the league in offensive efficiency (104.0) and third in defensive efficiency (101.7). James Madison fifth in offensive efficiency (101.3) and ninth in defensive efficiency (106.5). 

Despite the differences in defensive efficiency rankings, Saturday’s game is likely to be an up-tempo one: The Dukes are allowing an average of 76.4 possessions per game, ninth-most in the nation, while the Pride is allowing 71.6 possessions per game. 102nd-most.

Eli Pemberton (17.1 ppg) leads four Hofstra players averaging at least 10 points per game. Desure Buie ranks second in scoring (16.6 ppg) while collecting a team-high 5.8 assists per game. Tareq Coburn (6.9 rebounds per game) leads the Pride in rebounding.

Matt Lewis (17.7 ppg, 4.9 assists per game) leads the Dukes in scoring and assists while Dwight Wilson (10.1 ppg, 10.3 rebounds per game) is averaging a double-double since returning from an early-season injury.

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