There are three new head coaches in the CAA. Two of them – Zach Spiker at Drexel and Martin Ingelsby at Delaware – are taking over programs that won six and seven games respectively last year. The third is Louis Rowe at James Madison University – a program that won 21 games last season but moved on from Matt Brady after another disappointing conference tournament.
Most recently the top assistant at Bowling Green, Rowe is a JMU alum who played under the legendary Lefty Driesell. He’s known as a player’s coach, and the added familiarity with the school should give him a leg up as he takes over a competitive team with four returning starters and seven seniors.
“With the leadership our seniors give us, we’re seeing that guys are embracing the challenge of stepping into new roles,” he said. “Some guys are excited to have the ball in their hands more; some are excited to spot up in the new sets. Our role as coaches is to make sure the guys don’t try to do too much right away.”
A common gripe of Brady’s style was that it was overly methodical, and vulnerable to the in-game adjustments of opponents. Citing the style of play implemented by Driesell, Rowe noted that some of his old ball coach’s tactics have rubbed off on him.
“We want to play hard, play free, give great effort on defense and spread the floor for guys to make plays on offense,” he said.
While it sounds good in theory, the emphasis in practice and film sessions this summer has been on two common pitfalls of teams upping the pace.
“Conditioning and turnovers. Those are the biggest things we’re working on,” Rowe said. “Everybody wants to play fast, but we’re not helping ourselves if we come up short in those areas.”
And that brings into question who will be running things on the floor. While the Dukes only lose one starter, it’s a big one. Point guard Ron Curry was a First Team All-CAA senior who also landed a spot on the All-Defensive team. He led the team in minutes played (33.4), points (17.3) and assists (3.6) last year.
One player isn’t going to replace that type of production, which is why Rowe is doing it by committee. Shakir Brown, the team’s other double-digit scorer last year, figures to take on a bigger load right away.
Reinforcements also come in the form of JuCo transfers. Vince Holmes of Otero Junior College is a 6-4, 185-pound pure point guard who might have the inside track on Curry’s old spot. Terrence Johnson is another big guard who filled up the stat sheet as a Third-Team All American at South Mountain Community College. Both are eligible to play this season.
Then there’s big man Ramone Snowden, who sat out last year after transferring from Niagara. Two years ago with the Purple Eagles, he led the team in rebounding and was second in points per game. He’ll join a strong front line that also includes rebounder and shot blocker Yohanny Dalembert.
It all adds up to loads of depth and potential for the Dukes. There will be some bumps along the way, but it’s hard for fans to not be optimistic about the talent on the floor and fresh thinking on the sideline.