Northwestern at James Madison
Northwestern had a solid year in the Big Ten, finishing 9-9 in conference, but an RPI of 116 kept them out of consideration for the NCAA Tournament. The WNIT has given them second life.
After taking care of Dayton easily in the opening round, the Wildcats have scratched out three come-from-behind victories to get to the semifinals. Their wins over Toledo, West Virginia and Ohio came by seven, two and three points, respectively.
JMU came into the WNIT with a 25-5 record. After going 17-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association, they earned the No. 1 seed in their conference tournament.
What looked like a year destined to end in the NCAA Tournament was sidetracked by injuries and Hofstra, who upset the Dukes in the CAA tournament quarterfinals. Despite an RPI of 36, JMU was left out by the selection committee.
They haven’t let the disappointment or the injuries stop them, though. They held North Carolina A&T to just 37 points in the opening round.
The Dukes then went on to win two high-scoring affairs in the second and third rounds when junior guard Kamiah Smalls returned to the line-up. Their win over Georgetown in the quarterfinals tied the school record for most wins in a season.
“This might be a blessing in disguise. It’s not the goal we wanted, but the path we’ve made for ourselves to get here is amazing,” Smalls was quoted in the JMU recap after the Dukes defeated the Hoyas.”This balances out for what we’ve done all year. This is perfect for us.”
How do they match up?
JMU has shown that they’re not afraid of teams that play in bigger conferences than they do. They have taken on teams from the Big Ten, ACC, AAC and Big East this season, going 5-2 in those contests.
The Dukes get after it on the defensive end, holding their opponents to just 50.9 points per game. That’s good for second in the nation. They are also strong on the boards, ranking fifth in the country in total rebounds per game.
JMU head coach Sam O’Regan told Blake DuDonis that he believes “intangibles,” defense and rebounding are the keys to overcoming the size advantage Northwestern enjoys.
The battle of the boards will certainly be key. Northwestern has out-rebounded all four WNIT opponents. In their last game, the Wildcats won the rebounding battle 41-26.