JMU aims for CAA-leading Northeastern; GW on CSN

JMU aims for CAA-leading Northeastern; GW on CSN
February 20, 2013, 9:45 am
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James Madison (16-12, 10-5 CAA) at Northeastern (17-10, 12-3), 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

History suggests that most seasons, one if not multiple teams from the Commonwealth of Virginia will be in the hunt for the Colonial Athletic Association regular season crown. The 2011-13 campaign keeps up the tradition, but with a surprise entrant.

However, at this late stage of the season, perhaps any sense of shock over the Dukes sitting in second place - tied with Towson - should be kicked to the curb. James Madison, picked to finish sixth in the CAA preseason poll, has won seven of nine games including the last two over conference notables Towson and Delaware.

The most impressive victory of all could come tonight in Boston against Northeastern, the CAA 's wire-to-wire but stumbling leader. The Dukes sit two games behind the Huskies, who have dropped two straight after opening conference play winning 12 of 13.

JMU's first visit to Matthews Arena since 2010 is its only matchup against Northeastern this season, meaning it's the first time freshman guard Andre Nation faces the Huskies. The reigning and three-time CAA Rookie of the Week, Nation dunked home the game-winning score with 0.6 seconds against Delaware after scoring 14 points on 5 of 5 shooting against Towson.

The 6-foot-4 Nation leads the Dukes steals and ranks fifth in scoring with 8.9 points behind forward Rayshawn Goins, who averages 13.8 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds.

Northeastern, the top scoring team in the conference, is led by the senior backcourt of Jonathan Lee and leading scorer Joel Smith, who has been limited recently with an ankle injury. Smith tops the Huskies with 16.3 points, but he didn't score in 16 minutes against UNC Wilmington on Saturday after missing Wednesday's contest against Delaware.

Since returning from an early season foot injury, Lee, is averaging 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists. With Smith limited, sophomore forward Quincy Ford has averaged 22 points over the last two games.

The conference regular season champion automatically qualifies for the NIT should an upset occur at the CAA Tournament. Should the Dukes not catch the Huskies -both sides would only have two regular season games remaining - finishing in second place should help their chances in the conference tournament. In that slot JMU would likely face 6-21 Hofstra.

Fordham (6-20, 2-9 Atlantic 10) vs. George Washington (11-12, 5-5), 7 p.m. CSN-plus

The Colonials look to snap a two-game losing streak and do so in the 500th game played at the Smith Center. Not that coach Mike Lonergan would seek out an excuse, but George Washington's last two games came against two the of conference's heavyweights, Butler and VCU.

Fordham, 15th in the 16-team conference, does not offer the same challenge on the surface, but like the Colonials the Rams recently took Butler down to the wire. Though it lost last season at Fordham, George Washington is 8-0 at the Smith Center with each win over the Rams coming by double digits.

The Colonials currently sit in the middle of the Atlantic 10 pack, meaning another loss pushes them further away from this season's primary goal of reaching the conference tournament in Brooklyn. Finding an offensive spark would be helpful after averaging only 56.5 points in the two losses. Only freshmen Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino reached double figures in the blowout loss at VCU, each scoring 10 points.

Spring forward Isaiah Armwood leads the Colonials in scoring (12.0), rebounding (8.5) and blocks (2.6)

Playing its 38th season at the Smith Center, which opened in 1975, George Washington sports a 345-154 all-time record

Bolstering the Rams chances is the return of forward Chris Gaston, who scored a team-high 21 points against Butler after missing seven games with an injury. Guard Branden Frazier leads the Rams in scoring with 14.6 points per game, followed by Gaston with 14.5 points per game.