It's easy to criticize JMU men's basketball from afar. It's harder to come up with solutions.
The Dukes finished the season 14-19 (6-12 CAA) and bowed out in the second round of the CAA tournament as the No. 8 seed. JMU was 6-13 away from the Convocation Center and fell to top-seeded Hofstra after squeaking by No. 9 Towson, 74-73 in the conference tournament. Under head coach Louis Rowe, JMU is 34-64 (19-35 CAA) and hasn’t won three conference games in a row since the first three CAA games of Rowe’s coaching career on Dec. 31, 2016 and Jan. 2 and 5, 2017.
There’s not just one reason the Dukes have struggled in recent seasons, but there may be one player who can turn things around next season: sophomore guard Darius Banks. The 6-foot-5 wing shot 48.6 percent from the floor and 49.3 from deep, but he was treated as a “3-and-D” role player instead of a main offensive option.
Banks played in 29 of 31 regular season games and both postseason games, averaging 32 minutes per contest for a shallow JMU team. He was remarkably efficient despite heavy minutes, but didn’t shoot nearly as often as his teammates. Banks took 2.4 shots from behind the arc per game compared to 5.6 for sophomore guard Matt Lewis, who shot 32.6 percent from behind the arc.
Consistent scoring was a weakness and an area of need for JMU, which finished ninth in the CAA in points per game (69.9) and shooting percentage (43.5 percent). Surprisingly, outside shooting was a relative strength for the Dukes, but like Banks, the team didn’t shoot it enough.
JMU ranked fourth in the CAA in 3-point percentage at 36 percent, but eighth in 3-point attempts at 20.4 per game. Two of the three teams that shot fewer 3-pointers than JMU are the College of Charleston and Towson, which were ninth and 10th in 3-point percentage, respectively.
When the Dukes did launch shots from behind the arc, the numbers say the wrong players were doing it. Banks was easily the team’s most efficient shooter but he finished fourth on the team in attempts behind redshirt senior guard Stuckey Mosley, Lewis and freshman guard Deshon Parker.
Mosley took 14.8 shots per game and once every 2.3 minutes he played, which accounted for 26.2 percent of JMU’s shots and 38.6 percent of its 3-pointers. Lewis shot 13.2 times per game, about once per 2.8 minutes he’s on the court and attempted 23.4 percent of the team’s shots and 27.5 percent of its deep balls.
By contrast, Banks took about half as many shots as Mosley at 8.2 attempts per game. He shot once every 3.9 minutes and took only 13.7 percent of the team’s shots and 11.2 percent of its 3-pointers. The sophomore wing shot more than 13 times once in 2018-19 — something Lewis did 17 times.
If Banks took as many 3-pointers as Lewis did and vice versa, JMU would shoot 39 percent from behind the arc, assuming the two’s current 3-point shooting rates held. The improvement from 36.3 percent to 39 may not seem like much at first, but the switch could turn losses into wins. If Banks hit 49.3 percent of the 184 long-range shots Lewis took and Lewis hit 32.6 percent of the 75 deep balls Banks attempted, JMU’s 3-point total would rise from 7.1 per game to 7.7.
That would translate to 23 points per game off 3-pointers instead of 21.4, which is a difference of about 1.6 points per game, not far off from the mark of 2.4 points per game the Dukes were outscored by this season. Therefore, the numbers show it’s not a stretch to say Banks shooting as much as Lewis and vice versa would turn losses into wins.
Even without looking at the numbers, those who’ve watched the Dukes this season have likely noticed the impact he’s had. Without Banks against Northeastern on Feb. 21, JMU went 6-for-20 from behind the arc and lost 76-60.
Simply put, JMU needs Banks to take more 3-pointers and have a bigger offensive role next season. In the regular season, the Dukes were 9-2 when the 3-point marksman scored 15 points or more, with one of the losses coming from UNCW in double overtime. When he played and scored less than 10, JMU was 2-9, and when he didn’t play, the Dukes were 0-2. Rowe’s team was 6-3 in the regular season when Banks sank at least two 3-pointers and 9-5 when he shot over 50 percent from the floor.
If JMU is to take the next step toward competitiveness in the CAA, Banks must be at the helm of the outside shooting attack. When Banks shoots more, the team’s 3-point percentage will increase, along with its chance of making noise in conference play next season.
Contact James Faris at email@example.com. For more basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.