If you want to pick an early NCAA dark horse/Cinderella candidate, you could do worse than James Madison.
In their first game, the Dukes knocked off mighty Michigan State, and in Lansing, no less (you didn’t seriously think the Spartans were going to Harrisonburg, did you?)
Prior to this past week, the most famous basketball connection to Harrisonburg was that it is the hometown of both Dell Curry and Ralph Sampson.
And if possible, Madison was even more impressive in the win over Kent State. How could that be? Well, because of how regulation ended.
The Duke were down five with 3.8 left and put the game in OT, where they won. There were two plays that got it into overtime. The second one was sort of out their control - Kent State screwed up - but the first? The first was incredibly impressive.
Watch after the referee hands the ball to JMU’s Julien Wooden, watch how casually he makes the 3⁄4 court throw to Noah Friedel, who just as casually nails a three. Then, after Kent State’s Mike Bekelja knocks down Madison’s Xavier Brown, JMU gets the ball back and runs a beautiful play as Wooden finds Friedel again, wide open after a pick by Tyem Freeman frees Friedel for an easy layup to put the game in overtime. After another OT, James Madison won 113-108.
Both plays were perfectly executed, suggesting that this is a very well coached team that you would do well to avoid in March.
And you might also keep an eye out for coach Mark Byington, who may pop up in some searches next spring too.