Instate foes collide as Cavs take on Dukes

Nov 14, 2014 - 5:01 PM Harrisonburg, VA ( - The ninth-ranked Virginia Cavaliers open up their 2014-15 campaign on the road, as they take on instate rival James Madison on Friday night at the Convocation Center.

Tony Bennett's Cavaliers exceeded all expectations a year ago, posting 30 victories and capturing both the ACC regular season and tournament titles for the first time in school history. Bennett has been a revelation in Charlottesville, as Virginia has improved in each year he has been at the helm, culminating in last year's historic campaign. The team does return three of five starters from that squad and will once again play the kind of suffocating defense to compete once again for conference supremacy.

Matt Brady's Dukes are coming off a disappointing 11-20 campaign, one that saw the team finish 6-10 in the Colonial Athletic Association, good for just a sixth-place tie in the standings. Bolstered by a lethal backcourt duo, the hope is that James Madison can make a move up the conference standings in 2014-15.

This marks the 10th all-time meeting between these two teams. Virginia has won all nine previous matchups, including last year's season-opener, 61-41.

Despite being without a single senior on this year's roster, the Dukes return two starters and eight letter winners from last year's squad. The team has a lethal one-two punch in the backcourt in junior guards Andre Nation and Ron Curry. Nation was selected a preseason first-team performer after leading the team with 15.4 ppg and 5.3 rpg in just 14 games last season. Curry is coming off a season that saw him average 12.1 ppg. Joining the backcourt this season is junior college transfer Winston Grays, who was a First Team All-American last season at the junior college ranks at Cincinnati State. He averaged 20.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.0 steals per outing as a sophomore on his way to being named Ohio Community College Athletic Conference Player of the Year. The frontcourt will feature some key role players in sophomores Tom Vodanovich (6-8, 220) and Yohanny Dalembert (6-8, 225). The Dukes will be short-handed to start the season however, as both Nation and Vodanovich have been suspended due to off-the-court issues. Nation is eligible to return on Nov. 28 against Ohio State, while Vodanovich came come back on Nov. 19 against Longwood.

The Cavaliers were fueled by a tough-as-nails defensive mentality that led to a program-record 30 victories. Virginia's ascension to conference elite has come in steady fashion under Bennett but improving on last year's 16-2 league mark isn't likely. The Cavaliers lose scorer Joe Harris (12.0 ppg) and rebounder Akil Mitchell (7.0 rpg), but there is still plenty left in the fold to remain among the conference elite. The backcourt this year will be headlined by All-ACC guard Malcolm Brogdon (12.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and London Perrantes (5.5 ppg, 3.8 apg). Both players handle the ball extremely well and aren't prone to turnovers. Newcomer B.J. Stith, son of Virginia legend Bryant Stith could be a valuable scorer early on and give the team a serious perimeter threat. The frontcourt lacks a star, but makes up for it with numbers. Juniors Anthony Gill (8.4 ppg), Mike Tobey (6.4 ppg) and Evan Nolte (2.8 ppg) are serviceable, while freshman Isaiah Wilkins (step-son of Dominique) should push for minutes. The Cavs have a target on their backs this season, but that shouldn't stop them from staying within striking distance down the stretch. Like James Madison, Virginia will be short-handed in the season opener as well, as both Perrantes and Nolte are suspended to start the year.

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