It's not getting any easier for the BYU basketball team.
The Cougars are 4-4, their four losses coming against teams with a combined 23-3 record as of this past weekend.Tonight at the Marriott Center the Cougs play James Madison, a team picked to finish first in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Dukes are 3-2, having lost by two to Virginia Tech and by three to East Tennessee State, the same East Tennessee State that beat BYU by five in Provo.
Last year the Dukes finished first in the CAA in the regular season with a 20-11 overall record, and with all their starters back, they are expected to repeat.
If you're wondering why James Madison sounds so good and you're never heard of them, consider this name: Lefty Driesell. After building winning programs at Davidson and Maryland, coach Driesell took over a Dukes' team that had won only 10 games the year before. Two years ago his team was picked to finish last in the CAA and finished fifth, winning 16 games.
Driesell has done all this by attracting transfers from some big-time programs, including Louisiana State, Maryland, Florida State and Mississippi State.
If all that isn't impressive enough, note that the Dukes have what BYU is beginning to dread most: a pair of quick, experienced guards - one of them 6-foot-7 - who can hit the three-point shot. The big one is senior Steve Hood, last year's CAA player of the year who is currently averaging just under 20 points a game. Hood shoots 40 percent from 3-point range.
Driesell, who has coached 33 players who ended up in the NBA, says of Hood: "If he has a good year, he could go in the first round of the draft."
The other starting guard, Fess Irvin, made the all-CAA team last season but is shooting just 26.5 percent from the field while hampered by a thumb injury. The first guard off the bench is 6-1 senior Kenny Brooks, who is connecting on 46 percent of his long-range shots.
Inside, the Dukes start three 6-8 players, center Jeff Chambers and forwards Chancellor Nichols and Billy Coles. All that height has allowed James Madison to outrebound opponents by nearly six boards a game. Nichols and Coles are also the second- and third-leading scorers, at 15.6 and 13.0, respectively.
The Dukes are proud of their defense. No player has scored 20 points against them this season, and they have held opponents to 42 percent shooting, almost as good as the 40 percent that BYU has allowed its foes to shoot. The difference is that BYU has allowed opponents to shoot nearly 46 percent from 3-point range; the Dukes have held foes to 36 percent on the perimeter.
The game will not be televised live. It will be rebroadcast by BYU-TV (Channel 11) at 10:30 tonight.