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Posted January 17, 2011 | comments Leave a comment

Impressive turnaround

Winners of nine straight and part of a three-way tie atop the Colonial Athletic Conference men's basketball standings, James Madison appears light years ahead of last season's disappointing outcome.

Consider -- at 5-1 in the CAA so far, the Dukes have already surpassed last season's conference win total (4-14 in the CAA) and are deadlocked with Hofstra and VCU for the league lead. It's a remarkable turnaround for third-year coach Matt Brady's team, which never really recovered from a devastating rash of injuries last season.

Big difference this year, as JMU (15-3 overall) has sent out the same five starters in all 18 games this year. Four of them are averaging double figures in scoring, led by 6-foot-10 senior forward Denzel Bowles (16.9 ppg). With so much health -- for a change -- Brady has shortened the bench considerably and the results have been impressive. A 14-point season-opening loss to then-No. 3 Kansas State didn't faze the Dukes, who recovered from a two-game skid in early December to beat both Marshall and CAA rival Georgia State in home rematches.

Last week, JMU bumped off Georgia State and UNC Wilmington to extend its longest winning streak since the 1992-1993 season. The 15-3 record after 18 games is JMU's best since the 1981-1982 season. The Dukes are currently tied for the 10th longest winning streak in NCAA Division I.

The real test looms, however, as JMU hits the road to face Old Dominion (league-best RPI ranking of No. 31), then hosts George Mason (No. 49) on Saturday. The Dukes are currently No. 61 in the RPI rankings, good for the third in the CAA.

The polls are also starting to take notice, as James Madison received four votes in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll and two votes in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll.

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