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Mark Byington: Why and Why Not for West Virginia



Mark Byington NCAA Tournament
Image credit to James Madison Athletics

West Virginia and AD Wren Baker are currently at work seeking to find the next leader as head coach of the men’s basketball program. We’re going to take a look at potential candidates over the next couple of weeks, or however long it takes. This series of “why and why not” will include any coach that has been linked to the WVU job in some form, realistic or not.

Mark Byington, James Madison


Mark Byington has been linked with the West Virginia job for over a month now. Byington has built James Madison into one of the best mid-majors in the country in his four seasons at the helm. The Dukes went 31-3, winning the Sun Belt Tournament and earning an NCAA Tournament bid, the school’s first since 2013.

JMU upset Michigan State on night one of the college basketball season, which then helped build momentum to a 14-0 start. James Madison will be the popular upset pick wherever they land in the NCAA Tournament. James Madison currently holds the active longest winning streak in college basketball at 13, so they’re white hot at the right time. If JMU becomes this year’s Cinderella, Byington will become the next true mid-major darling, like FAU’s Dusty May. WVU’s Baker will look like a genius if the interest is there as much as it’s talked about.

James Madison is a fun team, and they win. JMU averages 84.4 points per game, which is ninth in the country as of Saturday. The Dukes love the three-ball, hitting 298 triples this season. Byington has a three-headed monster in Terrence Edwards (17.4 ppg), TJ Bickerstaff (13.4 ppg) and Noah Freidel (12.1 ppg), which could give opposing defenses problems the rest of the month.

Byington also has a Power-5 win over Virginia, which the Dukes beat in 2021.

Byington’s efforts to bring JMU onto a national level make him deserving of a high-major job.

Why Not

Byington would be a hard sell for some West Virginia fans as this is his first tournament appearance in 11 seasons. Before JMU, Byington coached at Georgia Southern, another hard job. The Eagles are still looking for their first NCAA Tournament appearance in over 30 years. Byington was able to secure four 20-win seasons at Georgia Southern, but never made the NCAA Tournament.

Hiring Byington wouldn’t guarantee winning right away, possibly similar to the Neal Brown build of the football program. Baker talked about his preference of building a program over a year-by-year arch of a team through the transfer portal earlier in the week.

Speaking of the transfer portal, Bickerstaff and Raekwon Horton (6.9 ppg) are the only notable transfers on their team this season. JMU hasn’t been able to crack the top-100 in recruiting under Byington, making that a hard sell to kids. But give him a Big 12 program with history and resources and that should change.

Baker also brought up the emphasis of having a good defensive team, and Byington didn’t have a top-100 defense at JMU until this season.

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