Home March Madness Notebook: JMU runs into buzzsaw; what’s next for Mark Byington?

March Madness Notebook: JMU runs into buzzsaw; what’s next for Mark Byington?

Chris Graham
ncaa tournament
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The market for Mark Byington, who led JMU to 32 wins this season, has never been better. And now that Byington’s JMU squad is out of the NCAA Tournament, bounced by Duke, 93-55, in the second round of the South Regional on Sunday, we might hear where he’s headed next.

West Virginia had reportedly expressed interest, but the job there is off the board, with the hire announced late Sunday of Drake coach Darian DeVries.

There’s still Louisville, maybe the plum job of the 2024 offseason, where the school with national-championship expectations has struck out on its first two choices, Baylor’s Scott Drew and Florida Atlantic’s Dusty May, who took the job at Michigan.

Louisville was paying Kenny Payne $3.375 million a year; JMU, eternally cash-strapped, is paying Byington, 82-36 in four seasons at the school, $600,000 a year.

Other prominent jobs that are open include Oklahoma State (Big 12), SMU and Stanford, which are both moving to the ACC next year, Vanderbilt (SEC) and Washington, which is moving to the Big 10.

All are going to pay whoever they hire to be their next basketball coach multiples of what JMU can pay Byington.

Oddly, nobody asked Byington about what’s next in the postgame presser on Sunday. Even one question, given that Byington has been linked to several openings, wouldn’t have been out of line.

He was asked to talk about the historic 32-4 season that JMU just wrapped, which included the impressive 72-61 takedown of #5 seed Wisconsin in the first round on Friday.

“You know, right now I’m hurting. You know, I didn’t want it to end with this team. They didn’t want to end,” Byington said. “When that settles in, I will be more reflective and understand the great things that these guys have done this year, and then where the program has gotten from where we started to where it is now. But right now, it’s still too raw. But I will get there.”

Duke took control on Sunday practically from the get-go, getting out by double-digits five minutes in, and leading by as many as 24 in the first half before going into the break up 47-25.

It was never competitive in the second half, which was a surprise, considering JMU’s resume coming in – 14 straight wins, the upset of Wisconsin in the first round, the OT win at Michigan State in the season opener back in November.

Byington, after the cooling-off period that you get before having to go out and talk to the reporters, made it clear that he’s not happy just to have been there.

“I mean, for a team to win 32 games and make it here, if you say that’s what our goal is, I think you’re going to be unhappy or unsatisfied because it’s very, very difficult to get here, and it’s very difficult to do what we did,” Byington said. “But to have a championship-level team that’s able to compete every year, I think that’s more of the goal. I think sometimes with the league, it’s difficult because one out of 14 teams is going to make it here, and if it was different, then it would be different. But I think the expectation is that when you’re a coach, you want the team to get the best they possibly can get, and take them as far as you possibly can take them.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].