Scouting Report: Xavier

Xavier was supposed to have a down year last season. New coach Chris Mack was supposed to struggle in wake of former Duquesne assistant and whiz kid Sean Miller’s departure for Arizona. They didn’t and tied Temple for the best record in the Atlantic 10. Just another year for the Musketeers. Once again X finds itself on the top of the league standings marking the great consistency this program has come to embody. Coaches have changed, players have changed but Xavier still wins.

Despite the platitudes Xavier is not as good as it was last season where they finished 14th in the Pomeroy ratings and lost a heart breaker in the Sweet Sixteen against Kansas State. Departing last season were top performers Jordan Crawford and Jason Love. Love being Mr. Inside and Crawford being Mr. Outside. Jamal McLean has filled the role that Love played last season and Tu Holloway has tried to fill the shoes of Crawford. Holloway has also done an admirable job in powering the Musketeers offensive engine leading X to a remarkable 1.126 points per possession which is good for 32nd nationally. Holloway’s leadership and McLean’s rebounding have kept X near the top of the offensive efficiency leaderboard.

Where the Musketeers have lost a step from last season’s club is on defense. This is likely because of a lack of depth. Last year, Xavier went eight deep. This year their rotation features only seven guys and the starting five have played at least 69 percent of minutes or more. The three major guards Holloway, Lyons and Jackson have all played over 87 percent of the team’s minutes. This makes X susceptible to fast deep teams that like to pressure the ball. Also, any type of foul trouble could sink the Musketeers. Fatigue very well could be Xavier’s downfall.

deal with Dukes’ pressure on the offensive end. Also, Albino gorilla who doubles as a center Kenny Frease is not the best conditioned athlete and has trouble guarding, well anyone. Nonetheless, Frease has improved this season, but don’t be surprised if he is in foul trouble early. X is one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country grabbing 71.7 percent of opportunities ranking 30th. The Dukes will have to make their shots count.

Much of the Musketeers game revolves around Holloway creating offense. Unfortunately for the point guard he cannot use his dribble drive to create three pointers. X lacks dependable three point shooting only converting 33.4 percent of tries from behind the arc. The loss of sharpshooter Brad Radford to an knee injury has proved costly in that regard. Lyons is the only reliable option around the perimeter for Xavier.

Despite these deficiencies, X remains the class of the Atlantic 10 conference and are the team to beat. The Musketeers rank 23rd in the RPI and a win against them would be a huge boost to Duquesne seeking another top 50 win and a chance to control their fate in winning the A-10 regular season title.

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Scouting Report: St. Bonaventure

St. Bonaventure’s last game is a rather enlightening illustration of how the team is constructed. Preseason All Atlantic 10 player Andrew Nicholson had one of his finest games of his career posting 35 points and 11 rebounds. The rest of the team scored just 26 points. Mark Schmidt’s club can best be described as Andrew Nicholson and the Bonnettes. Nicholson is one of the finest players in the league and has proved to be a problem for the undersized Dukes in the past. In three contests against Duquesne Nicholson averaged 26 points and 7 rebounds. The big man is a true force inside and he has added a mid range shooting touch to go along with his post scoring. There is not much the Dukes could do to stop him even with this season’s improved team.

The rest of the team however leaves much to be desired. Bonaventure has not been able to make up effectively for the loss of Senior guards Jonathan Hall and Chris Matthews. It is not likely that any of this year’s Bonnies can handle the press. The team ranks 246th in turnover rate and 285th in steal rate. The active hands and defensive instincts of the Dukes will likely give the guards fits. Much like other recent Duquesne opponents, Bonaventure will have to slow the game down and poud the ball inside to Nicholson in order to be successful. One other problem is three point shooting. The Bonnies’ three most prevelant three point shooters, Michael Davenport, Ogo Adegboye, and Demetrius Conger all shoot over 37 percent from distance. This is why the Dukes should not fall into the Nicholson trap and pack it in defensively in a zone simply to beat St. Bonaventure.

Scouting Report: GW

George Washington, as has been traditional under the leadership of Karl Hobbs is predicated on defense. The Colonials are a far cry from the success they had during the middle of the previous decade in the Pops Mensah Bonsu years. Nonetheless, the team is built similarly but with inferior talent. Further complicating matters, GW’s top scorer in 2009-10, Lasan Kromah got injured before the season and has been out all season after foot surgery. Attempting to make up for Kromah’s lost production is sophomore point guard Tony Taylor, who has played admirably but no one player can make up what was lost with his recovering backcourt partner. As Hobbs’ colonials try to make their way through the season it has focused on the defensive end.

While GW prefers a slower half court game, as compared to Duquesne’s up tempo pressure, the Colonials still focus on turning their opponents over. GW ranks 29th nationally in turnover rate and are above average defensive rebounders and very good shot blockers. However, they are poor at allowing good shots where their opponents have averaged an effective shooting percentage of over 50 percent. Where they fail miserably is guarding the perimeter which could be troublesome against a team like Duquesne that takes a fair amount of threes. Big men Joseph Katuka, David Pellom and Dwayne Smith do a good job of defending the paint, cleaning up the glass and blocking shots but they are not good offensive players.

While the big men dominate the defensive end it is the guards who control the game on the offensive end of the floor. Taylor is a dominate the ball guard who has a more traditional drive and kick game with some decent shooting touch. He is an excellent passer ranking 94th nationally in assist rate which helps set the table for his teammates. The post players, while decent finishers, are not used much and the team’s two point percentage is a paltry 43.8% (303rd). Other than Taylor the primary scoring option is Serbian wing player Nemanja Mikic. With his dead-eye shooting (46 percent from long range), “he’ll fuckin’ murder ya” in the words of Manchester United fans (See Video).

The Colonials seem to be lost. They’re guards are the best offensive players but are poor on defense while the forwards are huge on defense and diminutive on offense. In order to compete with the Dukes they will have to slow the game down as they beat Rhode Island in their previous contest 52-46. It’s clear that Hobbs is no miracle worker and that is what it would take for GW to compete in the Atlantic 10 this season.

Scouting Report: Dayton

This has been a down year for the Flyers. So far, Dayton, who was touted by many at the beginning of the season as the Atlantic 10’s top team. However, this perception was based on several false conclusions. The first of these is that  Brian Gregory is a good coach. Gregory drew much interest after his team took home the NIT title. Gregory said no to major conference programs such as Boston College, Iowa and Rutgers. This interest is misguided because these athletic directors do not have as much intimate knowledge of the Dayton program as those of us who follow the Atlantic 10. Dayton has largely underperformed in each of his seasons despite grabbing big time recruits.

In seven seasons, Dayton has made the big dance only twice, one of which being the year Gregory inherited the program from Oliver Purnell. Gregory has largely succeeded in getting highly touted recruits to come to the gem city.The only problem is that most of these players never actualize their potential. The usual reason is because the players are not mentally tough, for example SENIOR point guard Rob Lowery punching Tu Holloway in the arm right in front of an official in the Atlantic 10 tournament costing the Flyers the game.

Case in point is senior power forward Chris Wright. Wright is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder but lacks the leadership and consistency to be a truly great player. The big man has the body of an athletic bruising four but plays like he is a two-guard. On offense he tries to drive to the basket like he is LeBron James but he does not have the ball handling skills to pull it off regularly. On the defensive end his game suffers with Wright’s constant desire to produce highlight reel blocks which prevents him from playing solid man on man defense. Despite this he is an excellent rebounder on that end as opposed to on offense where usually Wright is too far from the basket to make a difference.

His unwillingness to post up on offense costs his team greatly considering the quality guard play of freshman Juwan Staten. Staten sees the floor well and is among the nation’s leaders in assist rate. He already is the Flyers’ best player and has provided a T.J. McConnell like spark to the team.  The second best player is swing man Chris Johnson does everything well but is not particularly good at any one aspect of the game. He extends the defense with his capable three point shooting and has been troublesome to Duquesne in the past.

Tomorrow’s game will likely be decided by which team plays smarter. If the Dukes can play their game, force turnovers and apply pressure they should be able to win. That’s because Dayton tends to fall into the run and gun game of Duquesne when they play. The reason for that, as seems to be a trend, is that Dayton is not a smart team whereas Duquesne can be a smart team. Duquesne should have won both contests against the Flyers last season, and hopefully the Dukes can sweep these clowns this year.

Fordham Scouting Report

Looking at the Fordham program is all to eerily familiar to that of the Duquesne program in Ron Everhart’s first year. Fordham, along with Duquesne have been near the bottom of the Atlantic 10 standings for most of its existence. The  Dukes only came out of that slump after the hiring of Everhart. The Dukes were stuck in a rut under coach Danny Nee, who had no visible strengths in his ability to be a Division I head basketball coach. Nee, was neither a good recruiter, nor a developer of talent, nor a brilliant tactician. One would think that in order to be a successful coach, he or she must fulfill at least one of these characteristics. Unfortunately, for Duquesne fans Nee’s reign of terror lasted six years leaving a program without identity or direction.

Athletic Director Greg Amodio turned to Morgantown, West Virginia native Ron Everhart who had some success at McNeese State and Northeastern. Everhart brought with him a vision of a team that can compete in the Atlantic 10 based on a running style with tenacious defense. Over time his view has been implemented for better or worse. This task of instilling a plan  is what Tom Pecora is charged with in taking over the Rams.

Fordham is by far the poorest team in the league giving up 1.06 PPP and only scoring .933 PPP, but that is not Pecora’s fault. He has inherited a team of inadequate players that do not give him much opportunity for improvement. Despite this fact, I am not sure of Pecora’s plan. Looking back on his teams at Hofstra, there is no clear identity. Earlier in his tenure the teams were based on offense, but more recently Pecora’s Pride have been built around defense. Pecora’s style seems to be to prevent good shots rather than gamble for steals. For the past three seasons, Hofstra under Pecora finished under 50th in effective field goal percentage allowed.

Even this paltry Fordham team gives up an above average 48.1 percent effective field goal percentage. Nevertheless the defense is not good. Its worst attribute is its turnover rate, only turning the opposing team over 16.8 percent of possessions. On offense, the Rams are inefficient nearly across the board only being decent at three point shooting (177th) and in offensive rebounding rate (166th). The Rams’ bench is only six deep which should make it difficult for Fordham to run with the Dukes making even more likely the result of a Duquesne victory.

Charlotte Scouting Report

This season has been a tough one for Charlotte and first time head coach Alan Major. Major has quite the pedigree working under the wing of fine coaches such as Gene Keady (Purdue), Bruce Weber (Southern Illinois) and Thad Matta (Xavier & Ohio State) which has served him well in his career. Nonetheless, no amount of training could have prepared him for the train-wreck he was about to witness, and he gets to be the conductor. Major has said he likes his teams to play tough and, if he has learned well from his former bosses, also smart. Smart is not one word to describe the play of the 49ers this season.

Returning All A-10 third team member Shamari Spears has been dismissed from the team for his conduct leaving the 49ers without their biggest scoring presence. For a while, partially filling the vacuum with his stellar play was 6’10” senior Phil Jones who provided some inside scoring and quality rebounding only to be declared academically ineligible last week. These circumstances are coupled with the loss of Major’s first serious recruit Slovenian 6’4” guard Luka Voncina who averaged 14.4 PPG and 5.4 APG on a club that won a national title, who has had eligibility issues with the NCAA.

Major and the remaining 49ers will have to try to pick up the pieces for a season that they would like to soon forget. The best player on the team is 6’9” Sophomore Chris Braswell who has averaged just 10.1 PPG and 6.9 RPG. He is a good rebounder and his best quality is drawing fouls ranking 32nd nationally in free throw rate (FTA/FGA). He shoots a respectable, if not awe inspiring 69.7 percent from the line. Despite the 49ers’ best player being a big man, it is perimeter play that has been more prevalent as of late. Charlotte has taken 22 three point attempts in its last two games.

Leading this charge are guards Derrio Green and Jamar Briscoe. Both require the ball to be in their hands often and neither is a true point guard. Briscoe is officially the point guard, but while has a decent assist rate his attentions are much more on scoring. Facing the Dukes’ tough perimeter defense there will likely not be much room for these players to shine.

With no other real post threats other than Braswell to speak of and the likely poor performance of its guards, it is hard to see how this team will compete with team quickness and tenacity of Duquesne. The Dukes have caught a number of breaks this season from Saint Louis having to suspend its best players, to the Charlotte situation, to Xavier’s injury problems, to facing Temple with Juan Fernandez coming off an injury, to Chris Wright still being a terrible basketball player and Dayton’s lack of identity. These events have helped the Dukes climb to the top of the A-10 standings, with a little more fortune perhaps a conference championship could happen. As for long suffering Duquesne fans, they will take it.

La Salle Scouting Report

Looking ahead towards the future of Dukes Hoops Digest. I plan to post a scouting report for every opponent combined with recent results the day before a game and the day of the contest I will post a game preview. This will be the first scouting report.

The Explorers are led by coach John Giannini. La Salle plays an up tempo pace averaging 71.5 possessions per game which ranks 32nd in the nation. It is Giannini’s seventh season at the helm, having ascended to the job after successful tenures at Division III Rowan and Maine. He has only had mixed success at La Salle posting an 83-97 record and a 39-57 conference mark. This season La Salle is 8-10 and according to the Pomeroy ratings should be a little over .500. Despite having an efficient offense, the Explorers lack a passable defense. They rank 239th nationally in defensive efficiency giving up 1.051 points per possession. They are led by their front court tandem of Jerrell Williams and Aaric Murray. Each are good rebounders, especially on the offensive boards ranking 34th and and 114th respectively. They both are good around the basket and Murray is an excellent shooter. These quality post players are cause for concern for the Dukes considering the lack of a strong presence under the basket, but the Explorers defense is so poor giving up 36.0 percent from behind the arc and 49.0 percent inside. Duquesne should be able to handle La Salle but if there are problems it will be because the Dukes will get dominated on the boards and give up easy points.