So, Can The Dukes Beat Pitt?

So, can they? I must first start by looking back three years in the past and say to myself, look how far we have come. Three years ago, if the over-under for wins against Pitt in my lifetime was 1/2 I probably would have taken the under at gun point. Now, it is three years later and I think Duquesne can beat Pitt on a neutral floor with most of the fans likely rooting for the Panthers (some home game, huh). In fact, I think that the Dukes should be victorious in this affair. Now, will they? The answer to that will say much about the 2009-10 season for Duquesne. The game tonight should serve as a barometer for the amount of confidence the Dukes have in themselves and whether or not they can rise to the occasion and win a game against a formidable opponent.

I would be supremely confident if Melquan Bolding were able to play in this game. If Bolding were in the lineup, I would expect the Dukes to win because they would have the guy who can create his own shot and serve as the lead crunch time scorer as a big small forward who Pitt could not match-up with. Bolding would have been the player to take over the aforementioned role from Aaron Jackson who rose to the occasion to put away close games and put it upon himself to defeat superior opponents. However, Bolding is not in the lineup so this reasoning does not apply to this game.

With Melquan out, I still think Duquesne should win. My logic here goes as follows. Duquesne and Pitt are similar teams in the ways they are structured. Both teams get most of their production from the perimeter and run guard heavy offenses. Both teams are supposed to be able to shoot from behind the arc but have done poorly thus far this season. Last season, the Dukes shot 35.9% from three point distance as opposed to 28.3% this year.  What’s the difference? Some of the shooters, including Eric Evans and Jason Duty are not equipped to create their own three point opportunities and that option is not available to them since the one guy who can create his own shot (Bolding) is not playing. Also, Damian Saunders and Bill Clark while being decent shooters have always probably taken to many three point attempts. On the Pitt side they shot 35.4% and they lost known chuckers LeVance Fields and Sam Young along with their combined 283 attempts. To add to this point, their best shooters (Brad Wannamaker and Ashton Gibbs) are supposedly the guys running the show on offense for the Panthers. (Note: If either of these teams shoot the lights out tonight that is the team that will win, however I do not see that as likely considering the quality of defense played by both teams.)

Both teams have been good on defense, and Pitt has been great on that side of the ball posting a 0.915 opponents points per possession (PPP) compared to Duquesne who is giving up 0.968 Opponents PPP. However, that statistic undersells the Dukes’ defensive prowess because they gave up 1.19 PPP against Western Carolina in a game where they shot better than Navy Seals and it was the third game in three nights that Duquesne played. The fatigue factor should not be an issue in this game after watching the balls to the walls effort on Sunday against Radford where the Highlanders were limited to 0.797 points per trip down the floor. Considering these facts I see it as unlikely that either of these teams will light up the score board with bombs from 22 feet.

The contest will hinge on one particular factor, that being the match-up between 6’10” Gary McGhee of Pitt and 6’7″ Damian Saunders for the boys from the bluff. Saunders has yet to notch less than 15 rebounds in a game and I see no reason why he should not do that in this contest. McGhee is coming off his two finest games this season including a shut down of Texas big man Dexter Pittman. Pittman, while one of my favorite players in the NCAA does not play like Saunders. Saunders likes to run and play around the perimeter on offense. Saunders should, in my estimation, wear McGhee down. If Saunders line looks something like 20 points-20 Rebounds-4 assists then I am confident that the Dukes will have reigned supreme in the city game for the first time since 2000. I think Saunders should be able to put up his obligatory 15-15 and that will be along with some perimeter player adding points (likely candidates: Clark or Monteiro). With that being the case, I think the Dukes win. They would win due to a favorable match-up rather than being the better team per se, but nevertheless win.

There are a few things the Dukes must do to win…

1. RUN!!!: This team is made up of athletes that can run and even run an effective offense making good cuts and precision passes when they do up the tempo (as I witnessed on Sunday when I saw out passes that Wes Unseld would be proud of). There should be times when Everhart should put on the press and make Pitt work to get the ball down the floor for a while (This has limited efficacy and should be used at the least expected moments). Also,this team is not built to run a robotic motion offense. It’s good to have offensive sets and use them to get into a rhythm but staying in that offense holds the Dukes back. So, none of that use the motion offense for the whole first half. Pitt is too good in the half court defense and there are no guys on the team that can create their own shots. Also, it is critically important to work Pitt’s big guys and get them tired to let Saunders’ fitness and athleticism carry the day.

2. Use the Bench: Let’s face it. I love Jason Duty more than the next guy but he simply cannot guard fast two guards. There was a noticeable improvement on Sunday versus Radford when Sean Johnson came in off the bench on defense. I want to see around 18 minutes of playing time for Johnson who should help keep the ball out of the net on defense. Also, a couple other guys I should be prominent in this game. Oliver Lewison can be used as a big body and should be able to bang with McGhee and Nasir Robinson to some degree. His five fouls could be valuable because like Duquesne, Pitt is not a good free throw shooting team. Andre Marhold also has excellent athletic ability despite his lack of experience. He can be used to perhaps run a press or help out on fast breaks.

3. RUN SOME MORE!!!: This point cannot be overemphasized. Pitt traditionally runs a slow offense with a pace of 65.9 (271st in the country) possessions per 40 minutes. Whereas Duquesne tends to run a high paced game averaging 70.7 (109th) trips per game. Last season the Dukes were fifth in possessions per 40. So, the Duquesne program is built like a Maserati and Pitt is built like a Honda. Both get the job done on offense (or the road) and but if the Honda has to race the Maserrati it will be left in the dust but the Honda will likely last longer if we are talking about run of the mill driving. Which is better? It doesn’t matter, except that in certain circumstances one is better. In this case the Dukes should win if they speed up the tempo and the Panthers should win if the game is a knock down-drag out affair.

One Key Statisistic: One of the first things I will look for in the box score is free throw shooting. Both teams are bad when it comes to foul shooting. Pitt has made their freebies at a 64.7% clip opposed to the Duquesne mark of 60.6%. Thus, I will look to see who has more free throw opportunities than the other team. Especially, pertinent would be if one team makes more free throws than the other attempts. I am interested for two reasons, each team is good at not giving up free throws to the opposing teams. Pitt is 46th in the nation in free throw attempt to field goal attempt ratio and Duquesne is currently 15th. Neither team fouls that much and if Duquesne can speed up the tempo then the Dukes should be able to get to the line more. Whether they make their free throws, that’s another story.

My final thoughts are that Duquesne can and should win this game. The Dukes will have to work hard in keeping Pitt off the offensive boards and this can be accomplished by big performances by Saunders and maybe Clark. The Dukes should be able to make this game a run and gun affair and I hope that Duquesne can make some damn foul shots. If all goes as planned the Dukes will win. However, this is wishful thinking and the likelihood of Pitt winning is greater than that of Duquesne because they have been there whereas the Dukes haven’t. Even if they lose I am looking for the Dukes to play like they should win the game even if they don’t, and that will be the legacy of the last college basketball game played at the Civic Arena.