McConnell Honored as Top Rookie for 3rd Straight Week

T.J. McConnell keeps receiving accolades. It is impressive, how astute the voters have been in recognizing his impact despite not putting up gaudy stat lines. The buzz must be out on this guy in Atlantic 10 circles.

McConnell is honored as Rookie of the Week for the third week in a row and fourth time this year. The freshman guard had an overall solid week averaging 10.0 points, 5.0 steals, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists, while committing just one turnover in 56 total minutes. McConnell opened the week playing 30 minutes at La Salle scoring 13 points and adding five rebounds, four assists and four steals. He followed that performance with seven points and a career-high six steals in helping the Dukes remain perfect in league play with a victory over Charlotte.

T.J.’s ability to be a step ahead of everyone else is getting recognized, when usually this genre of awards are given simply to the top point scorers. 10 steals in two games does pop out at you, and as the write-up mentions, only 1 turnover. That really is remarkable. McConnell might be the smartest player in the league and he is only a Freshman. Who knows what the future will hold, but barring serious injury, it will be a joy to see T.J. don a Duquesne uniform for the next few years. Also, maybe his impact as a local kid will help bring more attention to the program, so I no longer get yelled at for standing in the last minute of a close game. A sincere congratulations must go out to McConnell and, perhaps more importantly to the voters who seem to have gotten their collective heads out of the box score and have actually been watching the games.

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Dukes Dominate Charlotte 83-67

Having not realized the game started at two I was not able to post a game preview, but my analysis would likely have been rendered moot considering the Dukes were in control of this one from start to finish. Charlotte’s lack of fire power hamstrung it’s performance resulting in a 16 point defeat that would have been much larger had Coach Ron Everhart left his best players in the game. Charlotte likes to play at a much slower tempo than Duquesne does and they simply were not able to handle Duquesne’s defensive pressure and fast pace.

This condition is troublesome for the 49ers because of their dominate the ball guards who fall easily into the run and gun trap. In their offensive scoring minded ways guards Derrio Green and Jamar Briscoe wanted to get up and down the floor. The only problem is that neither of them is good enough to sustain that type of game. Their efforts essentially conceded the game to the up-tempo Dukes.

Chris Braswell had an excellent game posting a double-double overwhelming Damian Saunders and all other defenders inside. Braswell was able to get several easy baskets when the 49ers were able to break the press. This remains a huge problem for Duquesne, in which better post players can dominate the Dukes down low and especially the offensive boards, giving up 43 percent of all possible second chances to Charlotte. Nevertheless, the defensive rebounding woes of the Dukes did not prove to be a problem in this contest.

The transition game was firing on all cylinders for the Dukes with crisp passing that awed most in attendance. I did not know that they could pass like that. This team represents the first time that I can recall a team that plays smart. The logical reason for this change are freshman Mike Talley and T.J. McConnell who play with high intelligence. Their basketball IQ seems to have caught on with their teammates making the Dukes not only athletic and tenacious, but also quick witted and opportunistic. Looking forward, this is the reason why the Dukes could win the league, even if it is not likely, and win games that they otherwise would not. The Dukes are susceptible to big teams that can pound the ball inside, but as was the case in this matchup this formula has worked well for Duquesne.

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.

Duquesne’s Season Ends at St. Bonaventure

A disappointing season ends in a 83-71 loss to St. Bonaventure. The Dukes were hopeful that they could potentially relive the magic created in Atlantic City in last year’s Atlantic 10 Conference Championship but it was not meant to be. The game remained close until the 14:34 minute mark when the Bonnies went on a 14-0 run to take a 59-45 lead. The lead proved to be insurmountable for the Dukes with the final deficit sitting at 12.

St. Bonaventure earned the right to host an opening round game of the Atlantic 10 Conference championship notching the 7th seed after defeating Duquesne last Thursday and George Washington lost to St. Joseph’s. Thus they hosted Duquesne in a rematch from last week’s contest. In that contest the Bonnies won at home posting a 92-80 final score. In that game St. Bonaventure made nine three pointers and sophmore big man Andrew Nicholson along with senior shooting guard Chris Matthews scored 21 points each.

As Tuesday’s game progressed it appeared a continuation of last week’s affair. Nicholson and Matthews scored even more points notching 25 and 28 respectively. Also, the Bonnies shot a better percentage from three point range boasting a 75 percent 9-12 performance with Matthews going 6-8. The three point shooting performance is not surprising considering it has followed the trend that the Dukes have given up at least eight threes to their last five games. Duquesne’s zone has been attacked effectively from behind the arc the past several games. Consequently, the Dukes Defensive points per Possession has averaged out to a paltry 1.078 PPP. The defense has simply given up too many open shots which have in turn created more open lanes for offenses to attack.  The same occured in last night’s game and the Dukes went down.

Recently the Duke’s offense has been firing well posting 1.062 PPP. However, that still equates for a -.016 margin which does not spell out success. The problem the offense had on Tuesday was the same problem it has been having for the entire season. Going into the game, the Dukes were last in all of Division I basketball in three point shooting percentage with a 26.4 percent mark. In this game the Dukes put up 21 attempts from long range and made 5 or 23.8 percent of their attempts. Simply put, that is too many attempts for a team that shoots so poorly from behind the arc. However, it is difficult with the lack of a true post pressence to run an offense not based around the perimeter. If a team is going to run a four guard offense there better be some guys who can shoot. This is a warning for next season. If this system is going to work guards are going to have to make their shots.

Altogether, the loss last night displayed several of the flaws of a team that finished the year one game over .500. It still felt as if the Dukes were better than their record. Ron Everhart and his club underachieved in a year when they were slotted to finish fifth in the Atlantic 10. Hopefully, there were lessons learned that will carry over to next season with only one departure (Jason Duty) and the arrival of exciting recruits T.J. McConnell and Mike Talley. Duquesne may not have relived the magic of last year’s Atlantic 10 tournament but there’s much to look forward to next season.