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.


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.

Dukes Overcome Radford

On Sunday, the Dukes overcome a strong challenge by Radford which played with Duquesne for much of the game. B.J. Montiero put forth his biggest scoring effort of his short career with 21 points going 9-14 from the field (2-3 from three) and Damian Saunders chipped in 14 points accompanied by 16 rebounds. Monteiro and Saunders led the effort with valuable contributions by Eric Evans (11-2-6) and Bill Clark (14-6-2) culminating in a 71-63 victory.

The contest was much closer than the score may suggest. It was not until about five minutes in to the second half that the Dukes took control of the game for good. At 14:14 remaining the Duquesne lead stood at two points (37-35), from that point on the Dukes outscored the Highlanders 44-28. The top performers for Radford included 6’11” Belorussian center Art Parakhouski who posted a 26-20 line, shooting guard Blake Smith who scored 14 points and Pittsburgh native Amir Johnson who chipped in 9 assists and effectively ran the point for the Highlanders posting only two turnovers.

The Radford scoring attack can be hardly considered balanced. Adding Parakhouski’s 26 and Smith’s 14  accounts for over half of the Highlanders points scored. Parakhouski has a favorable match-up against 6’7″ Saunders and the Dukes fouled the center multiple times which accounted for 7 of his points. Nonetheless the Dukes put up a strong effort defensively against Parakhouski often blocking his shot and usually limiting him to one shot. Overall, the Dukes defensive effort was at a maximum with players shifting well and giving Saunders help down low on the opposing center (including a Bill Clark block).

A possible chink in the Dukes’ defensive armor may be Jason Duty who seems to be incapable of guarding most two-guards. His issue seems to be lack of foot speed since his effort appeared to be at a maximum. Duty’s inadaquacies were especially noticeable with the defensive performance of freshman Sean Johnson who helped spur the Dukes rally in the second half. Altogether, Sunday’s game was a good sign after the two previous games which showed some sign of concern for the Duquesne defense giving up an effective field goal percentage of 44.1 against Arkansas-Monticello and 58 percent for Western Carolina. Sunday’s performance seems to indicate the troubles experienced in those games was fatigue related due to playing three games in three consecutive days.

On the other side of the court, the Dukes put forth a bipolar effort. In the first half, the Dukes plodded along running a robotic motion offense as they all too often do. However in the second half Everhart took off the reigns and let his guys play which was the biggest factor in changing the momentum of the game. The first half was marked by long drawn out possessions with much shooting indecision. The second half however was a run and gun affair where Duquesne was able to control the tempo and let the superior athletes take over the game and thereby tiring Parakhouski who quickly went from 1 to 4 fouls. Nonetheless the 6’11” center played all 40 minutes.

Watching the games against Iowa on TV and Radford in person I remained infuriated by the coaches insistence on running the motion offense, when that is clearly not what the Dukes should be doing with the ball. Everhart has recruited during his tenure players that are superior athletes and are lacking in either size or skill. Thus it is to the Dukes advantage to let their players exploit other teams by demonstrating superior athleticism. The Dukes however are not just pure athletes, they can as evidenced by the game on Sunday move without the ball effectively and also make quality passes (especially outlet passes). Going forward this is one of the major improvements that can be made, and all that is necessary is the coach letting his guys play.

Similarly, room for improvement can be found on the foul line where the Dukes shot a paltry 18 of 34. Duquesne remains awful from the charity stripe giving little credence to that moniker. Coach Everhart needs to work his players hard at the line. If he does not, I fear that the Dukes will give up many winnable games especially against league opponents because of this inadequacy.  There was much good and some bad that came out of Sunday’s game but the Dukes came out victorious winning a game they should have won.