With a 61-55 victory against Saint Louis last night, Duquesne's incredibly faint dream of making the NCAA tournament lives for at least one more day (side note: people can complain about it, but the fact that a 12-18 team still has a chance at an NCAA championship this late in the season is one of the more beautiful things about March).
I don't really have an overarching theme or trend to write about with the Dukes -- or at least one doesn't really stand out -- so as they prepare to play George Washington tonight, I figured I'd throw together a news and notes type of story (it's pretty much all notes; not too much news to be had), led by the conference tournament primer that ran in yesterday's paper.
ATLANTIC 10 TOURNAMENT PRIMER
No. 1 Davidson, No. 2 Dayton, No. 3 Rhode Island, No. 4 Richmond
If the No. 11 Dukes are to win an A-10 championship, a daunting road of five wins in five days faces them. They face No. 14 Saint Louis in the first round Wednesday. If they defeat the Billikens, they get No. 6 George Washington the following night, with the winner playing No. 3 Rhode Island in Friday’s quarterfinals.
After being picked 12th in the preseason of its first year in the 14-team A-10, Davidson was the surprise of the season, using a potent and hyper-efficient offense to win the regular season championship. As winners of their past nine, the Wildcats undoubtedly enter the tournament as the favorite. … Pittsburgh native Archie Miller’s Dayton team has won six of its last eight despite only playing seven players. As the season drags on, though, fatigue may soon become a factor. … In just his third season, Dan Hurley has transformed Rhode Island into a winner, one that could leave Brooklyn with a title behind a team ranked No. 12 in Division I in defensive efficiency. … Defending runner-up VCU limps into the tournament with a 5-6 record since losing guard Briante Weber, one of its top players, to a season-ending knee injury. … A potential sleeper could be Richmond, which has won six straight and has one of the conference’s best players in guard Kendall Anthony (16.3 points per game).
** I've known since I moved to Pittsburgh two and a half years ago that Duquesne's had a tortured track record in basketball over the past 30-40 years, but until working on the conference tournament preview that ran in Wednesday's paper, I had no clue that Duquesne had, with the exception of one year, been THAT bad in the A-10 tournament.
Wednesday's win against Saint Louis marked just the fourth win Duquesne has had in the conference tournament since the 2004-05 season. The Dukes' 4-8 record in tournament play doesn't look all that awful on the surface, but considering three of those wins came in one season, you're looking at a pretty bleak picture.
For all of his success at Duquesne, Ron Everhart's teams had a tendency to fizzle out at the end of the season, something reflected in that record, aside from that one run in 2009. From a win-loss standpoint, little has gone right for Jim Ferry at Duquesne, but with how the Dukes have played over the past month, he can at least make the sell that his team has gotten better as the year has gone on, in stark contrast to his predecessor. A win against Saint Louis -- while not overly impressive considering the young Billikens' struggles -- adds to that idea.
** In its past 11 games, Duquesne has held opponents under one point per possession three times. Two of those have come against Saint Louis after last night's win, when the Billikens averaged 0.8 points per possession. That mark was the second-lowest that the Dukes have allowed in A-10 play this season, behind only the 0.76 they allowed against George Mason on Jan. 31.
** Fans and people like myself who cover the team have spent a lot of the last month trying to figure out what has changed with Duquesne, which has gone 6-5 in its past 11 games after a six-game losing streak that derailed its season. It's a multi-faceted trend, but there's one thing that's started to stand out that I think plays some kind of role in it -- the absence of Jordan Stevens.
Now, this isn't to say that Stevens was responsible for the teams' struggles. That's a) an incredibly over-simplified way of looking at it and b) an awful case of scapegoating. But when looking at his stats, it becomes pretty obvious that he wasn't helping Duquesne's offense. Prior to his indefinite suspension, Stevens was using 30.8 percent of the team's possessions and taking 34.6 percent of its shots while he was on the court, easily the most of any Dukes player (the next-closest is TySean Powell at 25 percent and Eric James at 23.1 percent, respectively). With that usage, he was a mostly inefficient player, shooting just 37.1 percent.
Since Stevens was suspended, Duquesne's offense has thrived. In 10 A-10 games before his suspension, the Dukes were averaging 0.99 points per possession; in the nine games since his suspension, they're averaging 1.1 points per possession. Again, it's ridiculous to say that he solely was responsible for Duquesne's shortcomings, especially given how much this team still struggles on defense. But the Dukes have been undeniably better offensively in Stevens' absence.
** KenPom is giving Duquesne a 23 percent chance of beating George Washington, which seems perfectly reasonable given GW's recent surge (also, if you try to argue with math, you're going to lose, especially if you're a sportswriter). Since a four-game skid that began with a double-digit loss to Duquesne, the Colonials have won three of their past four games, with an average margin of victory of about 20 points per game. The lone loss in that span came by 11 on the road against a Davidson team that nobody over the past month and change has been able to figure out.
Though the win against GW last month gives them some measure of hope, there's no denying that the Dukes are a considerable underdog in this matchup (the Vegas line favors the Colonials by nine).
** Micah Mason has played 230 of a possible 240 minutes in Duquesne's past six games. It was exhausting just typing that. And speaking of...
** Before I finish things off here, here's a box score of last night's game. Draw whatever conclusions you may from it, but I think it's becoming increasingly clear who this team's most productive offensive player and go-to-scoring option has become.