VCU returns to the Siegel Center Tuesday night to take on one of just two undefeated A-10 teams left in conference play, that team being the 3-0 (12-4 overall) Duquesne Dukes, led by former Shaka Smart mentor, Keith Dambrot. Dambrot has his Duquesne team rolling during his first season in Pittsburgh, having won 10 of their last 11 contests, but will see the degree of difficulty increase tonight when playing their first top-100 opponent in VCU.
VCU (10-6, 2-1)
DUQUESNE (12-4, 3-0)
A QUICK LOOK AT DUQUESNE
Before we look at this year’s team, let’s take a peek back on what got previous head coach Jim Ferry fired. The Dukes finished 3-15 in last season’s A-10 after a 7-6 non-conference start. Seven was the magic number for that team, with Duquesne losing nine games by seven points or less in conference play including their first round A-10 tourney loss. Five were decided by a basket. This year’s Dambrot-led group is slightly more experienced, but seems to have gotten their biggest boost from a freshman: Eric Williams Jr. Williams leads the Dukes in minutes at 32.8 per contest and has notched six double-doubles on the season. The 6’5 guard/forward is second in points (14.3 ppg) to only returning leading scorer, sophomore Mike Lewis II (15.2 ppg), but leads the team with 9.8 rebounds per contest. That duo is joined in the double-digit scoring club by upperclassmen Rene Castro-Caneddy (13.6 ppg) and Tarin Smith (12.1 ppg). Through sixteen games the Dukes rank 31st nationally in effective field goal percentage D and fourth in three-point defense (28%), but here’s the rub: VCU will be the first top-100 offense Duquesne has played all season. And that’s the early knock on this year’s Duquesne team. Out of 351 Division I basketball teams, according to kenpom.com, the Dukes schedule strength ranks dead last at No.351. Of Duquesne’s 12 wins, five have come against sub-300 teams, three more against sub-200s and none have come against the top-100. To add to that, Duquesne has played just one road game, albeit a 23-point blowout of Fordham. All of the Dukes losses have been somewhat questionable, especially early season home Ls at the hands of No.195 Robert Morris and No.245 Cornell. The Dukes best wins to date were home victories over No.141 Dayton (by 8), No.188 GW (by 17) and No.199 Lamar (by 1), as well as a neutral court 2-point escape of No.137 San Francisco. Long story short: the Dukes are winning, but so far have done so against a schedule this VCU team would be expected to go undefeated against. Duquesne’s SOS ramps up considerably against VCU and we’ll know soon enough just how real this Dukes team is.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
VCU was a half of a second away from a late Justin Tillman three at Saint Joseph’s starting the black and gold off at 3-0 as well, but even at 2-1 after a comeback road win at La Salle, are somehow pushing the pace as a top Atlantic 10 team. The Rams currently reside within the top-5 of the A-10 thanks to the bottom nine currently all sitting at 1-2. VCU can move up a notch with a win over Duquesne, pulling even with the Dukes at 3-1 with a win tonight while owning a head-to-head tie-breaker thanks to this being the only meeting between these two this season.
This year’s Rams have made their money on the offensive end, posting a 52.6% effective field goal percentage that is the best from a VCU team since the 2004 NCAA tourney squad that nearly knocked of Chris Paul’s Wake Forest team in that year’s tournament. Like that ’04 team, this Rams unit has been quite turnover prone however, which combined with a lack of free throws, drops what could be a top-50 offense down to No.91 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Clean up the turnovers and this offensive unit could be deadly.
Defensively however, there is still a ways to go.
The departure of Mo Alie-Cox has made defending inside the arc that much harder, with the Rams dropping from a near top-50 2-point defense (No.52 nationally) to 219th this year at 51.2% (also dropping from a top-100 shot-blocking team to 238th nationally). That interior team defense has on paper been VCU’s biggest defensive achilles heel, but if their A-10 pace continues, things could change. VCU currently sits at fourth in 2-point A-10 D at 44.3% but have yet to play a top-half A-10 2-point offense.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 78.1, DUQ 72.1
Scoring Defense: DUQ 61.5, VCU 74.3
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 52.6%, DUQ 49.1%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: DUQ 46.4%, VCU 50.8%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 36.8%, DUQ 34.7%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: DUQ 28%, VCU 33.4%
2-Point Field Goal%: VCU 51%, DUQ 47.1%
2-Point Field Goal% Defense: DUQ 48.3%, VCU 51.2%
Rebounds per game: DUQ 38.1, VCU 37.9
Turnover% Offense: DUQ 17.4%, VCU 19%
Turnover% Defense: DUQ 19.5%, VCU 18.8%
Strength of Schedule Rank: VCU 131, DUQ 351
VCU WINS IF
Limit easy baskets (free throws or layups) on defense against what’s been a bad Duquesne offense, even against the nation’s worst schedule, then avoid turnovers on offense.
On paper, Duquesne’s defensive numbers look impressive. But if you dissect them a bit, you can see how this VCU team could give them more trouble (barring just one of those random cold nights teams sometimes have) than they’ve seen all year.
Duquesne has played no top-100 offenses (like VCU) and just three top-200 offenses. Those offenses were No.166 Cornell (a loss), No.167 Southern Illinois (a loss) and No.137 Dayton (a win). Duquesne gave up 10 more points per game against that group (71.3) than their overall defensive season average. Their effective field goal percentage against that trio of 50.3% would be around a No.150 EFG% national ranking versus their current No.31 ranking against a very weak schedule. They gave up a 54.3% true shooting percentage to those three, and here’s the kicker – NONE of those three rank above 170 in three-point offense, with two (Cornell and Dayton) ranking 258 or below in that stat. VCU ranks 98th nationally in three-point offense at 36.7%.
Anything can happen in the game of basketball, teams have nights both good and bad. But statistically if you look beyond Duquesne’s 12-4 record and dive deeper into the stats, everything suggests Keith Dambrot is in for his biggest challenge of the season tonight at VCU…by about a mile.
Kenpom: 75-67VCU win with a 75% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 8PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA.