It’s been a long week off for Niner fans following the dismantling the team experienced against the Dayton Flyers last Wednesday at UD Arena. Fortunately the basketball gods (or the A10 office) have delivered salvation in the form of a hump day matchup against the Duquesne Dukes. Gametime is 7 PM in Halton Arena and the contest will be broadcast by CBS College Sports Regional.
The week off probably was a good thing for the Niners. When a team runs out to an 8-1 conference start and sole possession of 1st place only to see it come crashing down on the road in brutal fashion, the extra time between games is an opportunity to circle the wagons, regroup, and hopefully adjust. The principal adjustment that needs to be made? Clearly running the offense against strong man-to-man defense. It’s been the Achilles’ Heel of the team all season long. If you’re a head coach and you see Charlotte on the schedule, dial up the man defense. Until the Niners can make that adjustment and handle the pressure, they will continue to struggle in the half court. In particular DiJuan Harris and Shamari Spears, the two most experienced players on the team need to step and create opportunities for others to loosen the defense. Spears for his part has to recognize *BROKEN RECORD ALERT* the defense collapsing around him and kick it out to open players. Do it AS they collapse, not once they are already there. Custard couldn’t pass out of his last stand, why would Spears be able to?
As mentioned earlier, the Niners’ opponent on Wednesday are the ever enigmatic Dukes of Duquesne. The average fan (yes, I’m going there) might look at their 13-12 record and think mediocre team and expect a blowout. The Dukes are instead a very dangerous, yet inconsistent opponent. Most recently they exploded on La Salle with a blistering 103-82 victory; however, this performance immediately following a let-down 84-80 OT loss to UMass. So the question begs, which Duquesne team will show up Wednesday? If the 2-8 road record is any indication, most likely the team that last to UMass. But as this season has illustrated, the Niners can ill-afford to take the Dukes, or any team, for granted.
These Dukes are led by head coach Ron Everhart, who when not chewing tobacky is a fun coach to watch. He’s assembled a talented squad that while yet to transform into a consistent performer, has a lot of nice parts that can go off on any particular night. The cog in the engine for Duquesne is Jr. F Damian Saunders. On a contender, Saunders is probably the runaway A10 POY. He’s a double-double machine (14.9 ppg and 12.2 rpg.) who’s achieved lofty individual heights in the NCAAs, ranking 3rd in the nation in rebounding, 4th in steals, and 8th in blocks. Even more impressive is he does it all with just a 6’7″ frame. Saunders will be a handful on both ends of the court, but it will be fun to see how he matches up defensively on Shamari Spears. It’ll be a contrast of strength and craft versus freak athleticism. Let’s hope Spears wins out.
Joining Saunders in the “post” (using the term loosely) is fellow Jr. Bill Clark. Clark is second on the team in both scoring (13.8) and rebounding (6.2), though the former comes at the expense of his arm practically falling off after every game. In other words, he shoots the three-ball with reckless abandon and only manages to convert on 1 in 4. For someone like him, 25-30 three pointers is a lot. He’s taken 133. Nice shot selection there, buddy. Of course against La Salle he goes 11-14 and scores 34 points. Wasn’t that supposed to happen against us?
Though Sr. guard Jason “Light” Duty has started much of the season, he will likely cede his starting role tomorrow to Melquan Bolding, who’s rounding back into form after a lengthy injury. Bolding is a nice young player but again suffers from poor shooting selection. He shoots overall at a 40.7% clip from the field, which is about the norm for a collegiate shooting guard. But his numbers are dragged down again by poor shooting from the arc (25.5%). On paper the Dukes remind me of the worst of the 08-09 team combined with the worst of the 02-03 team when it comes to three-point shooting.
B.J. Monteiro is touted as the Dukes best three point shooter. Brace yourselves folks: He shoots 33.3% from behind the arc.
Running the show for Duquesne is So. PG Eric Evans. Evans, like the other 4 scorers averages over 10 ppg. He also leads the team in assists and is 2nd in steals.
So there you have it, the Duquesne starters. For all intents and purposes, they’re the entire team, as like the Niners the starters do the bulk of the scoring for Ron Everhart’s squad. When looking at the teams stats, it’s easy to see where their struggles come from: 1) They can’t shoot a lick from outside, hitting only 25.5% as a team. 2) They’re awful from the line, hitting just 60.6% of their FTAs. 3) They’re woefully undersized and it shows: They’re tallest starter is 6’7″ Saunders. After that they run 6’5″ 6’5″ 6’3″ and 5’11″. This might be the first game since the scrub non-conf. games that the Niners have had a size advantage.
The Niners have a clear task at hand tomorrow: Take a game that could be dangerous, since Duquesne has the potential to explode offensively, and dominate it.
Despite Saunders being a terrific talent and consistent top-notch performer, the Niners have the size and capacity to dominate the game on the glass, and I expect them to. Sure Saunders will likely get 8-10, but the Niners need to have a sizeable rebounding margin, like +7 or greater and double-digit offensive rebounds.
Specifically I would expect to see plenty of zone again. Duquesne is a poor shooting team, and it only makes sense strategically to sag off the “shooters” and keep Saunders from going off inside.
One difference from the Dayton to Duquesne game I would like to see is in Derrio Green. He’s at his best when he’s both driving and shooting, not relying on the outside game. He also needs to show he can handle tough defensive pressure all game long.
Well Niner fans, it’s crunch time. The team simply can’t afford a home loss from here on out. Let’s start with Duquesne and build momentum going into Saturday.