To say the least, Duquesne’s out of conference (OOC) performance left much to be desired. Losses against a tough NJIT team, a much better than expected St. Francis squad, a confident, sharpshooting University Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks and a fifth straight loss to a very bad Robert Morris team took the Dukes from what looked on paper as an 8-3 record, at worst, to a 5-6 record heading into conference play preseason. Part of that stems from a presumably soft schedule not turning out so soft. Part of that comes from their lack of preparation heading into the NJIT game thanks to the “no basketball November” schedule. Some derives from the Dukes slumping badly against the two Northeastern Conference opponents from three point range. No matter how one tries to sum it up, an Atlantic 10 team shouldn’t be losing to the teams they’ve lost to, or at least not in that kind of volume.
While the OOC season looked considerably easier coming into the season than it turned out to be, the league schedule looks a bit easier. Sure, Davidson won’t be a sure bet as I expected, but St. Louis has taken their place and a lot of teams from the always sticky center of the Atlantic 10 seem like they’re a little less daunting than normal. Think more CBI than NIT tournament quality. Combine that with the league looking like it’s two bids at best and suddenly the top doesn’t look as staunch either.
You might call this an optimistic approach to the rest of the schedule, but I’m going to assume there was something to the Dukes decent performances from early in the season. I’m taking this tact for a couple of reasons. First, it’s consistent with what I expected heading into the season. I was thinking that Duquesne would be a team with an RPI of around 150 and that’s what I saw in those contests. Second, the Dukes got considerably better as the year went along under Ferry last season. That gives me some hope that they’ll do the same in 2015. Finally, we’ve seen the decent Dukes as often as we’ve seen the bad ones. I’m not sure why the decent performances should be overlooked completely in favor of the good ones.
Upset if they lose (75% chance or better)
vs St Louis, @Fordham
As noted above, St. Louis aren’t playing well and they’re one of the youngest teams in the league. Jim Ferry has done relatively well against the Billikens when they’ve had a veteran squad. I suspect the Dukes will find a way to perform against them now.
Fordham is on the road, but I’d have to imagine that the writing for Tom Pecora will be on the wall by the time the Dukes and Rams face off in February. I’d also expect the Dukes to be playing their best of the season by then as well.
Games the Dukes Should Win (74% – 55%)
vs St. Joe’s, vs George Mason, vs St. Bonaventure
This list was a lot longer, but Davidson fell off of it to the good and St. Louis fell off to the bad. St. Joe’s are in a similar place as the Billikens in that they’re working in quite a few new bodies, but they have a little more of a veteran presence returning. Deandre Bembry was one of the most talented returning freshmen and Isaiah Miles has taken steps forward as a junior. Meanwhile, Aaron Brown is showing some of the potential he flashed as a freshman. Though he’s flatlined statistically, Chris Wilson gives them a senior presence at the point.
George Mason have played better since Erick Copes left the team and they’ve gotten good work from Marquise Moore, Jalen Jenkins and Shevon Thompson. The problem is the road team has won the last four games in this series. Hopefully the Dukes can break out of that.
As for the Bonnies, this series generally doesn’t get swept unless one team is considerably better than the other. I just don’t see it this year.
Tough but Winnable (54% – 35%)
@ St. Louis, @ UMass, vs Dayton, vs Rhode Island
These games are more likely than not losses, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that Duquesne has a shot here. The Dukes beat a top 10 St. Louis team in St. Louis last year. They could easily repeat against a depleted team.
UMass for me is an enigma, but all around they haven’t impressed me. They’ve played a very difficult schedule, but they’ve been inconsistent. I also don’t hate the matchup for the Dukes either. UMass doesn’t shoot the three ball particularly well and their defense should leave the window open for the Dukes to keep up.
Dayton nearly lost in Pittsburgh last year and the Dukes have the advantage of the second home and away match up at home.
Rhode Island is having an outstanding season, but Ferry has had great success against Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley. My issue with this one is that it will take place early in the A-10 season.
Upsets If They Win (under 34%)
@ St. Bonaventure, @ La Salle, @ George Washington, vs George Washington, @Davidson, vs Davidson, vs VCU, @ Dayton, @ Richmond
For me George Washington and VCU are defensive match up nightmares for the Dukes’ offense. The Dukes stalled against the University Texas-Pan American 1-3-1 zone. I can’t imagine how well they’ll fair against a team built to play the system. The Dukes played VCU to a halftime lead last season, but last year, they didn’t turn the ball over as much. They could get eaten alive by Havoc.
On the other hand, Davidson is a nightmare for the defense with one of the top three point shooting offenses in the country.
The Dukes haven’t fared well against Richmond over the years and while the Spiders are vulnerable, I don’t have much confidence in a road win.
La Salle is a step ahead of the Dukes and I think as long as the current Explorers interior is intact, the Dukes will have issues.
So how many games will the Dukes win? I’ll chalk up all the upset games as wins or losses so we’ll start at 2-9. If the ranges hold true, the Dukes would likely win 3 or 4 of the rest for a total of 5 or 6 in-conference wins. That would likely put the Dukes in line for a 11-14 seed play-in game and a 50-50 shot at another win in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
I’m not saying the Dukes will end up there, but I think they have a strong chance. According to predictive services, RPIforecast thinks they have a 36% chance of finishing with 10 or 11 wins, while Team Rankings puts it at 34% as their second and third most likely outcome combinations. Team Rankings thinks they have about 24% chance of doing better, while RPIforecast thinks they have about a 10% chance of bettering it.