Head coach Danny Nee expected his club to be improved this year, but three early losses (two in a tournament in New Mexico) likely have him scratching his head a bit. The Dukes have an experienced lineup, with seven of the top eight players being juniors or seniors, but so far things haven't quite clicked for Nee's men.
The backcourt has performed well to date, with 6-3 Bryant McAllister (17.3 ppg) leading the way. The Dukes often run a three-guard set, which finds McAllister teamed with 6-4 Martin Osimani and 6-5 Bryant Higgins. Osimani (11.3 ppg) handles much of the ball handling duties, while Higgins (8.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg) is more of a defensive player. Higgins is below the 30% shooting mark from the field, which may allow opponents to pay more attention to McAllister as the season wears on.
In the frontcourt, sophomore Kieron Achara is having a breakout of sorts, averaging 12.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Achara is also the Dukes' lone shotblocking threat, and has pretty much been the sole inside scoring option for Nee this year. He is joined in the starting lineup by 6-8 foward Keith Gayden, who is shooting well from the field (50%) when he deigns to pull the trigger. He has attempted just 18 shots in the Dukes' four games to date.
Off the bench, guard Tyler Bleumling (5.8 ppg) has taken all but three of his shots from beyond the arc, and is hitting an impressive 46.7% from that range. Swingmen Ryan Tricco and Chauncey Duke contribute minutes and defense, but not much in the way of scoring, while forward Jon Pawluk, who had a career night against the Mountaineers in 2002, has made just one field goal this year despite averaging more than 17 minutes per game.
Achara, a sophomore from Stirling, Scotland, has posted a pair of double-doubles in Duquesne's last two games, which means that Fischer is going to see a big upgrade in opposition from what he encountered against St. Peter's.
|Wed 11/24 7:05 p.m.
WVU 1-0, 0-0
DU 1-3, 0-0
WVU - 50
DU - 92
Fischer, who built a nice base of confidence after his opening-game performance, needs to continue the constrcution project. If he is able to get the upper hand against Achara, the Mountaineers might finally find they have a post presence they can depend upon, especially in late game situations.
For his part, Achara needs to avoid getting flustered, especially if Chef Fischer delivers a Wilsonburger or two early in the game. WVU's center will likely try to put his stamp on the game ealry on, just as he did against St. Peter's, and if Achara allows that to happen, the Mountaineers might finally break the recent hold the Dukes have on the series.
WVU: Mike Gansey (thigh) Will play
DU: Sean KcKeon (mononucleosis) Out
Fans are likely looking at Duquesne and saying, 'This team is 1-3. WVU should roll.' Unfortunately, that's not how college basketball works.
Some teams have difficulty with other teams, and the reasons aren't always limited to talent. One team (in this case, Duquesne) may match up better with the opponent than other schools. One team may have a motivational or psychological edge. Whatever the reason, Duquesne has held the edge over WVU in recent years, winning four of the last six games, and the Mountaineers had to go to overtime last year to grab one of those wins.
In order to break the streak, WVU needs to establish early on that it is the physically dominant team. Look for the Mountaineers to continue the inside out play that they executed so well against St. Peter's. By going inside early, the Mountaineers should get a chance to get their road legs under them, and also try to take the home crowd out of the contest. They also should be able to take advantage of Duquesne's three-guard offense, which might have trouble covering players such as Fischer, Tyrone Sally and Kevin Pittsnogle in the lane.
The Mountaineers also need to continue the crisp ball movement that has marked both of its games this year. No defense, no matter how well executed, can stand up to precision ball handling. If West Virginia can make that a staple of its attack, there could be more than one celebration on the road this year.
On the Duquesne side, how much of an advantage is it for the Dukes to have played four games to the Mountaineers' one? Granted, three of those contests have been losses, but the game time has given Nee a chance to work on his rotation and iron out any game management kinks. WVU hasn't had the same amount of game activity, so it may be interesting to see how smoothly the rotations and other game strategies are implemented on the West Virginia side of the Palumbo Center.
One other reason WVU might want to attack inside is the penchant of Duquesne for fouling. The Dukes average five fouls per game more than their opponents this year, and are getting outscored 84-57 from the stripe. The deficit would be even greater were it not for the Dukes' excellent shooting from that spot, where they have racked up 57 points in just 71 attempts.
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Last season, women's basketballer Kate Bulger completed a remarkable run in which she started all 115 games of her college career. Junior guard Joe Herber is hot on Kate's heels, having started all 61 games of his Mountaineer career.
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The futility of trying to compare teams by comparing skills might best be illustrated by the Dukes' last two games. No one on the planet would be likely to pick Lafayette over New Mexico, but according to the Dukes' results against those two teams, it might not be a bad move. Duquesne lost to UNM on the road by eight points, but also dropped a home decision to the Leopards by 14.