Preview: West Virginia - Duquesne

West Virginia will face a young starting lineup when it travels to Pittsburgh Saturday to take on Duquesne, which is still recovering from the senseless shootings that rocked their team and campus.

SCOUTING THE DUKES

The Dukes, who have used eight different players in the starting lineup this year, are certainly still struggling to gain a sense of stability following the Sept. 17 shootings that left five players injured. Three freshmen are expected to start in Duquesne's lineup, which has just two players over six feet six inches in height.

The three-forward, all-freshman front line features Robert Mitchell and Scott Grote, who lead the team in scoring. Mitchell (Fr., 6-6, 175 lbs.) averages 18 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, and has been the team's most consistent scorer to date. Grote (Fr., 6.6 200 lbs.) is second with 13.9 points per contest, and is more likely to hit from long range – his 14 three-pointers lead the team. Stephen Wood (Fr., 6-3, 180 lbs.) chips in with 6.2 points per game, but is outmatched on the glass, snaring less than one per contest. In all but name, he is more a guard than a forward in the Dukes' lineup.

The backcourt provides the most experience on the team, with Gary Tucker (Jr., 5-10, 185 lbs.) and Aaron Jackson (So., 6-2, 180 lbs.) expected to get the starting nod. Jackson is the ironman of the team, averaging 36 minutes per contest will scoring 11.9 points per game, while Tucker adds 6.3 points per outing after moving into the starting lineup against Robert Morris. Jackson has been a contributor in all areas, averaging 5.4 rebounds and dishing out three assists for every turnover.

The depth on the team resides in the backcourt as well, where sometime starter Reggie Jackson (Jr. 5-10, 170 lbs.), and Phillip Fayne (So., 6-2, 210 lbs.) reside. The second Jackson has chipped in with 6.1 points per contest, but has not been as steady as Aaron in the ballhandling department. Fayne's 6.6 points per outing have come in spite of a low 33.3% shooting mark from the field.

The wildcard off the bench is Kieron Achara (Jr., 6-10, 240 lbs. ) who almost propelled the Dukes to an upset win the last time the Mountaineers played in Pittsburgh. Achara has been sidelined with shoulder and foot injuries for more than a year, but made his 2006-07 debut in Duquesne's most recent game against Pittsburgh. Although he fouled out in just 18 minutes of action, his size could be critical for the Dukes in this contest. Almamy Thiero (Gr., 6-9, 255 lbs.) is the other substitute seeing time – he averages 2.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.

OUTLOOK

In one respect, playing Duquesne at this point is kind of like playing Tulane or one of the service academies. It's tough to get fired up to defeat a foe made up of kids battling through adversity or preparing to represent their country. Duquesne, of course, falls into the former group, having endured the horrendous nightmare of a senseless shooting that wounded four of its players.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Sat Dec 9
7:00 p.m.

Palumbo Center
Records
WVU 6-1, 0-0
DU 2-5, 0-0
Series
WVU 45-36
TV
None
RPI
WVU - 31
DU - 321
There's not a person in America that isn't (or shouldn't be) rooting for Duquesne to do well this year. But that groundswell of emotional support can make it tough for visitors to bring home a win, which is West Virginia's task in this contest. As witnessed in the New Orleans Saints emotional homecoming win over Atlanta in its return to the Superdome earlier this year, the emotion of the home crowd can carry a team to great heights. And while there won't be a national TV audience watching this game, there's no doubt that a closer, tighter bond will exist between Dukes players and fans this year, which should help the team on the floor.

West Virginia will have to put aside any thoughts of sympathy when it takes the court at the Palumbo Center on Saturday evening. Once it does, it will still find a Duquesne team that can give it some problems. The Duke's short frontcourt could prove to be difficult for West Virginia to guard in the open floor if it sticks with its man-to-man defense, especially at the center spot. However, the Mountaineers should be able to trap effectively out of its 1-3-1 defense without giving up too many shots from the post and lane if the Dukes are able to escape the double teams that the Mountaineers execute in the corners and along the baseline.

Offensively, West Virginia will hope to continue the smooth play that allowed it to pull away in the second half against N.C. State. The Mountaineers played more aggressively in the second half of that contest, and thus created openings for its jump shooters off drives (along with a handful of nice layups off the dribble). With the Dukes lacking a shotblocking presence other than Achara (who figures to still be tentative as he returns from the stress fractures he suffered in his left foot), there's no better time for the Mountaineers to work on attacking the basket.

West Virginia – Duquesne matchups have almost always been close, hard fought affairs, and this game figures to be no different. WVU will be playing its first true road game of the season, and there's no doubt the Dukes look at this game, along with the one against Pitt, as the highlights of their out-of-conference season. Although West Virginia has won the last three games in the series, Duquesne has taken four of the last eight, so the Mountaineers can't afford to sleepwalk through this contest.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: None

DU: Stuard Baldonado (Back, Arm) Out, Sam Ashaolu (Head) Out, Kieron Achara (Foot) Probable

FAST BREAKS

Duquesne has only two players who hail from the same state – Robert Mitchell and Stephen Wood are from New York, while Lucas Newton and Gary Tucker hail from Ohio. Other states and countries represented on the roster include Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Georgia, Nevada, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, Scotland, Canada and Columbia. That's quite an eclectic grouping.

Those diverse backgrounds were just a byproduct of the changes first-year head coach Ron Everhart brought to the program. He rolled almost the entire roster, bringing in 14 new players (including transfers, walk-ons and six junior college players). Duquesne returns just one letterman from last year's team, although Achara is a returning letterman from two years ago after missing last season with a shoulder injury.

* * *

Duquesne certainly didn't get any breaks from either its league schedule makers or the folks that make out their out of conference slate. The home game against WVU is Duquesne's lone scheduled appearance at the Palumbo Center between Nov. 22 and Jan. 10. During that span of 48 days, the Dukes play eight road contests. Hopefully, those judging Everhart will take that factor into account when making their observations of his team's performance. It's difficult enough to win on the road with a veteran group, much less a freshman-led team that has been crippled by injuries. In addition to Achara and those injured in the shootings, Almamy Thiero underwent knee surgery in the preseason, while Phillip Fayne had a bout with mononucleosis.

* * *

The first televised game in Pittsburgh basketball history was between Duquesne and St. Bonaventure on Feb. 11, 1952 from Duquesne Gardens. The Dukes and Bonnies were the only unbeaten teams in the nation at the time. The game was aired by WDTV (now KDKA) with Ray Scott handling the play-by-play.

Unfortunately, Mr. Scott was unavailable to do this game, so there will be no live TV for the contest.


BlueGoldNews Top Stories