Preview: West Virginia - Duquesne

West Virginia and Duquesne are off to good starts in the 2007-08 season, but one of them will take a hit when they square off in Morgantown, W. Va., on Saturday evening.


Duquesne has been through a difficult year after seeing several of its players wounded in an on-campus shooting incident and another declared ineligible. However, head coach Ron Everhart has guided the program through its most turbulent era ever to forge a solid team for the current season.

Duquesne's unique five-man substitution pattern (Everhart routinely puts an entirely new team on the floor when he subs in, and does it every two or three minutes) also extends to the starting lineup. Ten different Dukes have started at least one game this season, as Everhart rotates his players and groupings to best attack his opponent.

The Dukes have usually been a guard/forward-oriented team, but this year's squad has interior play which makes them a very balanced squad. Transfer center Shawn James (6-10, 225 lbs.) has recorded a nation's best 42 blocked shots per game while anchoring the lane, but that is by no means his only contribution. He is second on the team in scoring at 14.0 points per game, and also pulls down eight boards per contest. Those numbers are even more impressive given that he averages just 26 minutes per outing. He is an excellent free throw shooter as well, having canned 19 of his 23 tries. Kieron Achara (6-10, 240 lbs.) is an underrated frontcourt player who has done damage to the Mountaineers in past games. The lanky graduate student is averaging 13.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest.

Providing support in the frontcourt are freshmen Damian Saunders and David Theis. Saunders (6-7, 205 lbs.), who would likely be receiving much more notice if not for the splashy debut of James, averages 8.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, and is second on team in both blocks and steals. Theis (6-8, 215 lbs.) has not been much of an offensive threat to date, but does provide minutes of rest for James and Achara.

In the backcourt, Aaron Jackson handles much of the playmaking duties. Jackson (6-4, 180 lbs.) is just short of a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and chips in with 8.1 points and almost two steals per game. He is joined by senior Gary Tucker (6-1, 185 lbs.) who averages 9.3 points per game and also directs the attack from the point.

The other half of Duquesne's star newcomer duo is Kojo Mensah, who has stepped in to lead the team with 15.4 points per contest. Mensah (6-1, 180 lbs.) excels at getting to the free throw line, where he averages nearly six of his 15 points per contest. He is an aggressive player who forces the action and makes defenders commit to him every time he has the ball. Swingman Bill Clark (6-5, 205 lbs.) averages a healthy 10.1 points and 6.0 rebounds despite playing less than half of each game, and is the team's best three-point shooter.

Rounding out the Duquesne top ten are Jason Duty (6-0, 170 lbs.) and Phillip Fayne (6-3, 220 lbs.). Neither is a big scorer, but like Theis, each fills important roles in the Dukes' frenetic style of play. Both average more than ten minutes per outing and don't have any significant weaknesses that can be exploited in their time on the floor.


One game after holding one of its few depth advantages of the season, West Virginia will again be on the short end of that matchup against the Dukes.
Game Info
Sat Dec 8
7:00 p.m.

WVU Coliseum
WVU 6-1, 0-0
DU 6-2, 0-0
WVU 46-36
Sirius Channel: 140
WVU - 58
DU - 37
With seven players averaging at least eight points per game, and eight logging at least ten minutes per outing, Duquesne seeks to relentlessly wear down its opposition. While West Virginia certainly wants to push the tempo as well (a common sight so far this year has been head coach Bob Huggins windmilling his arms as a signal to push the ball upcourt), the Mountaineers will have to be careful to not get into a racehorse game with the Dukes. When the Mountaineers have struggled offensively this year, it has usually been when shots have been taken too quickly. So, while WVU does want to attack in transition, it also needs to balance that with patience when it sets up in the half court.

West Virginia will also need to attack shot blocker Shawn James in the lane. That doesn't mean WVU should force the ball inside and dare him to block shots. However, when the Mountaineers do have the chance to drive the ball, they need to take it right at James and not allow him to extend his arms and jump from a position off the ball. Shotblockers get many of their blocks by leaving their own men and going for the block after a shooter has already committed to taking the shot. And since the shotblocker isn't close to the shooter to start with, fouls are less likely.

The Mountaineers could also neutralize James by shooting well from the perimeter, which would force him away from the basket if the Dukes are in man-to-man defense. It could also utilize a high post offense, with Joe Alexander sliding around the key, and force James to get out of the middle of the lane to defend him. Alexander's excellent midrange shooting could make James venture further from the hoop and open some space for backdoor cuts and baseline drives as well.

Finally, WVU won't be able to focus on stopping one or two players in this game. Duquesne's well-balanced scoring allows it to run its offense without favoring one player over another, and to take advantage of any defensive lapses or weaknesses in its foes. West Virginia will have to guard its opponents straight up in the game, and can't afford to cheat off one player to give help with another.


WVU: Cam Thoroughman (Knee) Probable

DU: None reported


WVU leads the country in field goal percentage defense (32.4) and scoring margin (31.3). While the scoring margin will certainly come down as the season progresses, that's not a vital stat that signals the success or failure of West Virginia. Field goal percentage defense and scoring defense (WVU is tenth in that metric), on the other hand, are. If West Virginia can hold foes around the 40% mark all year, it will be NCAA-bound.

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After being one of the worst defensive teams in the nation a year ago, Duquesne has made a major turnaround in that department this year. The Dukes held their first seven opponents under 38% shooting from the field, and sport a 35.3% defensive field goal percentage on the season.

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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.

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No Duquesne player has ever recorded a triple-double. Newcomers Shawn James (4) and Kojo Mensah (1) combined for five in 95 career games entering 2007-08. The transfers (James played at Northeastern and Mensah at Siena) have provided a huge boost to the Dukes' fortunes after sitting out a year ago. James' four triple-doubles are two shy of the NCAA career mark of six shared by Drexel's Michael Anderson (1985-88) and LSU's Shaquille O'Neal (1990-92).

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The ties between Duquesne and West Virginia are strong ones. In addition to playing at least once for the past 35 seasons, the coaches, both past and present, are also intertwined. Former Duquesne coach Danny Nee was spotted at the Coliseum at a recent WVU game. He has reportedly been doing scouting for professional leagues. Current Duquesne head coach Ron Everhart is a native of Fairmont. And Bob Huggins most famous dustup as a player came against the Dukes, when he decked Duquesne guard B.B. Flenory at the WVU Coliseum.

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