What needs to happen for the Dukes to get to Brooklyn

By Steve DiMiceli

Coming into the season, I think most Duquesne fans would have been satisfied with a trip to the Brooklyn in a year where league coaches and just about everyone else picked us to finish last in the Atlantic 10. While many of us have a dismal outlook after the last two road losses, a top 12 finish still is well within reach for the Dukes. In my estimation, it will take six wins to earn the last seed. Five victories could get it done but I suspect a messy tie break would need to point in the Dukes favor. Very likely, six would not leave it to chance. With the a favorable home schedule and softer than expected middle of the league, I think the Dukes have a better chance than some might suggest. So how do we get to six wins?

Win against Fordham 

It's strange to call the first game of the conference schedule a must win but the contest Wednesday at Fordham is just that. By a fairly wide margin, Fordham has looked like the worst team in the Atlantic 10 so far this season. Of course, you could rationalize their poor showing with the injury to Chris Gaston that kept him from the lineup for most of the out of conference schedule, but I don't buy it. Beyond Gaston, Brandon Frazier and a couple of other players,  the Rams lack the depth to compete with most A10 squads over a 16 games schedule. As a result they'll be an underdog in just about every league game this season, home or away. Fordham is truly the Dukes most winnable A-10 road game. Should they lose, they could conceivably go 0-8 on the road meaning they'd need to go 6-2 at home. Personally, I like their chances against Fordham in the Bronx lot better than their chances against St. Louis in Pittsburgh. If they want to get to the post season, this is a must win game.

Take 4 of 5 at home against George Washington, St Bonaventure, Xavier, Charlotte and Rhode Island

When I look around the A-10, I see a smoke and mirrors Charlotte team who are 12-2 thanks to terrible out of conference schedule, a Xavier team that has struggled on the road,  young GW and Rhode Island teams and an inconsistent St. Bonaventure team who have a similar record as the Dukes against a weaker schedule. When you include Duquesne and Fordham in that mix, the four teams whose seasons will end early should come from this group.

The Dukes have a unique advantage over all the other bottom tier A-10 sides in that all of the teams likely to finish between 10th and 15th will come to Pittsburgh for a game. Of the five mediocre teams mentioned above, Duquesne will have a home court advantage against each, a position of strength reserved for the Dukes. I can't expect us to run the table but winning 4 out of 5 against these teams at home could be reasonable and makes for a scenario where the Dukes would likely control a tie break. 

It's also worth noting that Duquesne who play St Bonaventure also have an easier home and away matchup than any of the other 4 teams not involved in that series. Charlotte play Temple twice, George Washington get Lasalle, Rhody gets New England foe UMass, and of course, Xavier meets their rival Dayton.

Pull off a true upset

If Dukes hold and win the five games I've already suggested they need to win, they could very well already be heading to Brooklyn. Pulling off an upset would seal the deal. In the Dukes three remaining home games, they are very likely to lose to VCU at the CEC. However, they face a much weaker than expected St Joe's team and a St Louis team still trying to get it's star healthy. On the road, the Dukes appear to be in a somewhat better position than expected against a St Bonaventure who have uncharacteristically struggled at times in Olean and could pick up an upset against Richmond who don't rebound or defend particularly well statistically. In recent history, the Dukes have overachieved at the University of Dayton Arena and we head to the Gem City around the time of the season when the Flyers tend to crap their pants badly at home. I don't think it's out of the question that the Dukes win one of those five games. Of course, if the Dukes fail to take care of business against the bottom of the A-10, I fail to see how they could pull off two upsets.

Get near all league performance from Sean Johnson

All this winning will need a catalyst and who better to provide it than the most experienced man on the team. Coming into the season, I expected Johnson to put his name in consideration for league awards and he's fallen well short in my estimation. If he can get in the same ballpark as the best in the league and the freshman can keep up their level of play, I think the Dukes make a run. Without Johnson playing the way he is capable and leading his team, I can't see the Dukes doing any of the above.

Heading into the Louisiana game, the Dukes were projected by TeamRankings.com as having a roughly 50/50 shot at making the A-10 tournament. In my opinion the last two games had little bearing on A-10 season even if they left us with a sour taste in our mouths. However, my personal expectation is about 40/60 as it has been since the beginning of the season. A lot of those must win home games are going to be coin flips for the Dukes and it's hard to win 4 of 5 coin flips and another on the road. Of course, Duquesne has shown strong at home with their only loss coming against North Dakota St and in close games. Crazier things have happened in college basketball, but the Dukes certainly have a lot in their favor and a good chance of taking Jim Ferry home to Brooklyn come March.