(N.B.: see yesterday's post entitled Paper Tigers for more on Xavier's opponent.)
Duquesne gets the job done with a defense that is exceptional at forcing the opposing team into empty possessions and an offense that feeds off of it. The Dukes force turnovers on 28.5% of their defensive possessions, a mark that leads the nation. Their steal percentage of 13.7% is good for fifth in the country. Their adjusted tempo (a metric that measures how many possessions a team gets per 40 minutes and then factors in opponents' playing styles and other... factors) in 18th fastest in the country, and they average right about 73 possessions per game. Clearly, this is a team that likes to get out and go and force that pace upon their opponents.
Like an insecure man with a big truck, Duquesne does this to compensate for a serious deficiency in size. Duquesne's effective height is 314th in the country; their bigs play almost three inches shorter than national average. Their tallest reserves (ignoring injury-plagued Rodrigo Peggau) are 6' 6" forwards Andre Marhold and Joel Wright, who combine to average 19 mostly forgettable minutes per game. Duquesne is also relatively thin, getting fewer than 30% of their minutes off the bench. Duquesne rebounds fairly well on the offensive end, hovering right around 100th in the nation in offensive rebound percentage. They experience no such success on the other end; allowing an offensive rebound on 38% of opponents' shots places them at 330th in the country.
For such a small team, Duquesne is paradoxically good at blocking shots. They send back 15% of their opponents two-point attempts, a mark good for 12th in the nation. Should you be able to maintain possession long enough to shoot, the Dukes are just a notch above average defensively. Their 3P% surrendered of .323 is 82nd in the country, and the 2P% given up of .457 is 99th.
Offensively, Duquesne is a perimeter-oriented team with exceptional ball movement. They are first in the nation in assists per game and fourth in assists per made bucket. They are also not shy about lifting from outside, having attempted 491 on the year to Xavier's 383. Three-point attempts account for 37% of their field goal attempts (70th highest nationally) and 30.3% of their points (93rd). They are 274th in the country in percentage of points scored inside the arc.
Duquesne's best player is 6'5" senior Bill Clark. The swingman goes for 18-7-3 on .500/.406/.764 shooting and adds a steal and a half per game. When he is on the floor, Clark accounts for a quarter of all Duquesne field goal attempts. Clark is also the Dukes' most frequent threat from outside, having attempted and made almost twice as many three-point baskets as any teammate. Damian Saunders, a 6'7" senior, is Duquesne's most effective post player. He gets 13-8-3 on .505/.326/.537 shooting, and has attempted 43 threes on the year. He is also something of a whirlwind defensively, averaging 2.2 steals and 2.8 blocks per game. Swingman BJ Monterio gets 12-5-3 on .483/.476/.384 shooting and also adds more than a steal and a block per game. Guard TJ McConnell rounds out the Dukes' double-digit scorers with 11-4-5 on .522/.418/.690 and grabs almost three steals per game.
In all, Duquesne is a team built around speed and defensive pressure while Xavier is constructed to methodically pull teams apart. The Muskies must feel that their size gives them a huge matchup advantage over Duquesne, just as Duquesne probably feels like their speed matches up favorably to Xavier. This game is going to come down to who can force the matchups to work in their favor. If it becomes a track meet, the fact the X has four regular players taller than the tallest healthy player on Duquesne's roster is irrelevant. If the pace is more controlled, Duquesne's defensive speed and savvy are only so much cannon fodder for Big Kenny, Jamel McLean, et al.
Keys to the game:
-Controlling the basketball: Duquesne's defense is effective in large part because only about 70% of their opponents' possessions end in a shot. If X can keep turnovers down, they can crack the Dukes' undersized defense. This has the added benefit of forcing Duquesne to play X's pace. Duquesne plays with the 23rd fastest tempo in the nation; X is 208th.
-Moving the defense: Nobody in the nation gets more assists per game than Duquesne, and only two teams assist higher percentages of their made baskets. The Dukes' offense is built on movement of both man and ball; Xavier has to stay alert and shut down the scoring passes.
-Feed the beast(s): Early in the season, both Tu and Cheek (noted in this piece by Shannon Russell) had a tendency to try to take on the game from the word go. As the year has gone on, Tu has taken the habit of letting the other team wear out before taking over in the second half, and Cheek has stopped shooting every time he touches the ball. Patience in the half-court from both of those guys will be key tomorrow, as Kenny and McLean both have the size to make life very miserable for Duquesne.
-Duquesne is coming off their first setback of the conference season, and will be eager to prove themselves at home. The winner of this game will open up a one-game lead in the conference and hold tie-breakers against all of the other contenders (except for Richmond, in Duquesne's case), so there's no question both teams will be fired up. Xavier is coming off of a big win at Georgia that will have no doubt repaired their confidence at the loss to Charlotte. If X executes and controls the ball, they should win here. I give this one a 2.5.