#17 Pittsburgh vs. Duquesne
Tip off: 7 PM EST, From Pittsburgh
Spread: PITT -6
Last season, Pittsburgh finished with an impressive 28-6 record, while going 15-3 in Big East play. They lost to the runner up Butler Bulldogs by a mere one point in the Round of 32. Their in conference defense was very stingy, as they gave up only 0.96 points per possession. That is a stat that is irrespective of pace; their defense was very good. The slow pace plus the efficient defense resulted in a lot of low totals, and many bettors were suckered in to betting the ‘over’ by looking at Pitt lines that just didn’t seem plausible.
Jamie Dixon has coached Pitt for 8 years now and has finished outside the nation’s top 25 in offensive efficienty only one season. He is great at getting the most out of his players and tailoring his offense to their strengths as players.
The slow pace is not the result of just walking the ball up and down the court, though. They are a strong offensive rebounding team and they get themselves a lot of extra possessions. Only Old Dominion gathered a higher percentage of their own misses in the Big East.
The briefly mentioned loss to Butler was a bizarre one. Both teams committed strange inexplicable fouls in the final seconds and a turnover with under 10 second to play sealed the fate for the Panthers. It was a heartbreaking game considering they could have put themselves up 3 or 4 points. They can only hope to suffer a better fate and bizarre finishes are somewhat willy nilly in how they hit teams.
So far, through 6 games, Pittsburgh is ranked 7th in the nation in assists per game. Travon Woodall is the big culprit there. The 5’11” waterbug point guard is averaging 8.5 assists per night, to go along with 15.0 points per game. He’s seeing 10 more minutes per game this season than last and has scored in double figures in all but the game against Pennsylvnia. He and the Panthers are 4-1, with their only loss being a 10 point shortfalling against Long Beach State.
Ashton Gibbs is playing even better this season than last. A three year starter now in his senior season, Gibbs posted 16.8 points per game last season, and 15.7 as a sophomore. So far this season, Gibbs is putting up 19.3 points per game, though he is shooting just 38% from the floor. Look for that figure to approach a figure much closer to the 46.8% he shot last season.
Last season the Duquesne Dukes finished with a 19-13 overall record and were 10-6 in A-10 play. They lost to Oregon by 2 points in the CBI quarterfinals. Such a season isn’t an outstanding success by any means, but it isn’t bad for a small program and all indications are that the team is stronger this year, and they showed it when they lost to #16 ranked Arizona by only 8. Save a poor showing against Valpariso, they have won every game or been in the only other loss.
The trend is encouraging for a team that already had the #1 defense in the A-10 last season. Last year, the Dukes gave up only 0.93 points per possession to conference opponents.
One problem though, is that that defense has graduated the best defender on the team in Damian Suanders, who won DPOY for the A-10 last season. They had a 28% turnover rate last season and it was mainly due to the fact that the Dukes closed down passing lanes and forced a lot of bad passes.
They return their key backcourt players from last season: A-10 All-Freshman performer T.J. McConnell, Sean Johnson, Mike Talley, and 2010 starting PG Eric Evans, who missed last season with a foot injury. So far, the only of those backcourt players not averaging double figures is Talley, who is seeing just under 20 minutes per game.
McConnell is at 11.5 points per game, while Johnson leads the team with 16.5 points per game, and Evans is putting up a third best 11.8 points per game.
Contributing to that Dukes’ offense which averages 79 points per game is also 6’5″ senior swing man B.J. Monteiro. Monteiro had a good season last year, putting up 11.4 points per game, but is even better this year at 15.2 points per contest. He’s been efficient, too, shooting 49.3% from the floor aand only turning it over 1.5 times per game. The five Dukes mentioned here will all have to play beyond their normal levels to give the Dukes a chance at knocking off a team like Pittsburgh, though.
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