Today, I’ll continue to break down Duquesne’s 2018-19 schedule and put their Atlantic 10 games into five buckets based on how likely I think the Dukes are to win them.
Before I get into that, I just want to shout from my soapbox how bad I think the Atlantic 10 will be again this year by its usual standards. I don’t see a top end team or a flagship program that can earn an at-large bid meaning the Atlantic 10 will likely join the ranks of the one bid leagues for the first time since 2004-05. Only two or three teams have an outside shot at defying that, but they will need to inflate their RPI with their non – conference schedule and avoid resume killing losses in conference play to a gauntlet of schools that look like border line top 100 RPI programs. As I write this, the league has already lost a number of games to schools with preseason Kenpom rankings over a hundred including two by the projected fourth place team, George Mason, to current 145 Penn and to 204 AmericanWhy is the Atlantic 10 in such rough shape? I could and probably will write a entire piece on it, but it likely stems from years of coaching turnover. The best teams in the Atlantic 10 had their elite coaches swallowed up by elite programs while a number of other schools are still recovering from controversy or poor choices for the previous coach.
Back to Duquesne. In case you missed it, check out yesterday’s piece on the non – conference schedule. If you’re only interested in my league projections here’s how this rundown works. At the bookends are Upsets if the Dukes Win or Lose. These are games that reasonably should not be competitive one way or the other and while one or two undoubtably will not go according to plan, they go into the projection assuming the favorite will take care of business every time. From easiest to most difficult, the remaining games are Game the Dukes Should Win, where I expect them to emerge victorious about 60-84% of the time, Coin Flips, where the Duquesne matchup pretty evenly and should win 40-59% of those opportunities. Finally, comes the Tough but Winnable where the Dukes should take 16% – 39% of them.
Upsets if the Dukes Lose (>85% chance of winning)
vs. Fordham, vs. George Washington
As the Dukes progress under Keith Dambrot, we’ll see more and more games slot into this category. With the uncertainty that comes with adding 10 new players, I’m not ready to expand this group just yet. It’s also worth noting that I expect the bottom end of the conference to be stronger than it was in 2004-05 when the Atlantic 10 last failed to send multiple teams to the NCAA tournament. There were 2 teams with 300+ RPIs that year and the Dukes came in in the 280’s. I don’t think anyone will finish the season with an RPI higher than 275. George Washington is still reeling from Mike Lonergan’s shock firing and resulting transfers. Last year, they had Yuta Wantanabe to help carry them and while they still have some fine Atlantic 10 pieces, I don’t see a complete unit. Fordham’s in a similar situation to the Dukes in that they’ll be integrating a ton of new pieces. The Rams, however, will rely almost entirely on freshmen to get the job done as their returning players are underwhelming with a couple of exceptions.
Games the Dukes Should Win (60-85% chance of winning)
vs. Saint Bonaventure, @ Fordham, vs. Dayton, @ George Washington,
At the old WWTR and Yuku blog, I always ran afoul with St. Bonaventure fans for not giving their program enough credit preseason. I’ve been high on them the last few years, but losing your entire back court including two of the league’s best players in one shot rarely screams smooth transition. They have a couple of strong freshmen, UNLV transfer Jalen Poyser, and an all around beast in Courtney Stockard, but I think they will be matched closely enough to the Dukes where the home team is a least a slight favorite. I’m not buying Dayton just yet and the Dukes have beaten better battalions of Flyers with less talent at home. This is a return double and the final game before the regular season. Chemistry issues the Dukes face will be well out the window.
Coin Flips (40-59% chance of winning)
vs. VCU, vs URI, @ La Salle, @ St Bonaventure, vs UMass
There isn’t a lot of separation in the middle of the Atlantic 10 and the Dukes fit right into the middle of the middle in my estimation. That leads to a bunch of coin flips. It feels weird putting VCU into the coin flips category, but they have a ton of question marks. Isaac Vann should step forward and Marcus Evans who was a beast at Rice should slot in nicely in the Atlantic 10. Mike Rhoades will have the Rams heading in the right direction soon enough, but they’re still some way from a championship contender even in a down league. URI will be entering their first post Hurley season and while they have quite a bit of talent coming back, I expect they’ll have some growing pains in their transition. La Salle might be with the “Upset if the Dukes Lose” if the game were at the AJ Palumbo Center. It’s not and while I don’t think they’re very good, I do think they have a couple of good players capable of carrying them at times. UMass is basically Duquesne’s mirror team with a couple of really good returning players, skilled transfers and a deep freshman class. The Minutemen are a little more experienced in the post which keeps this home game in the coin flip category.
Tough but Winnable (16-39% chance of winning)
vs St. Jospeh’s, vs. Saint Louis @ Richmond, @ Dayton, @ George Mason
St Joe’s had a perfect storm of crap luck in 2017-18 where almost everything that went wrong did. The Hawks are healthy and might end up winning an Atlantic 10 championship. Saint Louis has followed a path under Travis Ford similar to the one Dambrot took at Duquesne. His first year, they loaded up on transfers and basically punted. His second year, they brought in the best freshmen they could. Theoretically, this year should be the pay – off, but a sexual assault scandal and resulting departures of likely key pieces threw a wrench into the works. To replace those players, Ford brought in a couple of grad transfers and will rely on natural development to step forward. I don’t think they’re the best team in the league as preseason polls indicate, but I do think they will move up the pecking order. The Hawks and Billikens are two of the top teams in the league, but I think the Dukes have a good shot against anyone in the league at home.
Richmond lost De’Monte Buckingham and Kwan Fore, but they still have a lot of talent back from a team that grew as the 2017-18 season progressed. I don’t think they’ll be much better than .500 in the league but they shouldn’t carry the albatross of very bad non – conference results into league play. Of course losing to 300+ teams like Longwood in your season opener is never a good look. George Mason lost almost nothing from last year’s competitive team while adding Virginia transfer Jarred Rueter into the mix. This will be the Patriots best team since joining the Atlantic 10, but the Dukes have had lots of success in Fairfax over the years keeping this one out of the upset category.
Upsets if the Dukes Win (1-15% chance of winnings)
@ Davidson, @ Saint Louis
Last but not least are my favorites to win the league, Davidson. The Wildcats have the most stability of any top program in the league and possibly the best player in sophomore Kellan Grady joining a strong supporting cast. This one will be on par with the Notre Dame game in terms of difficulty.
I’ll put a bow on this series tomorrow with my official projections and why this season is so difficult to predict.