This time last week, Duquesne fans were dreaming big heading into their home game against Davidson. The Dukes had finished the first half of their Atlantic 10 season at 5-4, winning the games they were supposed to win and pretty much all of the coin flips to boot. They were riding high on a three game winning streak against the bottom of the conference and people were talking 20 wins, the NCAA sanctioned NIT, and a potential deep run in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Then they had the wind knocked out of them by a frustrating loss to Davidson and a heartbreaker on the road at Dayton.
By losing to the Davidson, the Dukes failed to convert their first roughly 50 / 50 game since Pepperdine, a rare string of good luck for a program generally devoid of it. Of course, a win at the UD arena would have more than made up for it. However, the conversation for the NIT or 20 wins really shouldn’t have begun until after they beat the Wildcats or split with the Flyers. Why? Because the opportunities get fewer and further between if they hit the skids.
Before I go on, I actually think the Dukes will have had a very good season even if they only win a few more games this season. They would have exceeded the top end of what I felt were reasonable, though not exciting, preseason expectations (15-17 wins). Don’t get me wrong, it would be frustrating to see them not take advantage of an opportunity for more, but unlike others I see it as portending better in the future. Maybe not the immediate future, but the longer term for sure.
Back to the here and now. What would it take for the Dukes to at least be in the conversation for the NIT?
Exactly what it would have taken a week ago — five wins. The Dukes will need an RPI in the mid-seventies to make it happen and they sit at 104 as I write this. The problem is, the Dukes have two fewer games to get there. Even though stealing one in Dayton was in striking distance, that was a very likely loss and all else being equal, it probably doesn’t impact their chances much aside from taking one potential upset off the books as they would have likely had to split the remaining nine anyway. The Davidson loss did hurt, however, and Duquesne will need to find a game to make up for it. Right now, they’re looking at having to go 5-2 the rest of the way and one game over the final seven is difficult.
Let’s start with the good news. The Dukes play two likely bottom five teams in Fordham and UMass among their four remaining home games. That’s pretty much it for the good news, as three of the four home games are virtual must-wins. They also play an underachieving Richmond unit at the AJ Palumbo Center. As a program, the Spiders have clearly been more successful than Duquesne over the last ten years, but based on their head-to-head record, you would think they’re UNC – Chapel Hill playing UNC – Asheville. If history repeats itself, the Dukes need to make up for it on the road, making the task all that much more difficult.
That brings us to the final home game for discussion against George Washington. This is a must win for the sake of resume building. Without it, the Dukes could be easily dismissed by virtue of their success against fluff. That said, the Dukes have done well to get to 15 wins by beating pretty much everyone they were supposed to beat, as well as most of the evenly matched teams. However, their best win is over St. Bonaventure, a fringe top 50 team. Duquesne fans should be Penn St. fans the rest of the way as they could easily find themselves firmly in the top 100 with a nice conference upset. Those two wins and the 200+ RPI padding would serve as a base, but it’s not enough. GW provides a solid, safe top 50 win who they could reasonably beat at home. If the Dukes lose it, the final game against St. Joe’s becomes a must win and that is a considerably more difficult prospect.
Even if the Dukes can sweep at home, they still need one road win to get them to five wins. St. Joe’s, while difficult, would be the best as they already have the highest RPI and the Dukes wouldn’t be potentially damaging the value of an earlier win like they would against the Bonnies in Olean. Rhode Island could be fine, but dropping a home game against Duquesne would greatly damage their chances of later becoming a quality win. While winning that game would mean a lot towards conference tournament seeding, it’s not as valuable as the other two road games if you only get to pick one. Of course, if they feel compelled, I have no problems winning all of the remaining road games.
The Dukes’ work is likely not done in the regular season even if they win five, as they may need to avoid a bad first round loss that could damage the resume. Overall, ten league wins should put them somewhere in the 6-8 range in Brooklyn, which means they would either play a bottom four team or a team that just escapes the first round. While that game won’t help the resume much, it can certainly hurt it. While it’s not a fail safe tool, RPIForecast’s RPI Wizard at least gives a solid guess of where the above scenario would put Duquesne. Assuming a home sweep, one road win and a win vs a bottom five school, the Dukes RPI would fit somewhere around 78 range. No guarantee but with SMU and Louisville already sitting the post season out and a solid showing from regular season conference championship in their respective tournaments, the Dukes would easily be part of the dialogue. Find a seventh win and the Dukes would very likely be in.
The CBI and the new Vegas 16 feel pretty likely. Really, the Dukes wouldn’t need more than three total wins to get in there and in my opinion, fewer than three would be a disappointment where they stand now. Not ideal finishes and not where we want to see the program go. However, 18 wins and any postseason tournament would be a big step forward.
When you add up everything that needs to happen for the Dukes reach the NIT this year, it’s a very, very tall task. I wouldn’t expect it and honestly, I think their chances of getting there are about 10%. That might even be a touch optimistic. Of course, I’d have said the same thing two weeks into February of 2009. Anything can happen and the Dukes have given themselves a chance, albeit a small one.