Recently I read a book, The City Game, about the college basketball point-shaving scandal that occurred in New York City during the late 40s and early 50s. To summarize quickly, a handful of low-level “union reps” infiltrated several college campuses around NYC, including St. John’s, NYU, Long Island U and CCNY, with the sole purpose of soliciting cooperation from players to shave points during games. At the time, shaving points wasn’t necessarily seen as an affront to virtue. If a gambler offered you a thousand dollars to ensure your team didn’t cover the spread but still came out ahead, well who’s really the victim? The team still won and everyone got to wet their beaks a little bit, no harm, no foul.
That was until a player on Manhattan College exposed the point-shaving ring to the feds. With names and evidence in hand, the entire operation blew up and everyone involved was in a race to rat each other out. During the time, the biggest program in the nation, believe it or not, was the City College of New York. The CCNY Beavers had recently won both the NIT and NCAA tournament (back then you could play in both) and the school’s players had become local celebrities, they were all over the city: wining, dining and 69ing. So when the entire starting five of that championship team was implicated and later indicted, it was shock to the entire college basketball structure. One of the players that shaved points on that CCNY team was a little rascally fella named Irwin Dambrot.
If that surname seems familiar, it should. Keith Dambrot, Irwin’s nephew, is the current coach of the Duquesne University Dukes. This season the Dukes are 10-15 against the spread, that’s a mere 40% cover rate on the season. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
Keith Dambrot has the program rolling in the right direction. Duquesne’s 18-7 record is the school’s best through 25 games since 1971-72. The Dukes are holding opponents to 64.3 points per game – the lowest opponent average in 58 years. Duquesne ranks 9th nationally – and first in the A-10 – in blocks per game at 5.76. DU is fifth in the nation in block percentage (16.1 according to KenPom). Given these facts, it goes without saying that the Dukes are a defensive-minded squad, one that relies on turnovers and rebounding to gain an edge.
While Duquesne came up a little short against the Dayton the first time around, the Dukes outrebounded the Flyers and caused UD to turn the ball over 17 times. On most nights in the A10, particularly at home, this would lead to a victory. Unfortunately for Dambrot’s squad, the 2019-20 Dayton Flyers are not most teams.
Marcus Weathers and Michael Hughes, the Dukes’ main bigs, had stellar games against UD the first time around. Weathers put up a 17pt/8reb effort against the Flyers, while Hughes led Duquesne with 19 points and added seven boards. The X factor in the Dayton game was the play of Sincere Carry. Carry, the team’s second leading scorer, simply could not get untracked from behind the arc — shooting 2-of-10 from three. A ghastly, simply unforgiveable performance from Carry, how he sleeps at night is anyone’s guess. Tavian Dunn-Martin, one of the more offensively schizophrenic players in the Atlantic Ten, had a capital night, capital!, against UD back in January. TDM knocked down some key threes and snatched up four steals in the losing effort.
The best word to describe Duquesne is pesky. They do nothing flashy, they’re simply a rough and tumble team that wants to force you into the muck with them. The Dukes remind me of Sgt. Thomas Hardy (Duquesne basketball) from the movie Striking Distance. Hardy, a former alcoholic, is a down on his luck cop just trying to piece his life back together again. When he is teamed up with a new partner, a vivacious woman named Jo Christman (Keith Dambrot), he reclaims his can-do attitude and slowly reclaims his reputation on the Pittsburgh police force. (He is assigned to boat duty on the Allegheny River, a shitty beat that is an obvious metaphor for the Atlantic Ten itself).
For these previews against teams Dayton is playing twice, the second time around I have tried to find something to drill down on rather than give the general overview of the stats of a team I provide before the first match-up. In the first game against Duquesne, the Flyers seemed to be cruising to an easy victory in Pittsburgh. With 13:11 left in the second half, Obi Toppin threw down a dunk to extend Dayton’s lead to 19. Fast forward 7 minutes in game play and the Dukes had cut the lead to 4 after a Michael Hughes three. Duquesne would get as close as within three points and the Flyers would hold on, but the scare the Dukes provided the Flyers is certainly worth deconstructing.
The Michael Hughes three may have been only the third shot from deep the Duquesne big man had hit at that point of the season, but the near comeback was largely thanks to the inspired play from the 6’8” junior. Hughes finished the game with 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals but in the 13:11 after that Toppin dunk, Hughes scored 14 points, pulled down 4 rebounds (including 3 offensive rebounds), and had one steal. The Duquesne forward was ultra-efficient the entire game against Dayton, averaging 1.36 points per possession—the highest of any Duquesne player that game. With his rebounding ability, efficient shooting, and defensive prowess, Hughes is certainly the type of player that has given Dayton issues all year.
We all know a weakness of the Flyers this season is conceding offensive rebounds. While Duquesne as a team are pulling down a slightly above average 29.7% offensive rebound rate, they are scoring an efficient 1.19 points per possession on those opportunities. Michael Hughes himself has corralled an offensive rebound on 9.6% of opportunities and scored 1.5 points per possession on those offensive rebounds. Duquesne teammate Marcus Weathers has an impressive 11.6% offensive rebound rate and scores 1.23 points per possession as well, so clearly Duquesne is successfully able to turn second chance opportunities into points. We saw Dayton make a clear effort to keep Saint Louis off the boards in their second match-up of the season and they were largely able to do so. A similar effort will be needed to not let Michael Hughes and company do the same Saturday.
Even when he isn’t pulling down offensive rebounds, Michael Hughes is the best finisher at the rim for Duquesne. On shots at the rim this season, Hughes has scored on 72% of those attempts and averages 1.43 points per shot at the rim. He is most efficient when he is trying to score off of cuts, scoring 1.38 points per possession on these plays and making up 22.4% of his possessions. Despite his size, Hughes uses his athleticism well to create offense.
When he isn’t working off of cuts, Hughes is likely trying to post up the opposition. This season 47% of Hughes possessions have resulted in post-up attempts, the second highest in the A10. They aren’t necessarily efficient, only averaging 0.89 points per possession on those post ups. He does however have a 44.5% free throw to field goal attempt rate, so he is able to draw plenty of fouls when posting up. If Dayton can stay in front of Hughes, contest his post up chances without fouling, and keep him off the glass then they have a good chance of neutralizing him after he was so dangerous in the first match up. Finally, while Hughes hit 2 of 3 shots from the perimeter in the first game against Dayton, he only has hit 2 more threes from 12 other attempts the rest of the season. If Hughes decides to try and fire from deep instead of cutting to the hoop or posting up, it will likely be a good result for the Flyers.
I know what you’re thinking. A middling A10 team coming to the University of Dayton Arena during what has become the equinox of Flyer basketball? SLAUGHTER! Hye, don’t get too cocksure. While the Dukes do not have the offense to match UD bucket for bucket, they are certainly capable of imposing their style on the Flyers. The Dukes aren’t going to do anything unpredictable, they’re going to be aggressive defensively and on the glass. They’re going to block shots, they’re going to cause turnovers.
The key, of course, is whether Dambrot’s team can knock down shots. They will get points in the paint, that’s what they do — but if they shoot 33% from three again, it’ll mean Duquesne traveled 250 miles merely to be fodder for your Flyers. In order to beat UD, all four of the Dukes main cogs (Hughes, Carry, Weathers and TDM), have to be on their A game. In the Sweater Centre? The Decibel Dungeon? Not bloody likely. This game stays interesting until the middle of the second half, UD wins 73-64.
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