Dukes' tough stretch starts against VCU
Guard Jeremiah Jones and the Duquesne Dukes begin the toughest part of their schedule tonight against Virginia Commonwealth at Consol Energy Center.
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Duquesne is in the midst of a five-game losing streak and has lost six of its past seven games. That's clearly not a good sign considering the Dukes are about to embark on the toughest part of their schedule.
Making it worse for the Dukes (7-10, 0-3 Atlantic 10) is the stretch of tough games begins tonight against No. 22 Virginia Commonwealth (15-3, 3-0) at Consol Energy Center.
The Rams are not just one of the hottest teams in the Atlantic 10, they are one of the hottest teams in the country.
VCU has won 12 games in a row after starting the season 3-3 and that is the second-longest active winning streak in the country. And the Rams, who are in their first year as Atlantic 10 members, are ranked for the first time in school history.
The Rams also have become one of the darlings of the nation since the 2011 NCAA tournament when they made their improbable run from the "First Four" to the "Final Four."
The Rams also became a fan favorite because their coach, Shaka Smart, is energetic, somewhat hip and very charismatic and is considered one of the best young coaches in the game.
Along with that, the Rams play a style of full-court basketball that Smart calls "Havoc," and their defensive pressure has made even some of the best teams in the nation melt down at times.
VCU began the week ranked No. 1 in Division I in steals per game (13.2) and turnover margin (plus-8.6), and that is a direct result of pressuring opponents the entire length of the court.
Matchup: No. 22 VCU (15-3, 3-0 Atlantic 10) vs. Duquesne (7-10, 0-3), 7 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
Duquesne: Is on a five-game losing streak and has lost six of its past seven. ... Has never played VCU. ... Will play four games at Consol Energy this season. ... This is first game against a ranked opponent this season. ... Despite overall struggles, has won five of past six home games.
VCU: Has won 12 in a row, the second-longest active winning streak in Division I. ... Played in the 2011 Final Four. ... Is in first year as member of the Atlantic 10. ... Is ranked in AP poll for first time. ... Have only given up 70 or more points once this season.
Hidden stat: The Rams lead Division I in steals per game (13.6) and turnover margin (plus-8.6).
Furthermore, the Rams have won 11 of their past 12 road games.
All these things made VCU a good choice for the Dukes to play at the Consol Energy Center instead of the on-campus Palumbo Center.
The flip side is the Dukes will have their hands full.
The Rams have lost three games, all against ranked teams -- Duke, Missouri and Wichita State -- by a combined total of 14 points. They have yielded 70 points or more once -- in their previous game, a 92-86 win Thursday against St. Joseph's.
This is the third of four featured games at Consol Energy Center for the Dukes, who played there against Pitt and West Virginia. They also will play Xavier there Feb. 9. The results have been mixed.
Pitt hammered Duquesne, 66-45, but the Dukes came back six days later and played what likely has been their best game this season to upset the Mountaineers, 60-56.
The West Virginia game also marked the Dukes' fourth win in a five-game span. It seemed as if things were turning around and the Dukes were finding their stride, but they have won one game since and lost four of those ensuing six by double-digit totals.
Duquesne fell behind by as many as 17 in its previous game against Massachusetts before battling back within three. It was not enough as the Dukes fell, 79-66, to the Minutemen despite a career-high 29 points from senior Sean Johnson.
The Dukes will need a similar performance tonight from Johnson, but they also will need to play much better defensively than they recently have. Duquesne has surrendered 74 or more points in its past six losses, and in four of those six, they allowed 80 or more.
After VCU, Duquesne faces an eight-game stretch that includes Dayton, Xavier, Temple and Butler -- four of the top teams in the Atlantic 10. Three of those will be on the road, where the Dukes have lost five in a row.
First Published January 19, 2013 12:00 am