Every year, it seems an unexpected team overachieves in the Atlantic 10. Charlotte did it in 2012-13 while LaSalle did it the year before. In 2008-09, Duquesne surprised everyone and I think the Dukes have a chance of doing it again this season by following a model similar to Charlotte’s team last year. While I’m not expecting it, I see a number of similarities and enough talent for the Dukes to out perform expectations.
Have a Cupcake Out of Conference Schedule
Last year, the 49ers played three tough games against Davidson, Miami and Florida St. They designed the rest of their out of conference schedule to pad the win column with 5 games against teams with an RPI of 250 or higher. I think the easy out of conference schedule for Charlotte, which included nine home games, helped the team gel and find the combinations that worked best for them. This year the Dukes play only four teams who might finish in the top 100 RPI and seven who will likely finish above 250.
Play One Side of the Ball Well to Make Up For A Weakness
Charlotte overcame the 223rd best offensive efficiency rating in the country last year with the 116th best defensive efficiency and 104th effective shooting percentage. Further, their 2 – point shooting defense ranked 85th. Charlotte were not a great defensive team, but they made opponents somewhat one dimensional and neutralized their scoring issues. Duquesne could follow the opposite path where they use a strong scoring offense to offset their likely defensive woes. I actually think the Dukes offense – defense discrepancy could turn out greater than Charlotte especially with Micah Mason available. Still, the Dukes could blow the doors off a team that has one of those days where they just can’t find the net like St Louis did at the AJP last year.
The Under Appreciated Sophomore Floor General
At the beginning of last season, I didn’t give much thought to Pierria Henry. Many expect Colter to score but at the high volume shooting rates he took last year thus depleting his efficiency. Like Henry, Colter doesn’t need to carry the Dukes scoring, but he should provide a more well rounded offensive output than Henry. On the other hand, Henry plays much better defense and has great size at point guard. I wouldn’t call the players similar in terms of their makeup, but they are similar in that both teams are built around their young point guard.
Unexpected Contributor in the Post
Last year, Charlotte got an unexpected contribution from Willie Clayton who produced at a solid rate at both ends even if no one knew his name prior to the season. The Dukes could have a similar newcomer in the post with Dominique McKoy. While McKoy spent a year at Rhode Island and in junior college, he provides a similar body type and nose for rebounds. Clayton played a big role in the 49ers successful post defense, but the jury hasn’t returned the verdict on McKoy in that department just yet. Still, McKoy could provide value above what people expect from him like Clayton did. If he does, the Dukes could overachieve.
The Veteran Post Player
The Dukes have Ovie Soko while the 49ers had Chris Braswell. Ironically, the 49ers played well in spite of a disappointing season from their senior big man with Braswell averaging fewer points and rebounds per game than he did as a junior. Soko provides a huge boost to the Dukes in the post and I think you could conceivably project him statistically at a level near where fans expected Braswell to produce. If Soko does his job, the Dukes maximize their chances to overachieve.
Win Your Coin Flips and Steal Some Others At Home
Last year, Charlotte held serve at home against Davidson, LaSalle, UMass, Xavier, and Richmond while winning the games they were supposed to win on the road against Duquesne and Rhode Island. They even pulled off an upset against Butler.
If the Dukes overachieve, the home games against Robert Morris, Penn St, Dayton, Richmond, George Mason and maybe UMass become coin flips. They’d need to win five of these games to go as far as Charlotte.
Sometimes, teams aren’t as good as their record indicates and last year’s Charlotte team seems like a fantastic example. I think we’ll see regression from Charlotte in spite of them stepping down to a much weaker conference and returning a number of key contributors. If we don’t, maybe I gave them too little credit for what they accomplished last year. I don’t expect the Dukes will match their success to the extreme that the 49ers did but they could have a better record than their talent would predict. Should the Dukes overachieve, I suspect they’ll follow a similar formula. If they have luck on their side and everything starts to go right, Duquense has some very dangerous offensive players who should neutralize their weaknesses with scoring to win games they have no business winning while taking advantage of their tailor made cupcake OOC schedule.
They have pieces for the formula. It’s just a matter of doing it.