The Dukes begin their tour of branch campuses Saturday against the UMass – Lowell Riverhawks newly of the America East Conference. Renowned for their 2013 Frozen Four Champion men’s hockey team, the Riverhawks have begun transitioning all of their sports programs to the NCAA’s top level this year.
The Riverhawks are still searching for their first win against a Division I men’s basketball competition and currently sit at 1-10 with their lone victory coming against Mount Ida College. “This isn’t going to be an easy transition [to Division I],” said head coach Pat Duquette following his team’s 78-39 loss at Columbia.
You can look at UMass-Lowell’s first year struggles in a variety of ways. First, the team’s offense has been woeful all season but particularly bad the last three games having failed to score more than fifty points against Columbia, NJIT and Vermont. All around, they have the 338th ranked effective shooting percentage due in large part to their inability to score inside. When they don’t score from three, they simply don’t score and while they can shoot free throws, they don’t generate a ton of fouls.
The second issue comes with their inability to stay in games after half time. They hit the locker rooms level with Michigan at 23 – 23 only to lose by twenty – seven points. They actually led by three to end the first half against St Bonaventure before the Bonnies outscored them by twelve in the second. Most recently, they were again up three at intermission in their Am-East debut against Vermont only to squander the lead and get dominated. Cumulatively, they haven’t fared poorly in the second, but in games where they had a chance, their fortunes turned later in the game.
UM-L plays very small leading to the Riverhawks getting badly outplayed in the post. Their tallest player averaging twenty or more minutes a game stands 6’5” and on top of that they have a similar sized backcourt to the Dukes. As a result, UM-L only gets about three out of five defensive misses and makes only about 40% of their two point baskets. Expect Duquette’s starting lineup to measure 6’5”, 6’5”, 6’2”. 5’10” and 5’10.”
The two tallest starters are Tyler Livingston and Kerry Weldon who average roughly four rebounds each per game. Although one of the tallest players on the floor, Livingston trolls the perimeter on offense with most of his shots coming from three point land. The Dukes will need to keep an eye on him as he has a better shooting percentage than any other Riverhawk. Weldon stays inside almost exclusively, but tends to get into foul trouble accumulating four or more in seven of their eleven games. Relatively speaking, the Riverhawks have their size on the bench. 6’6” Kennedy Chukwuocha and 6’7” Sacred Heart transfer Paris Massey play just under fifteen minutes a game.
It won’t happen often this year where Duquesne doesn’t find themselves on short end of the stick on the perimeter, but it will Saturday. What limited offense the Riverhawks do get comes mostly from their undersized corp of guards. 6’2” swing man DJ Mlachnik played with his Duquesne wing counterpart, Jeremiah Jones, at St John’s Northwestern Military Academy and averages nine points a game He’s UM-L’s second best three point shooter and really their only consistent player from beyond the arc aside from Livingston. Akeem Williams and Chad Holley dominate the offense averaging a combined twenty-four field goal attempts a game but they only convert around 35% from the floor and under 30% from three. No one on the Riverhawks roster has an assist to turnover ratio better than one besides reserve guard Mark Cornelius.
To their credit, UMass Lowell does play decent defense holding their opponents effective shooting percentage to 50.3% compared to Duquesne’s 54.2% ranking the Riverhawks an even 200 nationally. In spite of their lack of size in the back court, they defend the perimeter quite well placing them in the top 100 for opponents three point shooting percentage.
UMass – Lowell has seen massive success on the ice, but the rest of their programs have a long way to go. Duquesne will without a doubt serve as their marque home game and to dedicate the occasion, they’re playing at the 6,000 seat hockey arena, the Tsongas Center instead of their regular basketball gym. I suspect the folks in the UM-L athletic department may have expected a higher flying Duquesne squad rather than the one playing for .500.
- Micah Mason could return after participating in warmups the last two games. Doctors removed the cast over a week ago and the Highlands shooter looks ahead of schedule.
- A win Saturday and the Dukes would match their road win total from a year ago.
- The Dukes are currently an 8.5 point favorite on RPI Forecast. I wouldn’t expect an actual betting line.