Who: No. 8 Richmond Spiders (13-7, 6-5 A10) vs. No. 9 Duquesne Dukes (8-8, 7-7 A10)
When: Thursday, Mar. 4, 2021 at 11 a.m. Siegel Center, Richmond, VA
HOW THEY GOT HERE
After splitting their two nonconference games, Duquesne (8-8, 7-7 A10) was off from Dec. 2 to Jan. 2, where they proceeded to split the opening two-game series at George Washington. That weekend, as it turned out, was the perfect predictor of how the season was going to unfold for the Dukes. A 0.500 season with a few quality wins and some head-scratching losses make this team a tough one to read. After getting outshot from the field and beyond the arc by Dayton (13-8, 9-7 A10) on Jan. 13 and falling 72-63, the Dukes turned it around and beat the flyers at their own game just three weeks later, 69-64, to open their new arena, the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse. Then, after a nearly three week pause, the team fell in two of its last three games, including a 79-72 loss to Richmond (13-7, 6-5 A10) and a 20-point loss to La Salle (9-15, 6-11 A10).
Richmond finished the season just above 0.500, having only played 11 conference games. The Spiders’ season was just as up-and-down as Duquesne’s. After a close 69-66 loss to St. Bonaventure to open conference play, Richmond took down Rhode Island and George Mason decisively. After coming off the program’s first pause from Jan. 9 to Jan. 23, the team fell to La Salle by six points but turned around and beat up on St. Joseph’s before pausing for almost three weeks, until Feb. 14. They then pummeled St. Mary’s in a nonconference game but returned three days later to fall to VCU.
HOW THEY CAN WIN
In their only matchup this season, the Spiders took down Duquesne on Feb. 20 79-72, after the original Dec. 19, 2020 matchup was postponed. Duquesne, who has recently been living – and dying – by the three-point shot, hitting only 5 out of 20 in that game, while Richmond hit 9 out of 23. The Dukes made up for the discrepancy by converting more in the paint, and dramatically outrebounding the Spiders on the offensive glass, pulling down 11 offensive rebounds to Richmond’s four.
The key for Duquesne is going to be more consistency beyond the three-point line. They showed that in the regular season finale against Rhode Island, where they converted an impressive 9 out of 17 from that range, including 8 out of 11 in the first half. Marcus Weathers scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in that game as well. The Dukes got double-digit scoring from four of their five starters, with Toby Akani notching 9 points. If Duquesne can tap into that vast spread of scoring opportunities, the Dukes will go on to fight another day.
Richmond, on the other hand, simply needs to shut down the Duquesne three-point attempts and limit their second chance opportunities off rebounds. Forward Tyler Burton leads the team with 150 rebounds and 12 blocks. That kind of defensive prowess will go a long way to shutting down a Duquesne senior class that is looking to go out with a bang. Duquesne is a team that can hurt you if you allow them to get into a rhythm. It is imperative for the Spiders that they not allow that rhythm to develop.
PROJECTED PATH FORWARD
These two teams have perhaps the toughest draw of the tournament. After the winner gets through what is going to be a grueling victory, they must turn around a day later and face off against the No. 1 seed St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies have beaten Richmond once, on Jan. 2, and Duquesne twice, both within a week, on Jan. 15 and Jan. 23. Neither team may want to win this game because of what it means the very next day.