Butler remains the highest-ranked team in the Atlantic 10, even though it's tied for third place in its first season in the conference.
The No. 15 Bulldogs will move into second place with a victory Tuesday night at home against a young Duquesne team that appears to be improving.Butler (21-5, 8-3) is one game behind No. 24 Virginia Commonwealth and one-half game behind Saint Louis. Those other teams meet later Tuesday in St. Louis, giving the Bulldogs a chance to move up, and the Billikens will visit Hinkle Fieldhouse on Friday."It's a really good league, I can't say that enough," coach Brad Stevens said. "Saint Louis, VCU those guys have done a great job of managing the first part of their schedules and that's why they're where they are and I think we have as well so it's just a matter of who wins late here."Stevens was a teenager 20 years ago when Butler and Duquesne (8-17, 1-10) last met. These schools split two meetings in 1992-93, the only season both were members of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.The last-place Dukes are showing signs of life in their last three games -- a 73-65 loss to Xavier on Feb. 9, an 84-83 victory at Temple last Thursday that snapped an 11-game losing streak and a 67-62 home defeat to Rhode Island on Saturday."I'm impressed with Duquesne, I'm impressed with their team speed, I'm impressed with their ability to stretch their defense and there's a reason why they were up on Xavier and then went into Temple and won," Stevens said. "They're playing really good basketball right now and getting contributions from a number of players."Stevens was happy to receive any contribution from center Andrew Smith, who had 12 points and two rebounds in 30 minutes in Saturday's 68-63 victory at Fordham. Smith missed last Wednesday's 71-67 defeat to Charlotte with an abdominal injury, and did not practice all week.That contest Smith missed is Butler's lone home loss in 13 games. The 49ers shot 54.2 percent -- a season high for a Bulldogs opponent.With Smith back, Butler held the Rams to 38.1 percent shooting -- a more familiar mark for a team limiting opponents to 41.2 for the season.Rotnei Clarke had 22 points and averages 17.2 to lead five Bulldogs who score at least 9.8 per game."They're an extremely balanced offensive team," Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. "You've got five guys in double figures. They have interior scoring, they obviously have great 3-point shooting."The 6-foot-11 Smith should provide a challenge for a Dukes team whose tallest starter is 6-6 senior forward Andre Marhold.Three of the Dukes' top five scorers are freshmen. Derrick Colter is their top scorer at 13.2 points per game and averaged 18.5 last week to earn A-10 rookie of the week honors for the third time."We're getting some really good play out of our freshmen," Ferry said. "Derrick Colter was just named rookie of the week again. I'm really proud of Derrick."Another freshman, Jeremiah Jones, is an Indiana native who has started the last six games, averaging 11.3 points.