Duquesne fans are champing at the bit for overall team improvement in 2015-16 and they’ll likely get it. The question is how much can they expect and will it be enough. The stars won’t have to align for modest success like they had to in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but there are considerable question marks that could cause them to disappoint again this season. However, this is a team that looked considerably stronger down the stretch than when they were dropping winnable games. On top of that, they went 0-4 in games where they had the final shot to tie or win at the end of regulation. These may not translate to big gains over the course of the entire season, but three key improvements could.
End of the Season Micah Mason Over the Entire Season
Heading into last season, Davidson was generally expected to finish near the bottom of the A-10 standings. They had what appeared to be a couple of decent returning options, but were coming off a season where they lost a lot of their core and failed to win a weak Southern Conference. The ultra-efficient Tyler Kalinoski was seen as a solid player in the Wildcats new home, but no one saw him as a potential breakout player, let alone the future player of the year.
I’m not suggesting that Mason will be Kalinoski or that he’ll become Conference player of the year. Nor am I suggesting that I think the Dukes can be the 2015-16 version of Davidson. However, there are reasons to suspect that Mason could perform at a similar level. First and foremost, he did over the final month of last season. On top of that, their junior season numbers are nearly identical and with Mason playing against better competition.
This might be the low hanging fruit for improvement for Duquesne, but the Dukes need Mason to be a force to take steps. As a senior and a guy who will flirt with the NCAA 3 point shooting record, it feels like he could have a huge year. It isn’t everything the Dukes need, but it’ll help.
This is a no brainer. The defense needs to get better for the Dukes to improve. It’s be well discussed. I’ve tackled it, but as I noted in the linked piece, defensive improvement in and of itself likely won’t be enough. Why? Because only the rare team improves that much from one year to the next.
The Dukes defense needs to get better. When you’re 322nd in the country, there isn’t much room to go but up. Given the extra experience and the loss of the defensively not so good, but rebounding important Dominque McKoy, the Dukes should expect at least marginal improvement. If they get more performances like they did against Saint Louis from Darius Lewis, they’ll have a inside presence who can cause problems for opponents in the post. This may allow the guards to relax and defend the perimeter a little more ideally. Of course, this might encourage the Dukes to stay in the unpopular zone defense rather than switch to traditional man. However, when you have a guy like Lewis to potentially stay at home, you need to consider keeping it or at least keep a hybrid version as it appears the Dukes might do.
The good news is that defense is on the offseason radar and isn’t just a knee jerk reaction to a bad start. The Dukes should have enough offense to play, especially with Rene Castro making his Duquesne debut, but the other side of the ball is the elephant in the room.
A lot of folks point to the Dukes’ defensive woes revolving around their inability to stop the three pointer. This is of course true and likely the biggest contributor to the suck, but they didn’t rebound particularly well. Opponents missed less than they would against an average team, but the Dukes also rebounded below the norm finishing 272nd in defensive rebounding percentage at 68.7%. If the Dukes manage to flip just one of those rebounds, they’ll help soften some of those defensive woes. It’s achievable as they’d end up being no better than mediocre in the grand scheme of things in college basketball.
That’ll be easier said than done as the Dukes lost their best rebounder by volume and by percentage in McKoy. The rest of the Dukes interior players had a defensive rebounding percentage under 17% compared to McKoy’s 20.7%. That’s the margin they need to improve but in the wrong direction.
Consider also that another defensive rebound likely sets up the desired conditions to break. Truth told, the Dukes have their work cut out for them in this department. The guards rebound relatively well and Lewis creates a lot of space even if he doesn’t grab many himself. However, someone is going to need to step up in a big way and whomever that person is, will end up starting at the four.
If one of the above happens, the Dukes will be a better team in 2015-16, though not likely to the degree that I think many Duquesne fans are hoping. Actually, it may not help much in the record department even if the team is tougher. If two of the above happen, I think we’re looking at a Ron Everhart-level team with the winning record and an RPI in the 100-125 range. Not ideal, but a step in the right direction. If all three happen, the Dukes could be a fringe NIT team. They have enough offense and enough warts will heal that they can finally break through a little under Ferry.
At this point, it feels like some of the questions finally need to be answered in the affirmative for the Dukes after three seasons where it feels like nothing has gone their way. If hidden vigorish applies to basketball, the Dukes’ misfortune the last couple of season means their a little closer to catching the breaks. Of course, I’d rather count on real improvement in these three key areas rather than watch the Dukes leaving it to fate.