The 2014-15 campaign ended up being a season to forget for Duquesne fans, even though it was seen as a year where the program could take steps forward. An atrocious start and lousy defense masked the positives during conference play. In truth, the team rebounded well even if the season overall was lost by mid-December.
Heading in to 2015-16, the Dukes are once again in the position where they could and should improve. However, questions abound as to whether or not it will happen. Plenty of things need to go right and they will need to avoid similar pitfalls to last year’s team. Here are five burning questions heading into the season.
Will the Ireland Trip Prevent a Slow Start?
For the first time under Jim Ferry, Duquesne has the luxury of a foreign tour. This year, they’re heading to Ireland and will play a handful of games on the Emerald Isle between the obligatory sightseeing tours. While the extra games should no doubt help the Dukes, especially in their still inexperienced front court, the additional practices before they even get on a plane will be invaluable to help incorporate new pieces Rene Castro, Nakye Sanders, Mar’Qywell Jackson and Josh Steel into the mix.
The Dukes have had rough starts each of the last two years, losing home games to teams an Atlantic 10 team has no business losing home games against. The non-conference schedule will be considerably more difficult this year, meaning the Dukes will have less room for error against weaker opponents. This was in large part due to some experiments with the lineup, like using Micah Mason at the point and five different starters in the post before the new year. Hopefully the staff will figure out what makes sense sooner, thanks to the experience of the tour.
Will Micah Mason and Jeremiah Jones carry over their late season form?
For the first time since taking over the program, Ferry will have three seniors to work with. The Dukes know roughly what they’ll get from PG Derrick Colter, a fringe all-league player capable of scoring twenty points in a game, but also putting up five. The team will likely go as far as Micah Mason carries them and he showed glimpses of stardom down the stretch last season averaging nearly 17 points and 4 assists a game in February and March. He also began creating his own shot more frequently.
While Mason’s improvements were obvious, many may have missed what the often-criticized Jeremiah Jones did. The third guard averaged 10 points, 4 assists and 5 rebounds the final two months of the season. While that’s nothing to write home about, those numbers over the entire season would be quite useful.
Will the Dukes find balance in their lineup?
There are two issues with the Dukes lineup right now. First revolves around balancing defensive production with offense. Last year, the Dukes elected for the latter keeping the defensively-inclined and now departed Desmond Ridenour on the bench at guard, while electing to emphasize defense in the post with Darius Lewis. In the end, the Dukes didn’t have many good defenders so the guys in there for their offense will simply need to get better. Meanwhile, the player who was defense first will need to score the ball more consistently.
The Dukes’ lineup also looks guard heavy and the three best players on the team are combos in Castro, Mason and Colter. This means that they will have talent on the bench at all times, but they will also need more from the post. This leads into the next question, but someone will need to step up at the four or the five.
Which “tweener” will grow into the power forward role?
The Dukes have a few options at the power forward position, but none are perfect fits. They won’t be trying to smash the square peg into the round hole; it’s more like the oval peg into the round hole. None of the options really fit, but they’ll need to find one that works.
Junior LG Gill is 6’7”, has the low end of the ideal height for the position and has a wide frame to add mass. Problem is, he’s not a very physical player nor does he rebound particularly well. He tends to hang out along the perimeter, but his ball handling isn’t as developed as the typical Jim Ferry four. His defense tends to look a little better inside than out, but in the 2-3 zone, he’ll need to be effective at both.
TySean Powell is 6’6” and lacks the ideal head height for a four, even if his more natural position is the five. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in length and raw athleticism. In truth, he plays more like he’s 6’8” or 6’9”. He has a fairly developed game inside and can create his own shots. He can also drive the lane from the perimeter, but hasn’t flashed a mid-range jump shot often enough to keep defenses honest. He struggles to defend inside and out and how that part of his game develops will likely determine how successful he’ll be in the short and long run.
No matter how you spin it, neither is perfect, but whoever covers their weaknesses better will win the job. The good news is that both have upside. They just need to transition from their natural roles to their college roles.
Will Jim Ferry shirk his grow now/win later attitude?
“We have to grow. We have to get better.”
Not an interview with Ferry goes by where he doesn’t utter this saying. I’d have to imagine Craig Meyer of the Post Gazette copies it before every Duquesne piece he writes.
In isolation, there is nothing wrong with that expression, but when it’s been repeated with the frequency it has and when it comes following the tough losses and struggles, one feels like it’s meant to defer success down the road at this point.
In truth, the Dukes may not have been fully ready to compete for an Atlantic 10 title this past season or even for a .500 record. However, winning now just doesn’t feel like a priority for this staff. The time starts now, in my opinion, and as I’ve said all along, I’ll judge Ferry for what he does in years four through six more so than I will one to three. The Dukes have depth and they have experience and while the team sets up nicely a few years down the road, it should have enough talent to get the ball rolling in the right direction now.
The last few years, it seems like many of the off season questions have been answered to the negative. Some of this is bad luck. Some of it is poor planning. Some of it was that the questions may have even been a little unfair to ask when they were asked. The Dukes are due for some things to go their way, but have to control the things they can control like attitude and preparation. If those two things work out to the positive, the rest should fall into place a little easier.