Like many Duquesne fans, I’ve been trying to analyze the numbers from the first two games to determine whether or not there is anything tangible I can take away from the Dukes back to back contests against D-II programs. I’m looking for anything to hang my hat on at this point. While I wouldn’t compare these games to games against D-I schools, I think it would be fair to compare them to the Dukes’s games against Shippensburg and Bluefield State to begin the 2014-15 campaign.
There were certainly some things in common. Overall defensive numbers were similar and a lot of the increase in scoring could be attributed to faster pace of play dictated by the 30 second shot clock and streaky hot shooting from Seton Hill in the second half. However, there were some positives to note that could make us feel a little warm and fuzzy. I’ll also look ahead a little at New Orleans.
Games Were Never in Doubt
While Seton Hill did climb to within six points in the middle of the first half, the Dukes stretched their lead and kept them well at bay after that. You couldn’t say the same for Shippensburg, who fought back and made it a one point game in the waning minutes of regulation. This year’s Dukes didn’t put their foot on the throat of Seton Hill, but they didn’t completely wilt in the second half either. That said, you’d have liked to see a game so convincing that Marq’ywell Jackson and the walk-ons get to make their official 2015-16 debut.
You also could make the argument that neither D-II this year team outperformed the Dukes for long stretches of the game. The Dukes struggles occurred in brief interludes and were met with periods of very strong play.
First Half Defense Was Considerably Better
While it didn’t always carry over to the full game, the Dukes at least managed considerably better defense in the first half. Urbana was completely shut down inside and out before the break. Really, the good defense carried over until the Dukes cleared the bench in the final 3 minutes, a stretch that yielded 10 points. The Dukes ran out to a 20-4 start against Seton Hill and held them to respectable first half numbers across the board.
Make More FTs Than They Take
We’ve heard this a lot from Jim Ferry in his three years at Duquesne. Much of his offensive and defensive philosophy is built around conceding few free throws while getting to the line frequently at the other end of the floor. In the ideal situation, he wanted his team to make more than the other team took and frankly, this didn’t happen too often last season. In fact, it didn’t even happen against the D-II teams. Shippensburg got to the line twenty times compared to the Dukes eighteen.
The early returns suggest that the Dukes could be showing signs of realizing this aspect of their coach’s philosophy. Duquesne made a combined 35 free throws against Urbana and Seton Hill while giving only 17 free passes. Not only did they make more than the other guys took, they made twice as many as their opponents shot. Last year against the D-II portion of the schedule, they shot fewer free throws by opponents and made 7 fewer free throws overall.
While the faces didn’t change too much, the Dukes had a considerable amount of instability in their lineup heading into last season. Derrick Colter and Micah Mason were switching roles. Domo McKoy moved from center to the four and really the Dukes had no idea who the five would be. They tried three players there before settling on Darius Lewis as the primary option just before the Atlantic 10 season started.
The Dukes’s lineup looks much the same as it did at the end of the 2014-15 season. Four starters return playing the same role as last season. The team’s sixth man, LG Gill, has stepped up in the role he filled as a reserve. Eric James looks poised to take more minutes at the three after seeing them wane down the stretch. Meanwhile, a stable backcourt of Colter and Mason will allow Rene Castro to shake off the rust accumulated after going nearly two full years without playing a competitive game of basketball. While there are still questions, like whether or not Ty’sean Powell will get out of the doghouse, the lineup looks stable.
Within two minutes against Urbana, Darius Lewis exceeded his combined scoring total against both D-II last season. How? He made a free throw.
Lewis’ progress is staggering from the first time I saw him suit up at the summer league until now. While averaging 15.5 PPG and 8.5 RPG against undersized D-II schools doesn’t mean much, its noteworthy that at this time last year, he didn’t even really factor into the games and none of the Dukes big men made that kind of a contribution last season. In fact, Lewis outscored Jordan Robinson and McKoy combined against Shippensburg and Bluefield St. While nothing is certain, Lewis showed more in the post in the Dukes first two games.
Again it’s difficult to say if the Dukes will be better or that they’re on the right track after two exhibitions. Really, we probably won’t know what they have until after the Gulf Coast Showcase. However, some signs are pointing in the right direction.
I don’t take anything for granted anymore in November. Not after the Dukes lost early to New Hampshire and NJIT the last two seasons. While the latter proved to be better than expected, you’d really hate to see the Dukes drop another game that looked like a gimme on paper when the schedule came out.
The Privateers return quite a few key pieces from a bad 2014-15 team. Leading scorer Christavious Gill got off to a hot start dropping 21 against Bowling Green. No one else scored more than 8. Kevin Hill, their top returning interior player grabbed 13 boards, but finished with only four points going 2-7 from the floor. Sounds good right?
Probably not. The Privateers are undersized with Hill being the only player taller than 6’7” playing more than twenty minutes for New Orleans. However, their guards are on the bigger side with the exception of Gill. They will spread the floor and they can shoot the three making them a virtual copy of the other two early season upsets. I don’t understand why Ferry keeps scheduling teams he potentially matches up poorly against.
On paper, this should be a walk and I hope it turns out that way. As we’ve learned, there is a reason why they play these games in November.