I started working on my annual schedule breakdown earlier in the week and while I like a lot about this year’s Duquesne team, I simply wasn’t confident predicting wins against opponents I normally would. Some of that is scorched earth from an extremely disappointing preseason last year. Some of it is a more challenging schedule, despite what I see as an all-around weaker A-10. Some is just that the makeup of the team is very strange.
I picked the Dukes for a single digit league finish and I see plenty of talent on the team. I also see some role players and potential glue guys. On top of that, the team has several breakout candidates who could help put them over the top. The problem is the pieces just don’t seem to fit well and there are still too many questions marks for comfort. To say the least, the roster is weird and unfortunately, it may not translate to more wins despite more talent and experience.
The Three Best Players Are Combos
In my opinion, league voters absolutely snubbed Micah Mason by excluding him from their preseason all-league selections. Of course, they missed someone last year, too. Our friends at A10 Talk, thought another Duquesne guard got the dissed.
Derrick Colter (Duquesne) ? You gotta love this guy. Forgetting for a second the magic he works on the court, Colter was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer that fights the lymphatic system, a cancer for Colter that is now on the losing end of the biggest win of Colter ?s life. On the court the 5 ?11 guard returns as the Dukes leading scorer and an efficient one at that, finishing last season with a 42.6% three-point percentage after connecting on 60 of his 141 attempts from long range. Duquense won six of their final 12 games of last season including wins over the likes of Dayton and George Washington. If they can build on that you are certain to hear a lot more about just how good Derrick Colter really is.
That’s a hell of a one to two combo, likely the most underrated in all of the Atlantic 10. Then you throw Butler transfer Rene Castro into the mix and suddenly the Dukes have some explosive weapons at guard. Problem is that the Dukes’ three best players might all play the same position. Don’t get me wrong, they all bring something a little different to the one and two. Mason’s the scorer and shooter, while Castro comes closest to the classic point. Colter fits right in the middle. However, it’ll take creativity to balance the playing time and it’ll require genius to use all three at once. In the end, one of their best will be sitting at any given point in the game.
The Three Conundrum
It’s funny. When a team wins, they play a three guard set. When they struggle, they have an undersized three.
Jeremiah Jones isn’t the ideal fit at the small forward, but he’s only about an inch and a half off the league average. His athleticism helps make up for that a little and in truth, he’s a roughly average rebounder for the position anyway. Still, he is a bit of a tweener and despite the best on the team defense label, his wing was often exploited in the zone. Jones was very effective down the stretch.
The Dukes have some candidates in Eric James, Marq’ywell Jackson and Josh Steel and all have a shot to grab some minutes. Of course, it’s interesting to note that the Dukes have three true small forwards backing up a guy who doesn’t quite fit. Problem is, none have much experience. That means, a completely different look when they go to the bench. It could lead to a some challenges for opposing coaches, but also some internal confusion for Duquesne.
To put it another way, the Dukes have a seasoned leader in Jeremiah Jones and three guys who fit a little more in naturally at the position. While he brings lot of intangibles to the table, Jeremiah either needs to keep up the end of season form or someone will need to step into the swing role. If you’re Jim Ferry, you have to go with the Jones to start, but if he gets off to a slow start this season, he will have someone in the rear view mirror.
Young Where You’d Prefer Old
Maybe that heading wasn’t the most accurate. The Dukes have some upperclassmen in the post, but only one, L.G. Gill, would fit the description of experienced. The other junior, Darius Lewis, has just a shade over 500 career minutes heading into his third year of eligibility. To put that into perspective 19 freshman logged as many minutes in their first season and TySean Powell only played 82 fewer. Lewis has come a long way since stepping onto the Bluff, but you’d be mistaken calling him a grizzled veteran at this point.
The Dukes are as experienced as anyone in the league one through three, but they will need to get old fast in the post if they hope to take steps forward (no pun intended). The good news is that they have some options who can step forward. They have Gill and Lewis and the four and five, respectively, should be theirs to lose. Powell should be the first man off the bench and if he can look like a true four, he might even steal minutes away from Gill. Battling with Lewis will be freshmen Nakye Sanders and redshirt sophomore, thanks to an NCAA screw job, Jordan Robinson. If you haven’t seen this video yet, enjoy Jim Ferry’s giant smile around the 8:40 mark when he bring up Sanders’s name.
There is a lot of potential offensively in this group and some like Robinson and Powell have shown some polish with the ball in their hands. However, the two who can find their flow on defense will likely lock down the most minutes in the post. While you want experience down low, the experienced back court takes some of the pressure off the inexperienced front court though it can’t completely make up for it.
This years incarnation of Duquesne basketball may not show many more wins thanks to a more challenging all-around schedule. For the first time under Ferry, I do think the Dukes have a legit shot at a big (by our standards) season and exceeding expectations. It doesn’t mean that it will happen. A lot will have to go right for them to make a move into the top half of the league, but despite all the oddities, the coaching staff do have the flexibility of depth to find the best combinations to put on the floor and keep their best players fresh. Even if the lineup is awkward, the coaching staff should know better about what they have than they have in any year since the coaching change.