The internet is rife with comments regarding the current state of Duquesne basketball. And by rife, I mean the 30 people who comment on Duquesne are up in arms and demanding answers, while a handful of A-10 pundits who thought the Dukes would be better are standing by scratching their heads. Heading into the season, I thought the Dukes could be on the verge of taking steps forward and landing somewhere in the 14-17 win range. At this point they should thank their stars just to get into double digit victories on the season.
For the purposes of this piece, I’d like to stick to internal issues revolving around the current team that may have their roots in the 2013-14 that are impacting 2014-15.
Plan A Didn’t Work and Plan B Hasn’t Materialized
We talk a lot about the dysfunction of Duquesne’s defense and that would be a good place to begin. However, the offense hasn’t been where it needs to be either. The Dukes went into the season with Micah Mason as the team’s point guard, hoping that the hyper-efficient shooter would produce at a similar rate as last season with an increased number of touches, thus making him The Guy. Turns out, Mason was probably best suited for the role he already had. Mason’s all around efficiency numbers remain strong, but he has seen his 3 point shooting percentage dip and his turnovers rise. Part of it revolves around greater focus on him from defenses, while some might stem being in situations where the margin for error is at its lowest.
Mason didn’t work as a center piece and the team needed to regroup. They’ve had to go from a team who could shoot 3’s with the best of them to one that frankly still doesn’t have much of an identity. We saw a more aggressive offensive game plan against UTPA and in the second half against Dayton where the Dukes began to play inside-out a little more. They’re trying to play a little faster and a little more around the bucket, but when things are going wrong, they still seem to fall into a timid offense where they’ll take a three before they take a risk. From interviews, Jim Ferry gets that this is an issue and that the staff are working hard to fix it, but it’s difficult to establish something this deep into the season as the competition’s defensive systems tighten up.
No All – Conference Contenders
I think nearly every player on this Duquesne roster has the ability now or the potential to contribute in some role in the Atlantic 10. Players seen by fans as good options have had difficultly finding minutes. That’s a good problem to have and the Dukes issues cannot be attributed to depth.
While the team has an abundance of depth, it truly lacks in terms of top end, go-to talent they need to take steps forward. I see a lot of conference players, but not a single player ready to step into an all-conference role. Mason has the upside in theory, but he clearly isn’t there at this point in time. TySean Powell is loaded with potential and could get there maybe as soon as next season. Derrick Colter is having an excellent year, but probably doesn’t quite have enough to step into the A-10 elite. All around, Jordan Stevens has the most complete skill set right now, but he’s struggling to find balance in his game.
Due in part to inexperience and due in part to uneven recruiting, the Dukes find themselves with pieces that don’t clearly fit into the same puzzle. Take for instance Powell. At the moment, he’s the most offensively gifted forward on the team, but he’s had to play out of position at the center because of his defense. While he’s only listed at 6’6”, he plays much bigger due to his length and athleticism. The height issues are negated but at just over 200 pounds, his competition will outweigh by anywhere from ten to thirty pounds most nights. One would suspect the defense will come along with time, thus allowing the athletic Powell to play his more natural position of power forward. Hopefully, he can add weight and a jump shot to really help him round out. He might have the most upside on the team, but playing center has limited how much he can contribute now.
Another reason Powell has had to play the five is that LG Gill has not been able to move to the wing. Gill is not physical enough to play the four effectively nor does he defend the perimeter well enough to play the three. He’s a classic tweener who just doesn’t have a place where he naturally fits. He has potential as an inside – outside player that a coach can dream on and thus, finding him playing time matters. However, it forces others to play out of position until he can find his place.
While I know people will disagree with me on this, I think the Dukes three most talented back court players are Mason, Colter, and Stevens. Problem is they are all combo guards. None are traditional ones and while Mason could play a straight two, it’s not how he’s been used even after his removal from full time point guard duties. Throw Powell into the mix and suddenly you have your top four players, three share a position while one is playing out of position off the bench. That’s the recipe for some awkward lineups.
Projects in Key Roles As Sophomores
When recruited, Gill and Darius Lewis were seen as projects. The plan for Lewis was without question for him to redshirt his freshman year and for Jordan Robinson to serve as the back up center. While never highlighted as a redshirt candidate, it’s quite possible that Gill could have also used a developmental year. Of course, the NCAA decided to play games with Robinson for the entire 13-14 season and eventual transfer Isaiah Watkins took longer than expected to recover from his knee injury. Ferry was forced to play both while his two top recruits lost a year. Now Robinson is just cutting his teeth, Watkins is gone and guys who I expected to first come around their true junior year are being asked to step right in. Thankfully, Lewis is doing better than I could have ever imagined at this stage in his career while Gill is a work in progress as expected. Both still possess that upside, but neither is truly ready for the role they’re currently in.
I was going to get around to this eventually. Don’t allow it’s place in the order of this post to distort how important I think it is. Defense was the Dukes greatest area for potential improvement this season and it has actually gotten worse so far. The man-to-man was such a mess that Ferry has employed the 2-3 zone after it provided a glimmer of hope in the second half against Penn St. Since they’ve employed it full time five games ago, they’ve fared worse statistically in almost every category except free throws conceded, though the dial has only turned from bad to slightly worse. While the offense has become an issue of late and is not good enough to make the Dukes more than average in the Atlantic 10, their defense has them in the bottom third of college basketball according to Kenpom and Sagarin at the moment.
The Team Is Young
I’ve seen a lot of logic floating around where “X” team is young and they’re better than the Dukes. Therefore, one can’t argue that the Dukes are struggling because they’re young. While that might the supporting detail might be true, the conclusion does not hold water and it doesn’t change the fact that the Dukes are young. Experience is not an absolute predictor of wins and losses, but it does help. My issue with the Dukes’ youth is that they’re young in the wrong places. They’re senior, sophomore, sophomore, freshman, freshman inside and frankly, the senior has only just recently begun to come on. Post players take the longest to develop, but you can absorb youth at the two or three more than you can at the five. The youth also helps explain some of the defensive miscues as a few players clearly don’t look ready for the speed of the NCAA.
Let’s play a quick game that I often see around the blogosphere where I list a bunch of statistics from Stat Sheet and you tell me which player you’d prefer to have. First up:
A) 98.6 O-Rating, 67.9 FG%, 18.7 Def Rebound %
B) 89.4 O-Rating, 51.7 FG%, 20.3 Def Rebound %
If you said player A, you picked Darius Lewis right now. Player B is St Bonaventure’s Youssou NDoye as a sophomore. For what it’s worth, Jordan Robinson also compares well to NDoye in their freshman campaigns. On to round two.
C) 100.7 O-Rating, 41.7 FG%, 14.9 Def Rebound %
D) 90.5 O-Rating, 37.6 FG%, 10.1 Def Rebound %
E) 105.3 O-Rating, 48.1 FG%, 14.9 Def Rebound %
Player C is again a freshman on the 2014-15 team. His name is Eric James. Player D is currently averaging 13.2 PPG for Jefes in Mexico. His name is BJ Monteiro, but that’s how he did as a freshman . Player E is also Monteiro but as a senior
Point is, players get better with age and the Dukes haven’t had a lot of players who have gotten the chance to do it yet. Colter has. Jeremiah Jones has in some aspects of the game. Mason has fallen off in many ways statistically, but damn did he set the bar high for himself as a sophomore. People can ignore this teams youth and downplay its effect. However, I think we could be saying different things about the same players two or three years from now.
The plan hasn’t worked and the guy we were hoping could step up as an elite player didn’t. Ferry can’t make a lineup without trying to fit a square peg into the round hole, all while having to go to young players to soon. Defense has actually gotten worse. It really seemed like there was no where to go but up in that department. Combine that with UMES, St Francis and NJIT all projecting as top 200 RPI teams according to RPI forecast and send it to me in a message in October and suddenly, I would have gone into the season thinking there was a very real chance the Dukes could start this badly. If you’d have just said the defense alone, I’d have assumed they’d be at least one loss worse than the 8-4 I was expecting. With the exception of the Mason PG experiment, I clearly wasn’t anticipating the rest. For me the most surprising issue is how difficult it’s been for Ferry to find his combinations. Thankfully, it seems like he might have it finally, but along with the other issues it truly set this team back.
In case you’re interested, I did a third player comp that I didn’t end up using in the body of the piece. Here it is for fun.
A) 120.9 O-Rating, 66.2 FG%, 14.6 Def Rebound %
B) 109.7 O-Rating, 48.1 FG%, 16.6 Def Rebound %
Player A is TySean Powell right now. Player B is Damian Saunders as a freshman. I decided to exclude it because Saunders sort of hovered offensively, though he made leaps and bounds of improvement on defense. I’m not suggesting Powell will become Saunders, but he compares favorably to him in year one on offense.