Can Duquesne keep up with the rest of the A-10?

By Steve DiMiceli

There is big news almost daily and the winds of change are blowing from all directions in the Atlantic 10. Butler is joining the conference while George Mason and VCU are rumored to be interested and there intentions could be known by later this week. With Charlotte leaving, I would have to believe that another team not yet subjected to media speculation will join as well. We hear about current members taking programs to the next level. UMass has had high profile commitments and the Hurley's have created a wave of excitement in Kingston unseen in the state of Rhode Island since the time Peter Griffin founded the independent nation of Petoria. Dayton picked up a big time transfer yesterday from Ohio St. Meanwhile, Chris Mack's Xavier program seems like it's hit a roadblock. George Washington has recommitted itself to men's basketball while St Bonaventure will get even more for each dollar of their minuscule athletic budget following an appearance in the NCAA tournament. In the ever changing landscape of the A-10, the conference and its member, present and future, are positioning themselves to take steps forward into elite college basketball status. As a Duquesne fan, I believe our athletic department and university are committed to investing in the program. Of course, so is everyone else. 

To me the jury is still out on whether or not we can keep up but there are a a couple of areas where I see opportunities. If all goes well , we should be competitive in just about every game by year three or four of Jim Ferry, because I simply don't' see anyone running away with the A-10. In spite of the name brand expansion, I'm not so sure any one team or teams will truly be able to establish dominance over the league in the next couple of years. I don't think Butler and any of the new additions will come in and take the league by storm from Day 1. The A-10 is a huge step up in the level of play these programs are used to whether they come from the CAA, or Horizon.The only rumored addition I could see make the jump seamlessly is Creighton.  Xavier is on the verge of a potentially difficult season that could ultimately lead to Chris Mack's departure. Should he stay, his coaching staff will not be as strong moving forward without Kareem Richardson. To me, that's a bigger hit to the program than losing all leaguer Mark Lyons.  UMass will have the talent to get the job done, but as we've seen, Derek Kellogg can be out coached. St Louis seems to be on the verge of something special but there is no telling how much gas Rick Majerus has left in the tank. A number of other programs like GW and Rhode Island have the potential for an elite program, but really they're only a year ahead or in the same shoes as Duquesne.   Over the next few years, I expect lots of 30-75 RPI teams in the A-10, but not a lot of top 25. While this does not bode well for Duquesne in the short run, the overall league parity should help boast our profile as a member of the league while we rebuild. It'll also give us a chance to make a run or two at some high profile wins while minimizing the chances of being completely run out of most buildings. We'll also have room to make moves when Ferry does have the right players in place. If we do get there, I don't think it's out of the question that the future A-10 will be a 5-6 bid league giving us more opportunities for the post season.

While our coaching staff still has a lot to prove, I pointed out recently that on paper they are one of the best in the A-10 in my opinion. I also noted in another entry how Jim Ferry has done well against Mark Schmidt and Dan Hurley when both coaches were in the NEC. While everything looks good hypothetically, we need more than hypothetical results for this program to get to the next level. The good news is that the athletic department has shown their willingness to not only pay for a head coach, but that they are willing to give him the support of an experienced staff. Only time will prove whether or not that they are worth the expenditure but in theory, they appear to capable of getting the job done. 

Without anyone likely to run away with the league in the next few years and what appears to be the right coaching staff in place, Duquesne should have a window to carve itself a niche in the top half or third of the league in the next couple of years. However, Ferry will need to move quickly because that opportunity won't last long. Salvaging some type of recruiting class this year and bringing in a strong 2013 class are very important for long term health of the program. I'm not saying that we won't make the NCAA tournament after 2014 - 2015 if we don't see nearly immediate improvement, but I see if becoming more difficult. By then. the new programs will have had a couple of years to adjust, the risers will have had a couple of years to rise, and Xavier will no doubt have its act together. While getting stuck in the middle of the A-10 will carry more clout in a few years than it does now, it's still not where we want to be and it's certainly not where the university will get any return on it's investment. In my opinion Duquesne can keep up, but we're going to get left in the dust if Ferry has another ten year plan to resurrect the program in place.