0-2 and Encouraged

By Steve DiMiceli

Most years, I'd be pretty pissed after an 0-2 start especially if one game came against an Am-East team not predicted to be the conference winner. This year is different with two road games before the Dukes set foot in the AJ Palumbo center. Normally, they at least get a real cupcake to chomp on at home. I expected this team to struggle and while they haven't put together good enough performances to win, they've hung in and put themselves into a position where they could. They've shown improvement in a number of areas and some players who Jim Ferry will need to step up are taking strides.

After the first two games, I've seen a lot of well deserved talk about the improved rebounding margin. They finished yesterday a minus 4 on the glass against a much larger Georgetown team and a plus 3 in Albany on Friday. For the most part the improvement has come from players who were already on the team last. You remember how well that one rebounded, right? While the improvement on the boards has been widely discussed, it's worth commending one more time.

Following the exhibitions, I thought this Duquesne team was sloppy in transition and that led to a lot of turnovers. In their two regular season games, the Dukes have taken much better care of the ball to the point where they turned the ball over three fewer times than a normally disciplined Georgetown did. The point guards are still coughing it up too frequently but ball control has gotten noticeably over the past week.

Heading into the season, I spoke a little on how the drop off from starter to backup would not be dramatic for any position. Of course, continuity like that becomes a double edged sword. While it suggests the strength of back ups, it often signals the first string isn't very good. Sean Johnson showed his class against the Hoyas. He trumps anyone on the bench and as the season goes along, I think he will show his experience and an ability to take his game to another level. On the plus, we're beginning to see Derrick Colter truly emerge as the top option at point guard. There seems like a real decline in the quality of play when he's not on the court. Since he's viewed as the one guard of the future, it's a positive to see him locking the role down already. None of the interior players are seizing their opportunity so far, however, Martins Abele seems to have helped his situation. Quevyn Winters was very good against Albany but I expect up and downs from him this year.

The Dukes continue to make progress on both ends of the court and seem to be picking up the system quickly. On defense, they showed a number of looks against the Hoyas including a 2-3 zone that gave them trouble in the first. Offensively, the Dukes are playing a little slower than I would have expected, but they are gelling. I noticed a few open looks created by the extra pass yesterday, but they simply did not knock them down. It's reassuring to know that they're creating good opportunities even if they're not finishing them.

Besides what the Dukes are doing, what some A-10 schools aren't doing is just as encouraging. George Washington and Rhode Island lost at home to a Horizon and MEAC school respectively by a larger margin than Duquesne lost on the road to the Hoyas. Fordham lost by 10 to a Texas St team picked to finish last in the WAC (Joel Wright, now with the Bobcats, registered a double-double in the win). Charlotte defeated a D-II school by only 10 points in their opener while St Bonaventure won by the same margin against Bethune - Cookman team expected to finish the year in the bottom of the 200's in terms of RPI. In both cases, I'd have a expected a larger scoring margin. The bottom of the A-10 may not be as strong as I thought, making a trip to Brooklyn this year look that much more realistic.

The Dukes won't be playing for the NCAA postseason in 2012-2013 so it seems doubtful the Albany loss will come back to bite them. They started the year 0-2 but with less than a month to gel and learn a new system, the Dukes were in hunt to win both games so far. Now, they'll have eight days off to work on the weaknesses exposed on the road.  They know what they need to do to get better but they don't need to hang their head after starting the season winless.