Reflecting on the Legends Classic

By Steve DiMiceli

It's always interesting to see how a young team responds to three games in three days against comparably talented teams in an equally challenging situation. I think most of us would have come away happy from the Legend's Classic Pod with 2-1 record. They were able to win one close game against James Madison and to hold off but never quite put away Youngstown St. They lost a game against North Dakota State by 14 that probably wasn't as close as the scoreline would indicate. A few things stood out to me during the classic, mostly good but some room for growth as well. 

One big difference between this year's team and last year's is how seemlessly they're able to recognize the defense their opponents are giving them and to adjust their offense on the fly. If they switch to a man, the Dukes run a double high screen where one post players stays up to pick and the other rolls into the post. They're also using a lot of low post isolation and wing entry against man. Against the 2-3 zone, they seamlessly switch to a high post wing entry with Quevyn Winters playing the role of zone buster most of the time. His passing can get better, but he has been dangerous with a turnaround jumper from the FT line as well as dribbling and kicking to the perimeter. I also noticed he would try to set a screen on the defenders trying to switch sides in the zone during a cross court pass like North Dakota St did. He wasn't as effective but I like that he learned by watching his opponents. With Winters in the middle, teams will likely begin avoiding 2-3 against the Dukes especially on days when he plays well

I've said it before, but I simply cannot believe this is largely the same team on the glass as it was last season. YSU is a comparably sized team and the Dukes out rebounded them by 24. North Dakota St is a much bigger team and the Dukes only found themselves with 4 fewer rebounds at the end of the game. It's a full team effort to clear the glass with the big men creating space for the guards to duck in and pick up the loose change. Jerry Jones and Sean Johnson are doing a fantastic job.

The Dukes were considerably deeper than the other teams in their pod. I think their depth played nicely in their favor against Youngstown St. and in overtime against James Madison. The Dukes saw fresh players like Kadeem Panthophlet, Martins Ablele and Jeremiah Jones play a bigger role against the Penguins a night after Youngstown played a few of their starters for 35 minutes or more. Meanwhile, the Dukes were able to limit the minutes of their top players against North Dakota St thanks to their bench.

This team will be up and down this year, but I'm hoping the ride won't be as wild in February as it is now. I can see the Dukes are learning and piece by piece they're getting closer to running a complete system. Heading into the exhibition season, the rebounding was in place. Then, they seemed to work on improving the man defense while adding some new looks as the straight man wasn't ready. Prior to the Legend's Classic pod, they clearly worked on the half court offense. Now the transition game needs to be the focus. If Ferry's team can't shoot on a given night, they need to be able to run like we've been told they would do from the start. If they can't run or shoot, they're going to get blown out of the gym like they did against North Dakota St. The great thing about how the early season schedule shapes up is the space between clusters of games where the team has a week of practices to get better in certain areas. So far, the improvement is notable.