Is This Team Improving?

By Steve DiMiceli

At the beginning of the season, I pointed out that the team getting better throughout the season was a key to calling 2012-2013 a success for Duquesne even if the wins and losses didn't come. We're through with the non conference portion of the schedule so is this team better now than it was at the beginning of the season? I'd say yes.

It's hard for me to decide when to begin my evaluation period for the team. For some players, I have a difficult time separating summer performances from the evaluation. My first experience with the Dukes as a unit this year was during the CMU where they looked like a sub 250 team. Following the road trip to Albany and Georgetown, I thought the Dukes would finish somewhere in the 180-200 range. At the moment, I'm thinking they should close the season with an RPI between 140-180 and they're current RPI is in the 120s.

As I said, the Dukes looked like a terrible team after the CMU game. It felt like it could be a long season, but they looked much better against Hawaii Hilo. We have seen this team add pieces of Ferry's system in waves. First, they seemed to focus on rebounding and that was really the only strength versus CMU. Then they focused on their man defense and restricting their fouling. By the time the Legend's Classic started, the Dukes were running some semblance of a half court offense. We began seeing more double high screens and set plays. Finally, by the New Orleans game the Dukes were ready to run a transition offense. Interestingly this could be the team's strength as the rebounding has sagged, and the perimeter defense is suspect. Whether they've struggled or not the last few games, they are playing a more complete game and I see that as a plus.

Individually, I see progress from some players and stagnation from others. Following the summer league, I thought Derrick Cotler had his struggles handling pressure and playing defensive. In my opinion, he's improved in both areas. Since the City game, he has not had more turnovers than assists. I thought he did fairly well against Penn St when they employed a high trap against him for the first time this season. He wilted when he saw it over the summer. He's using his quickness to his advantage and his on ball defense looks a great deal better to me. He still needs to get stronger to fight through screens, but that will take more time. His shooting has gotten better as the season progressed and he already looks like one of he better point guards in the league.

Jeremiah Jones showed up during the exhibition season with strong defense. Since the summer, he's shown better shot selection and more willingness to share the ball. His A:TO is better than one. Quevyn Winters, on the other hand, struggled to adjust to the speed of the college game and is having trouble with turnovers. He started the season hot as the zone buster. He's less effective against man defense as teams have employed it more frequently since the Youngstown St game. I see a lot of settling for the three point shot from him but he had his best game in a while against Penn St.

Andre Marhold gets a fair amount of grief from Duquesne fans, but in general he's playing a bit better now than at the beginning of the season. He's trying to play facing the basket and has developed some decent post moves. The shots just aren't falling for him. He also seems to be more of a presence on the defensive glass where most of his rebounds came offensively in November. Kadeem Pantophlet has also become a tougher player and better rebounder since the end of last year. He is playing acceptable post defense as he learns how to play more like a forward. Martins Abele has at times been a very good bench option for the Dukes. He doesn't foul as often and when he goes up strong with the ball, he usually ends up with a basket, a foul or an offensive rebound. Jerry Jones is showing better ball handling skills and is developing into a very good defender. Sean Johnson still struggles defensively and has fallen off some in terms of his offensive numbers. However, he is sharing the ball better and provides a second handling option for Duquesne. He's even held his own playing PG. Unfortunately, he hasn't grown as much as I was hoping he would. I thought he could be all league or close to it as a senior but he not that much better overall.

So far, I think this team is collectively better and by a fair margin than they were a couple of months ago, but they need to build on it to have success in conference play.  I would hate to see a late season collapse although the freshmen hitting the wall that they often hit could make that a possibility. This is a deeper team than we've had most years but we haven't used it lately. The young Dukes still have a lot to work on but I've seen growth as a team and as individuals since the beginning of the year. Here's to hoping it continues.