Talent Not the Only Reason For Duquesne Struggles

By Steve DiMiceli

We've heard a number of times from fans, media and even the coaches that Duquesne's struggles during the current nine game losing streak are from a lack of talent and experience. Of course, this is a team with it's lack of talent and experience managed to begin the season 7-5 while defeating a weak WVU team and hanging with Georgetown in Washington. It can't be all that bad. Yet, with every loss, talent was cited as the primary concern and that has accelerated during the slump. However, it's not the entire story. While proven commodities have been missing and no doubt part of Duquesne's struggles over the past 9 games, it is one of several factors hurting the team.

Schedule is Tougher

While it didn't seem like it in December, the Dukes out of conference schedule was pretty soft. They played a pretty good Pitt team, a Georgetown team off it's normal lofty standards, a down WVU team and a Penn St team that may not win a game in conference. Some of the promising mid and low majors they played don't look as strong. They lost to a Robert Morris team that has 3 NEC losses, and an Albany team whose shine has worn off sitting 3rd in Am- East. Youngstown St has faded after a terrific start. Only North Dakota St still looks strong

Duquesne had the 141st toughest schedule entering conference play. Seven games into the A-10 season and their SOS is down to 89th or a 52 position drop. That's a pretty substantial decrease when you consider that weak out of conference schedule accounts for 2/3's of the games played so far. The Dukes talent is the same, but the talent they're trying to matchup with is much better too.

Strengths Becoming Weaknesses

Through out of conference play, the Dukes were one of the better rebounding teams in the country  in terms of total rebounding, offensive rebounding (both in terms of percentage and total) and the total number of defensive rebounds. The defensive rebounding percentage was good but never elite. Over the past few weeks, the Dukes have struggled to rebound the ball, particularly off their opponents misses. They're giving up an offensive rebound a third of the time ranking them in the 250's in terms of defensive rebounding percentage in the NCAA. That's down from a peak around the 110's earlier in the season. Simply put, the Dukes are not rebounding the ball as well.

Why has the rebounding gotten worse? Again, it's probably a number of factors. Looking back at game film from earlier in the season, Duquesne guards playing off ball defense would sag towards the hoop to put themselves in position for a rebound after a shot or dribble penetration. This left them very susceptible to drive and kick for open three's but clearly the team's focus was on rebounding. I haven't watched film recently but I suspect that the off ball guards are staying with their men a little longer to protect the pass outside leaving space in the middle of the floor for opponents to find offensive boards. Of course, he Dukes are running more now. It could be that guards are cherry picking a little after the shot goes up in hopes of triggering a break rather than staying home for the rebound. It also could be that opposing coaches have seen how Dukes were amassing better than expected rebounding numbers and found ways to adjust.

Duquesne is fouling more often while taking fewer fouls than early in the season. 21 games in, the Dukes only have a +.5 in fouling differential. They were in the top 25 for fewest fouls per possession at one point. Now they're around 60.

Change in Philosophy
While Duquesne is still focused on playing a man defense, supplementing it with the 2-3 zone and using screens in the half court, there have been other philosophical changes that have caused them to get away from the fundamentals that helped them succeed at the beginning of the season. They're 3-10 since they began pushing the ball in transition against New Orleans. While playing the transition system will help in the long run by getting younger players familiar with the system they'll be playing their entire career, it's definitely hurt in the short run.  I don't think we should underestimate the significance of a change of that scale mid season.

I won't comment conclusively on the change in emphasis to defending the three over rebounding until I look at film again, but that would suggest another significant shift in the defensive system. If that change was made the decision would be somewhat paradoxical as they would add one part of Ferry's system (the transition offense) for the future while removing one (the sagging/rebounding focused defense) to help the team now. Again, this is not meant to be about the talent currently on the team, but there simply isn't enough to build for the future or hope for early success. The coaching staff could be making making a huge mistake trying to do both.

So does talent factor into Duquesne's woes? Sure but so does the Dukes finishing what looked like their toughest stretch coming into the season. In my 2012-13 preview, I predicted the Dukes would lose 9 in a row following a win against Western Michigan. I also predicted that the schedule would lighten up significantly to the point where the Dukes could win 5 of the remaining 9 A-10 games. I don't expect that to happen now and I think last place looks far more likely than it did prior to the season starting. Again though, it's not simply because of the talent. It comes from the Dukes getting away from their strengths and a potentially conflicted philosophy their implementing right now. That's on the coaching staff.

Of course, it's been 13 games since the Dukes began pushing the ball in transition. I don't think it would be extreme to think the offense could begin to gel during the final 1/3 of the season. I don't think this team is any less talented now than I did at the beginning of the season, but  I do think they need someone to step up and really if their is a failing of talent, it's that a third player hasn't risen to fill a void. Looking for a breakout player is the story of the rest of the season for me.

*** GW Notes

The Colonials could be a preview for the Dukes next year. Second year coach Mike Lonergan has his young team coming together after a slow non conference  start. They're a great example of how it takes some time for head coaches to get everything together when they switch programs.

The Colonials start 3 freshman and a junior transfer Isaiah Armwood, their best player. Unlike Ferry, Lonergan hasn't tried very hard to incorporate the previous coaches his holdovers into his team. Former all conference hopeful, Lasan Kromah averages just 23 minutes for GW.

In spite of the Colonials 4-3 start to league play, this ought to be a good game tonight and a fun series into the future.