What Did We Learn at the Pro-Am?

By Steve DiMiceli

As recruiting began to wrap itself up, I pointed out 5 keys for the 2013-2014 men's season.  With the sneak preview that the summer league provides, I thought now would be a great time to look back on those keys to see if the Pro-Am created anymore clarity or concerns.

1. Gelling

We're not going to know if the team will gel until it happens in a real basketball game. Jim Ferry implemented his system in waves his first season starting with rebounding before going up tempo against Maine in the middle of December. Last year's team didn't have the horses to do both and couldn't execute his half court offense either.  If the team is playing fast for the exhibition games, it would suggest they're further along than they were last year.

2. Maximizing the value of Tra'vaughn and DC

Tra'vaughn White conveniently joined GNC halfway through the summer, so we had the opportunity to see him play with Derrick Colter for a few games. White appeared comfortable as the one or the two, but I think Colter will need some time to get acclimated to playing off the ball. I didn't see much, but I saw enough that I think this combo will work on offense.

Defense is another story. Last season,  Ferry would often have Jeremiah Jones guard tough point guards allowing Colter to guard the two. With both Colter and White on the floor, this will not be an option because  that would push one of the 5'10 guards to the wing on defense and likely into a substantial size mismatch. Colter or White will need to prove they can defend the opponent's best ball handler or Ferry may not be able to use them together often against certain teams.

3. Finding the best use of the 3

Heading into the summer league, I thought most of the minutes at the three would go to one of the Joneses or Ovie Soko when Ferry decided to go big. As it turns out, LG Gill should find himself in the mix for playing time as well. The Dukes still have a lot of options here, but I suspect they will go with a three guard set with Jeremiah getting 20-25 minutes a game.

4. Ovie Maturing

I have had my concerns with Ovie Soko and consistency given his up and down performances at UAB. Soko was mostly up at the summer league but there was really one player in the league who was a suitable challenge to him, Talib Zanna. He was able to run wild on everyone else, but he was prone to showboating or trying to do too much.  After a couple of performances where Ovie hurt his team late in the game, he seemed to settle down, make the safe play and show some trust in his teammates. Personally, I think the change in attitude from Soko was more reassuring than his averaging a double - double

5. A Freshman Big Stepping Forward

We didn't see much of the incoming big men this summer with only Jordan Robinson and Darius Lewis participating. Top recruit Isaiah Watkins remained sidelined while recovering from a minor knee surgery while Dominique McKoy spent the summer finishing his junior college course work. Lewis improved mightily as the summer progressed, but looks like a candidate to red shirt. Robinson showed soft hands and played the game right boxing out and setting up screens for teammates. Robinson has the potential to become an above average A-10 forward, but he's not there yet. That said, if he ends up being the worst case scenario for the Dukes in 2013-14, they should be ok when he's on the floor. If McKoy or Watkins are better, the Dukes will be in very good shape.

I feel better about the team in the short and long run after seeing what they've got at the Pro-Am. I think questions at guard, small forward and in post have been answered. Defense and how the team comes together are still a concern. There is a huge boost in talent from last year to now. However, that does not automatically translate to wins. I look for the Dukes to step forward but in today's A-10 they won't have much room for error if they want to finish outside the bottom three. Three or four years ago, this group might have had middle of the pack A-10 expecations. Today, they will have to surpass some very good teams to get there.