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Dukes Dispatches: UT-Martin preview

Written by Brian Batko on .

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, Duquesne basketball fans. Are you spending your night watching/following as the Dukes play their sixth game in less than two weeks? If so, this is the place for you.

I don't know a whole lot about tonight's opponent, UT-Martin. In fact, I might even know more about former Steelers quarterback Tee Martin, who ironically went to the OG UT (hold the Martin). Did you know he's now the offensive coordinator at USC? Man, I loved Tee Martin.

OK, back to business. Dukes could really use a win tonight against another, we'll say, low-major opponent. But in today's college basketball world, the terms high-major, mid-major and low-major don't really have a whole lot of meaning. UT-Martin has won four in a row, which includes a close win over Canisius, which you'll surely remember got the best of Duquesne just before the buzzer Friday night. The Skyhawks' only loss this season? An 86-83 defeat at SEC outfit Ole Miss in the season opener, which is certainly nothing to scoff at.

All of that is to say that we should brace for the possibility these Skyhawks can fly (read: are pretty decent). I'm certain the Dukes will. They need any victories they can muster at this point -- road, home, in November on the night before Thanksgiving, whatever. Below, you'll find my scouting report for this game, as it appeared in this morning's fine Post-Gazette (which I trust you all picked up and read front to back), and I'll add one final note after the glance box: 

Screenshot 2016-11-23 at 5.46.25 PM

 

Well, I'll be. That "hidden stat" really sticks out to me! We knew the Dukes were young inexperienced, but maybe not that young inexperienced. And who knew UT-Martin would have such an old experienced bunch? Perhaps that factor will come into play here when we tip off in just about an hour at Palumbo Center (which will be something of a ghost town tonight as students are on break and many others might be meeting up with friends/family in town for the holiday).

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Dukes Dispatches: Saint Francis preview

Written by Brian Batko on .

Checking in quickly from courtside here at Palumbo Center, where the Dukes will take on Northeast Conference outfit Saint Francis (does it really need the "Pa."?) at 7 p.m. Good chance for Duquesne to rebound here from Sunday's loss at Penn State, where neither team played particularly well but the Nittany Lions turned it on down the stretch. 

Obviously, the Red Flash won't have the kind of athletes and size Penn State brought to the table, let alone talent, but sophomore guard Jamaal King threw in 21 points Saturday in a 92-82 loss at St. Bonaventure, another A-10 opponent. King was 7 of 15 from the floor, 4 of 8 from 3. And 82 points at Bonnie's? Makes me think this could be an up-and-down game with lots of scoring.

Saint Francis has one local guy, Gateway grad Deon Baker, who played at the Community College of Beaver County last year. He's a 6-5 junior wing, but did not see action at Bonnie's.

On the Dukes front, sophomore two-guard Josh Steel is dressed for what I believe is the first time this season. Does this mean his suspension is over? That I can't tell you, but we'll see.

Fresh off his A-10 rookie of the week honor to start his college career, I'll be interested to see if freshman guard Mike Lewis II has another nice game tonight. And one of these days, I'm expecting his more highly touted freshman teammate Isiaha Mike to get off.

Now, the scouting report from today's hard-copy P-G that I trust all of you picked up this morning:

Matchup: Duquesne (1-1) vs. Saint Francis, Pa. (0-1), 7 p.m. today, Palumbo Center.

Radio: WJAS-AM (1320).

Duquesne: Coming off 82-74 loss Sunday at Penn State. … Freshman G Mike Lewis II led the way with 19 points and was named Atlantic 10 Conference rookie of the week. …Has won 10 consecutive non-conference home games.

Saint Francis: Coming off 92-82 loss Saturday at St. Bonaventure. … Is 44-79 under fifth-year coach Rob Kimmel. … Was picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the Northeast Conference preseason poll.

Hidden stat: Duquesne has just 19 assists on 50 field goals with 34 turnovers in two games, an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.56 that was tied for 316th in Division I entering Tuesday.

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Dukes visit Penn State for 6 p.m. tip

Written by Brian Batko on .

Well, no harm, no foul, right?

Duquesne’s exhibition loss to Mansfield last weekend didn’t prove to be a harbinger that this team would go 0-31 against Division I competition. That’s not to say Friday night’s win against Loyola Maryland was all that encouraging, but it sure beats losing, which is exactly what Penn State did at home to an Albany team that was picked to finish third in the America East.

By my estimation, it was quite a bad loss for Penn State. But it was the season opener. Some teams start out rusty. I think the Nittany Lions are better than that, which could be a problem for the Dukes. I’d think there’s certainly no chance of Penn State underestimating another team, which might make it tough for Duquesne to go into State College and leave with a victory. But hey, it wasn’t much of an issue last season with Derrick Colter and Micah Mason leading the way to a 26-point beating.

Regardless, it should be a fun game. Any time you can get an A-10 and a Big Ten team together on Nov. 13, sign me up. On to the scouting report that ran in today’s P-G:

Matchup: Duquesne (1-0) at Penn State (0-1), 6 p.m. today, Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, Pa.

TV, Radio: Big Ten Network, WJAS-AM (1320).

Duquesne: Coming off 65-60 season-opening win Friday against Loyola Maryland. … Routed Penn State, 78-52, last season at Consol Energy Center. … Held Loyola Maryland to 36.5 percent shooting.

Penn State: Coming off 87-81 home loss Friday against Albany. … Junior G Shep Garner scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half. … Leads the all-time series with Duquesne, 27-20, with a 17-4 edge at home.

Hidden stat: This is the second of a program-record eight games in the month of November for Duquesne.

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Dukes Dispatches: Mansfield preview (with a side of decommit)

Written by Brian Batko on .

Dear readers, this is not a drill: We have real, live, actual college basketball tomorrow. Not official college basketball, mind you -- it's only an exhibition game that won't count toward the regular season or Duquesne's record -- but Division II Mansfield of the PSAC East is coming to Palumbo Center for a 2 p.m. tip.

(Before you ask, I don't know what happened in Duquesne's supposed "secret scrimmage" last weekend at Toledo. I'm pretty positive that it DID happen, but not all schools want to release scrimmage info, even though the NCAA allows it now, so that could be why you've seen nothing about it publicly).

So, Mansfield, what will this tell us about the Dukes for this coming year? Honestly, probably not a lot. The big question surrounding this team, to me, is whether it can compete in the Atlantic 10, and Mansfield is not an A-10-level squad. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to watch for or monitor tomorrow. Here's a few things I'll try to keep an eye on at the game:

* Combinations. As Jim Ferry told me last month at practice, then reiterated a few weeks ago at A-10 media day, he and his staff are still trying to figure out who on this team fits together best. It's nice to have the depth Ferry has touted and I've written about, but how does a coach make best use of it? 

"I see us having a team that can go 10 deep," Ferry said at media day. "Now, where do those minutes play out and what is the combination is probably more of a concern than how many. It’s what pieces fit together, what group? You gotta have enough guys on the floor that can defend and score. So which combination? Can you play these two guys together? Or, you can’t, because neither one can shoot, or neither one can defend the perimeter, so you gotta really figure out those combinations. I think we’re really working on that stuff right now."

* Startling lineup. This, I suppose, goes hand-in-hand with the above, as well. We'll find out tomorrow whether Tarin Smith is suited up and ready to play following knee surgery in September. If Smith is out, who starts at point guard? Rene Castro? Or will it be Mike Lewis II, a true freshman Ferry keeps going out of his way to praise? And what about potential freshman sensation Isiaha Mike, will he start, and if so, at the 3 or the 4? Both grad transfers, Emile Blackman and Kale Abrahamson? I think in general, basketball fans and even media too probably make too big a deal of starting lineups, but still, it's relevant.

* Freshmen. I mentioned Lewis and Mike above as potential starters, but whether they do or they don't, I'll still be curious to see how they perform. Throw in shooting guard Spencer Littleson, too, who doesn't have the type of expectations as his classmates, but still could get some playing time tomorrow. I don't think I'll put as much stock into Blackman and Abrahamson, if only because we know they can succeed in college basketball to some degree. A game against Mansfield won't tell us if their talents are a good match for A-10 basketball.

No other A-10 teams have played exhibitions yet, although a few do tonight (Dayton, Davidson, VCU and Saint Louis), so you can check out those results before tomorrow's game if you're really interested. Mansfield is expected to be a middle-of-the-pack PSAC East team, so I'm not expecting a close one for the Dukes, but you never know.

Now, in some recruiting news...

Darius Banks, who sure seemed like Duquesne's best get in the 2017 recruiting class, tweeted his decommitment Thursday night. I can't say I saw that one coming, not with the early signing period beginning next week. It certainly puts a ding in what was a very impressive job by Duquesne on the recruiting trail the last two months, and I guess now the Dukes aren't done with the 2017 class after all. They still have Jamari Wheeler, John Walker and Lewis Djonkam in the fold, but in my view, a wing is needed in this class. Banks was a good one, but now he's out. The other three? I have no reason to believe they won't sign. Djonkam just tweeted the other day about how excited he is to put pen to paper, so to speak. Whether they try to get Banks' replacement now, or wait til the spring, that remains to be seen.

Don't you just love following recruiting?

Feel free to drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or Twitter at @BrianBatko or in the comments below. Let's get ready to watch some hoops.

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We talk that Dukes talk

Written by Brian Batko on .

Hey, one month from today we’ll have Duquesne’s first regular-season game, against Loyala Maryland. How about that? Until then, there’s still a few things for me to weigh in on:

 

  • First, I had an article Saturday off the practice I observed Friday afternoon, which you can read here. Basically, I’m pretty intrigued by this team. I don’t know if it will be good, but I think it could be. I would say there are only two near-locks to start, and that’s senior Darius Lewis at center and Tarin Smith at point guard (assuming all goes well with his knee recovery, which I’ve heard nothing to make me think otherwise). Beyond that, I would rank the starters in terms of likelihood like this:

1. Eric James (returning starter after Jeremiah Jones’ injury)

2. Isiaha Mike (I think he’s that good right now, as evidenced by my above tweet from Friday)

3. Emile Blackman (don’t think he was brought in to come off the bench, but you never know)

4. Rene Castro (wouldn’t shock me if Jim Ferry wants to use the two-PG approach with Castro and Smith)

5. Kale Abrahamson (another guy who probably wasn’t brought in as a bench player, but might be the best fit for him given Mike’s talent and his ability to make shots from deep)

6. Josh Steel (a dark horse to start at the 2, but I think he’s more likely to be a shooter off the bench)

 

  • Beyond those six, I’d think Mike Lewis II is behind Smith and Castro at point guard, and that Jordan Robinson and Nakye Sanders aren’t likely to start over Lewis at the 5. But I think the two big guys will play, and Ferry really seems to like what Lewis is doing, even if there won’t necessarily be too many minutes for him.

  • Out of all three “bigs” I actually thought Robinson had the best practice Friday, but it was just a couple hours I had the chance to watch. I’m just saying, don’t write him off.

  • Another guy I didn’t mention in the article is freshman guard Spencer Littleson. I haven’t heard this from staff or anything, but I feel like he’s a redshirt candidate. No shortage of backcourt players, and Eric James could maybe even play the 2 a bit if need be. Then again, maybe Ferry will want Littleson to play some minutes this season here and there.

Enough about this year’s team. As Ferry told me Friday, the season is still so far away that not much has been decided at this point. But he and his staff continue to do well on the recruiting trail:

  • After landing a couple of Floridians in point guard Jamari Wheeler and wing Darius Banks on back-to-back weekends last month, the Dukes got a pledge Monday night from Texas forward John Walker. I’ve seen both 6-foot-8 and 6-9 for Walker’s height, but regardless, that’s big enough to be a 4-man, which is where this team needed to add a piece for next season and beyond.

  • There are a couple of fairly recent clips of Walker on YouTube that you can watch here and here. He’s thin and didn’t put up crazy numbers as a junior (12.9 points, 5.8 rebounds) but aren’t all recruits basically a work in progress? Plus, Scout analyst Evan Daniels tweeted Walker is “an absolute steal” and his site has him as a 3-star. I'll probably refer to him as "Johnnie Walker" and "Walker Texas Ranger" at varying times.

  • The post-summer commitment deluge might not be over, either. Walker visited campus over the weekend, as did Virginia forward Lewis Djonkam, who’s more of a true big than Walker at 6-8, 242. It would not shock me one bit if Djonkam soon becomes the fourth member of this 2017 recruiting class along with Walker, Wheeler and Banks.

  • If that happens, Duquesne will be at the scholarship limit for next season (assuming no unforeseen departures). And it’ll be a pretty logical replacement process, with the two big men replacing Lewis and Abrahamson, and the two guards replacing Blackman and Mar’Qywell Jackson, who transferred in August. And you never know, with Jackson leaving a scholarship currently empty, maybe Ferry kicks the tires on one of those midseason transfers who would be eligible next December-ish and lets the chips (or roster spots) fall where they may.

  • Update: Djonkam did commit Tuesday morning, as expected. I've got a story up online on that here: http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/duquesne/2016/10/11/Duquesne-basketball-lands-another-frontcourt-recruit-in-Lewis-Djonkam/stories/201610110148
  • So now if you really want to look ahead, with all current 2017-18 (geez, that feels weird to type) scholarship spots accounted for, next season's roster looks something like this:

Bigs: Jordan Robinson, Nakye Sanders, Lewis Djonkam

Forwards/wings: Eric James, Isiaha Mike, John Walker, Kellon Taylor (walk-on)

Guards: Tarin Smith, Rene Castro, Josh Steel, Mike Lewis II, Spencer Littleson, Darius Banks, Jamari Wheeler

 Now, a few other things around the A-10: 

  • Conference media day is Tuesday, and I will be there. Every coach will be in attendance at Consol Energy Center PPG Paints Arena, and the preseason media poll/all-conference teams will be released. I got to vote on those, which was fun and cool and maybe my picks were terrible, who knows?

  • One of the coaches who will be interesting to talk to is George Washington interim Maurice Joseph, taking over for Mike Lonergan late in the game under unfortunate circumstances. This could be a setback for the program’s future, but I don’t see it hurting the Colonials all that much this year, mainly because I happen to like their roster.

  • Saint Joe's will be down a returning starter this season, with a knee injury for sophomore forward Pierfrancesco Oliva. He didn't quite play starter minutes last year, but this hurts an already rebuilding roster. Phil Martelli's a good coach, but I think the Hawks could have a really down year.
  • Dayton lost a potentially intriguing piece when Kostas Antetokounmpo was ruled inelgible for this season. I won’t miss typing that last name, but I was looking forward to seeing the little brother of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Why did I just type Antetokounmpo again? Greek Freak.

OK, that’s it from me for now on the basketball front. Elsewhere on the Bluff, Duquesne football hosts Robert Morris at 7 p.m. Saturday night, and that one could get ugly. It’s shaping up to be another nice season for the gridiron Dukes, while Robert Morris is really struggling to get anything going. It’s the Northeast Conference opener for Jerry Schmitt, Dillon Buechel, Wayne Capers, Christian Kuntz and the Dukes.

Brian Batko: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Twitter @BrianBatko. 

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