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Duquesne basketball mailbag: Feb. 24

Written by Craig Meyer on .

It's been about a month since our last Duquesne mailbag, a period in which many questions have been presented and some have been answered. So, if there are any more out there, I'm here to help. The number of questions we received were the most ever for one of these mailbags, which I'm sure isn't related at all to the team's five-game losing streak.

On that note, let's get started...

 

 

 For the second time in as many mailbags...

Now to the actual questions...

 

For Rene Castro, the answer is pretty simple -- he hasn't been very good. He's a ball-dominant guard who uses 24.9 percent of the team's possessions when he's on the court, second on the team only to Derrick Colter. For a point guard, that's not all that unusual, but he's been ineffective and inefficient in that time with the ball. Castro is shooting 32.6 percent from the field, 22.2 percent from 3-point range and has more turnovers (13) than assists (10). And his offensive rating of 77.5 is the worst on the team and among the worst in the Atlantic 10. Even with that dismal production, there's still an argument to be made for playing time, especially since the Dukes' two starting guards will be gone next season. But while Castro has played just four minutes in the past 10 games, each of those matchups has been pretty closely-contested. With the way he has performed this season, he's not going to be given crunch-time minutes.

As for Jordan Robinson, I'm not sure I have as concrete of an answer for that. Duquesne has settled on a rotation of three big men over the past month and change (Darius Lewis, L.G. Gill and TySean Powell), which leaves players like Robinson and Nakye Sanders with little time on the court. In his four minutes in the past eight games, Robinson had two points (on two shots), two rebounds and an assist. His two minutes in the Dukes' most recent loss, at Rhode Island, he was very productive, accruing all the stats I mentioned earlier aside from one of his rebounds. In his game prior to this eight-game stretch, at VCU, he piled up four fouls in just 11 minutes and he has been prone to racking up fouls in the past. But while he's clearly not as good as Lewis, Gill or Powell, I'm surprised he, along with Sanders, hasn't gotten more time this season.

 

I don't really envision that happening since, among other reasons, Jim Ferry is a fiercely loyal guy, especially when it comes to his assistants. Brian Nash is his college roommate. Rich Glesmann has been on his staff in some capacity for the past 11 seasons. John Rhodes, based on what I've been told and observed, does a nice job with the big men and is about as well liked as any individual could be. And Danny Lawson just became an assistant coach late last season when Rhodes was tending to his health issues.

It's hard to acknowledge because it's so bad at defending the 3, but Duquesne has actually made a lot of defensive improvements. Opponents are shooting just 41.8 percent on 2-pointers this season, the 11th-best mark in Division I, and the Dukes are currently 188th in defensive efficiency, way up from being 322nd at the end of last season. If anything, the team's underwhelming record right now is more a product of an offense that has taken a step back. So I'm not sure they necessarily need a defensive specialist (even as abysmal as their perimeter D has been).

A final note on defense, guys: please, please, please, please do not use points allowed per game as your go-to barometer. Those stats can be so heavily skewed by the tempo at which a team plays. For a squad like Duquesne that ranks 12th nationally in pace, its games are going to have more possessions and opportunities for other teams to score. So, for the purpose of analysis, let's stick with offensive and defensive efficiency.

 

Private schools are protected from right-to-know laws (not that it would be helpful in Pennsylvania anyway), but I've been told that the contract runs through the 2018-19 season after he signed a one-year extension back in June. That means once this season is over, Ferry has three years remaining on his deal. The school's most recent tax filing had Ferry making $578,087, so if the contract is terminated early, he'd be owed a pretty nice financial package.

 

They'd certainly be in the conversation. In this hypothetical, they'd be 19-8 with two wins against Dayton and a nice home victory against George Washington (we're not including the URI game in this, since they were never really in any kind of firm control of that one). At the very least, they'd be considered a solid bet for the NIT heading into this final stretch. There are a couple of problems with this, though:

1) Duquesne had a weak non-conference schedule, one KenPom ranks as the 18th-easiest in Division I. It included a lopsided victory against a better-than-expected Penn State team, but that soft slate isn't a very appealing thing to have on a tournament resume.

2) We can't think about Dayton as it is now -- a ranked team near the top of the conference standings -- if it lost to Duquesne twice. In that instance, the Flyers would be 20-7 with two losses against one of the A-10's perennial doormats, so it's not like they'd be held in the same light they are right now. That's one of the tricky things with these what-if scenarios: people often only take the results of one side into consideration when, in this case, the Dayton wins wouldn't necessarily mean quite as much. It's all so relative.

 

It partially depends on how they finish up because if they lose their final two and bow out early in the conference tournament, they're suddenly in a pretty tenuous spot. Otherwise, they should be feeling alright with where they are.

ESPN's Charlie Creme has the Dukes as an eight-seed in his most recent bracketology and that's with the assumption they win the A-10 tournament. Even if they don't win the conference tournament, they will finish first in the A-10 if they win their final two games, which will certainly count for something. They don't have a bad loss -- their three defeats came to teams that are a combined 61-16 -- and they have a resounding non-conference victory against a St. John's team that was ranked at the time. Plus, if fans are looking for some solace, they can turn to last year, when a six-loss Dayton team got an at-large berth (and a No. 7 seed).

In short, they're in pretty good shape.

 

Recruiting info is a little more sparse at the A-10 level than it is for some of the major conferences, but from everything I've read, heard and watched, it seems to be a pretty nice haul. It's largely focused on what the team is losing -- backcourt pieces -- and includes a point guard (Mike Lewis), shooting guard (Spencer Littleson) and swing man (Isiaha Mike).

Mike, from what I've gathered, has the most star potential of anyone in the class and is already viewed in Canadian basketball circles (he's from Toronto) as a steal for Duquesne. Lewis plays on a loaded high school team featuring top-five recruit and Duke signee Jayson Tatum, so his stats may not be as impressive as they would be otherwise. But I was able to catch one of his games on ESPN a few months ago and he's impressive. Tarin Smith will probably be the team's point guard next season, but if Lewis really comes on and grasps the Dukes' offense, then Smith can move off ball where his ridiculous athleticism could be further utilized. Littleson is having an excellent senior season and should project nicely as a two guard for Duquesne. It's natural to try to compare an accomplished, white outside shooter to Micah Mason, but I'm going to avoid that for now.

 

With all due respect to Bob, a luminary in Pittsburgh sports journalism, that's a laughable suggestion. For all that Duquesne has struggled the past 40 years, it's still a program that plays in a 4,500-seat gym and spent $3.5 million on basketball last season. Though the results don't indicate it, this is an A-10 program. I'm not an NEC expert, but I covered Robert Morris for about three years and can say with the utmost confidence that Duquesne doesn't fit the profile of an NEC school because of the reasons I mentioned above. A lot of programs in that conference play in small gyms that could be confused for nice high school facilities and don't invest nearly as much in their programs. Compared to Duquesne -- which, again, spent $3.5 million on basketball last season -- the most lavish spender in the NEC was LIU Brooklyn, which spent $1.8 million, almost half as much. As illogical as moving to a lesser conference seems, at least right now, if a move were to be made, it would be to something like the Colonial (ninth in RPI) or MAAC (20th), not the NEC (30th of 32).

Also, if you're Duquesne, why would you move down? It would be the ultimate white flag, an admission that the school doesn't have the resources or fortitude to compete in a league with pretty similar schools. Once you drop down a level, it would take something remarkable to ever get back. It would be voluntarily and permanently relegating yourself. We're also only viewing this through the prism of men's basketball, when many of the other school's programs have been quite successful in the A-10.

Now, if you maybe wanted to move to the Patriot League and trade places with Boston University, then at least I'd be all ears.

 

Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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