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End-of-season Duquesne basketball mailbag

Written by Craig Meyer on .

 

Palumbo Center

(Photo: Duquesne Athletics)

It’s time to put a bow on this thing.

Duquesne’s season ended Monday with a loss to Morehead State in the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational. The Dukes finished 17-17, the kind of record that presents a “glass half full or half empty” scenario that I’ll discuss a little more in a season wrap-up I’ll have in tomorrow’s paper. On the surface, it was a success, but given where the team was in late January, is it hard to not view that mark without some sense of disappointment? (I’ll leave the rest for the story)

Even though the games are over until November, I know some of you all still have questions, whether it’s about the season that just transpired, what awaits the Dukes in the offseason or, gasp, next season.

Let’s get to them…

 

It’s murky. That doesn’t mean I would classify it as a rebuilding year or anything along those lines, but given what Duquesne is losing in Derrick Colter and Micah Mason, there’s just a sense of uncertainty about how the team will do.

Colter started every game of his college career and has been a program cornerstone the past four seasons. Mason is one of the most accomplished 3-point shooters in NCAA history and he was, without question, the team’s best player last season. The void they’re leaving behind goes beyond their skill. They were such a disproportionately large cog in everything Duquesne did, especially offensively. In Atlantic 10 games, they played 88.9 percent of possible minutes at the team’s two guard spots. For the season, the pair accounted for 45 percent of its teams’ points and 44.7 percent of its shots. That’s not a small hole being left behind – that’s a gaping void.

I remember talking with a member of the coaching staff back in early November about how I thought the 2015-16 could represent a really nice step forward for the program. They agreed and took it a step further. “Wait until next year,” they said. “We’ll be even better.” That statement speaks to the confidence they have in Tarin Smith, but it was also based on the idea that Smith and Rene Castro would be the Dukes’ backcourt of the future. Given Castro’s erratic play and mystifying inability to blow past any defender last season, that dream seems to be on life support. I think there’s something to it, though. I haven’t tried to hide my affinity for Smith and everyone at the 3-5 positions is back and will, theoretically, be improved versions of their 2015-16 selves. Add to that a talented freshman class and you should have an intriguing group. If we’re comparing teams and measuring success by wins, the late collapse last season means that the 2016-17 team won’t have an overwhelming bar to try to keep up with.

 

I don’t cover the women’s team – that’d be Sam Werner, the Post-Gazette’s women’s basketball writer extraordinaire – so whatever insight I can try to provide on this will be a little limited.

Women’s basketball, unfortunately, doesn’t have the same level of recruiting coverage and scouting that its male counterpart does, but ESPN lists the following two signees for Duquesne’s 2016 class:

Duquesne womens recruits

ESPN’s recruiting grades are on a scale up to 100. For reference, each of the top 100 players in the 2016 class is rated as a 98 and the bottom three of that group (98-100) are rated as 91s. Last season, Duquesne’s two listed signees, Chassidy Omogrosso and Conor Richardson, were 90s. Of course, there’s a problem with ESPN’s system, at least from what I’ve been able to tell: it doesn’t take into account international prospects, which, when evaluating Duquesne, is a pretty big part of the equation. Last year, for example, Kadri-Ann Lass wasn’t listed and we all saw what an immediate impact she had.

So whatever picture is being painted here is a fairly incomplete one.

 

I got this question a couple of months ago, but I’m happy to answer it again, especially because one of my choices for the projected lineup has changed.

As we saw this past season, Jim Ferry is someone who is fairly consistent with his lineup, so I don’t think there are going to be a ton of changes. If a player started last season and is returning, it’s pretty safe to think they’ll earn those spots back barring something unexpected. Another note on this: I’m not including freshmen. I haven’t seen Isiaha Mike, Spencer Littleson or Mike Lewis play beyond highlight tapes and, in Lewis’ case, the occasional game, and I don’t know how their game will project to the next level until I can watch them in practice next season.

This is a speculative exercise, but tossing those guys’ names into a starting lineup without much background knowledge of them beyond clips and word of mouth wouldn’t do me, you or anyone much good.

Here’s the lineup, though:

PG: Tarin Smith
SG: Mar’Qywell Jackson
SF: Eric James
PF: L.G. Gill
C: Darius Lewis

That’s what I believe the starting five will be based on the returning players and what we saw last season. Now, if I had my choice, I’d go with something a little larger and more unconventional:

PG: Tarin Smith
SG: Eric James
SF: L.G. Gill
PF: Jordan Robinson
C: Darius Lewis

But that’s just me.

 

The only ones that are set in stone for now are Pitt and Robert Morris. Beyond that, I can’t say for sure. I know the Georgia Tech game last year was a one-game contract, so the Yellow Jackets aren’t a rollover matchup into next season (though I guess they could reschedule with each other if their experience in Atlanta in late December was that awesome).

I’ll try to get my hands on some of the contracts from last season to see if any of them are multi-year deals. That will start to flesh things out a little bit more.

 

I wrote earlier this month about new AD Dave Harper’s concerns about the lack of a home-court atmosphere and I think the recruiting angle is a part of that larger worry. Games are a chance for high school prospects to see the culmination of the work they put in, the place where they get to showcase the product of hours of practice and training behind closed doors. It’s a competition, sure, but games are also a stage and a reward of sorts for enduring the long slog players have to work through.

If you go to other A-10 gyms like Dayton and VCU, you see sold-out, raucous crowds. The same applies, though maybe to a lesser extent, to places like Saint Joseph’s, George Washington, Davidson, St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island. George Mason and Saint Louis are down for now, but if/when they get back to where they were recently, the same will hold true for them.

Duquesne, on the other hand, is a school with declining attendance and a facility in need of a makeover, a place where you’re just as likely to hear a chorus of groans when something goes wrong as a roar of applause when something goes right. It’s the kind of gym where you’re able to hear a disgruntled fan yelling across the court at Ferry to make a substitution or call a timeout.

The apathy and frustration that has festered for god knows how long is evident in the crowd at Palumbo on game days. Winning will obviously change a lot of that, though Duquesne won 17 games this season and attendance was at a 10-year low. But as far as recruits are concerned, yeah, a morgue-like atmosphere for home games isn’t going to be a major part of a sales pitch.

 

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

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