Dukes Season Ends at Oregon

It is fitting that the final seconds of the 2010-11 Duquesne Dukes mens’ basketball season were sealed with the two primary shortcomings of the team. Down three with 1:54 remaining on the clock Oregon possessed the ball with a chance to get a basket and control the clock. What occurred was an all out defensive effort by the Dukes making sure to contest every shot.

There was only one problem. After running the shot clock down Oregon guard Malcolm Armstead put up a shot, which missed but was corralled by the Ducks allowing them to run more clock culminating in another shot which was grabbed off once more by Oregon.

Finally another miss was rebounded by T.J. McConnell who outletted the ball quickly resulting in a Bill Clark layup with 10 seconds left to play. The Dukes, one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the nation, allowed Oregon to run 1:40 on the clock in one possession essentially sealing their fate.

The Clark layup briefly gave the Dukes a reprieve. Following a foul of Oregon forward E.J. Singler and two made free throws, the Dukes had 7 seconds to tie the game with a three point shot. In that possession, Sean Johnson cleverly used his deceptive shot fake to get Oregon’s Armstead off his feet leading to a shooting foul and three foul shots.

Johnson was then on the line with the ability to tie the game. The former New York City Catholic League MVP, who led his team to a league title in high school, missed the first attempt complicating matters for the Dukes. He would go on the make the second and miss the third on purpose with the hopes of a Duke scooping up the ball and making a game tying shot. No such luck.

Johnson’s miss was reminiscent of the two free throws he missed in the quarterfinal game against St. Joseph’s with Duquesne up two which could have effectively sealed the game for the Dukes. These failures at the charity stripe are glaring examples of a team that ranked among the dregs of Division I in free throw shooting percentage. Poor Defensive rebounding and abominable foul shooting were the markers of what could have been for this Duquesne club. Its a fitting denouement to a down-and-up and-back-down campaign.

Choruses of “what could have been” are sure to echo through Dukes nation. Were the team able to knock down free throws it would have earned its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1977 with potential wins over West Virginia, Penn State and George Mason.

While it is easy to point to Johnson’s miss, it should be noted that it was his first free throw of the night which is typically the most difficult to make and it was only one of eight attempts compared to 26 for the Ducks. It seems the home team was favored by the officials which is an all to familiar sight for mid-major teams who receive travel compensation to play at a big time school. The home cooking is what won this game for Oregon. All other factors can be taken into account but the uneven officiating stands out as the deciding factor. If the calls were more even, the Dukes would have been victorious despite being a poor foul shooting team. Nobody can tell me differently.

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Dukes Notch First Post Season Win in 16 Years

Brilliant. Simply brilliant. Yesterday’s win over Montana illuminated the very best of what Duquesne under Ron Everhart can accomplish. It has been 17 years since the Dukes last pulled off a victory in the post season. Even if it came in an inferior tournament it does not make the accomplishment insignificant. The way in which the game was won was even more uplifting for a once moribund program. The win over Montana serves as Everhart’s magnum opus thus far as Duquesne’s head coach. The Coach explains.

“We knew we had a tremendous challenge coming into this game,” said Duquesne coach Ron Everhart, who notched his first career post-conference tournament win. “[Damian] Saunders has been really sick, so we decided to go with a platoon system to utilize our depth and maybe wear them down a little bit. We thought it would help if we could make it an up-and-down game.

Also from Bob Meseroll of the Missoulian.

The Dukes also wore the Griz down with superior depth. Ten players logged 10 or more minutes for coach Ron Everhart, who used wholesale substitutions to keep his players fresh. Everhart said he hit on the strategy by accident. Starting post Damian Saunders was sick, prompting him to substitute more frequently.

“What we did is we went with a platoon system, play more like a hockey line and try to utilize our depth,” Everhart said. “We felt that from a depth perspective we could maybe wear these guys down a little bit if we could make it an up-and-down game.”

At the heart of Everhart’s system is a requirement of depth. Having many warm bodies that can play productive minutes is central to the team’s success. Over the past several years as Everhart has accrued more talented players he has moved away from the 10-40 paradigm that he employed early in his tenure on the bluff. The rationale for the switch is sound. As a coach, one wants to get his best players the most minutes as possible. This may not be the best plan for Everhart’s scheme however.

I spent much ink complaining about Duquesne’s offense. While I still think there are fundamental problems that must be resolved, it could be that much of the inaction on offense has to do with fatigue stemming from the maximum effort required to run Everhart’s defense. Perhaps, the offensive torpor can be corrected if simply more players play.

There is a point of diminishing returns as there is with most things. The players must be able to log useful minutes not just minutes. The team must still be able to play its game, so in terms of Duquesne pressure the ball and quickly rotate to help on defense and dribble and pass in circles 30 feet from the basket on offense (I kid).

It does seem though that the bench players this season are capable of doing just that. For much of the season, Everhart was employing a seven man rotation, that simply is not enough to expect max effort while maintaining intelligent play. It has seemed in the minutes they have played, Joel Wright and Andre Marhold have held their own while on the floor and have often managed to be more productive offensive players than Saunders. Similarly, last season Sean Johnson was buried on the bench in favor of the less talented Jason Duty. In those cases it seems that more is better.

Last night’s effort culminated in 1.150 points per possession on offense. That is the best mark for the Dukes in over a month. The defense was not spectacular but it did what it is supposed to do, create turnovers and fast break points. The Dukes managed to turn 19 turnovers into 21 points. Duquesne was motivated and for stretches put on a clinic of how to run an up tempo style.

What does the future hold? Oregon defeated Weber State, so the Dukes will head to Eugene on Monday to face Dana Altman’s Ducks. A loss to a BCS school would be understandable, it would feel better than a loss to a Big Sky program. It will likely be tough game to win. Altman, of Creighton fame, runs an intelligent highly efficient offense and has major conference talent. That’s a deadly combination. However, considering Oregon’s poor field goal defense it is possible that the Dukes can capitalize on offense. Win or lose, the players, coaches and fans can go out of of this season with a smile. Ending on a loss to St. Joe’s would have been awful. Thank Allah for the CBI.

Dukes Make Early Exit in Atlantic City

Alas, I get to writing the much belated Atlantic 10 tournament recap. While I was in AC I was staying at the Hilton which generously provides Internet access at the rate of $15 a day. Needless to say I did not partake in their offer. Further, I had to travel back home to Pittsburgh and then to school in Cleveland where I am returning after spring break. Deciding to be a dedicated student, at least temporarily, I put my studies before the blog.

I was hoping to write this yesterday but fatigue and pain got in the way. It took me a long time to convince myself to write this post simply because it hurts too much. With these words I lacerate the scab protecting myself from emotional torment and allow the puss to seep out on the Duquesne men’s basketball season.

As you may know, the Dukes fell in their first game in Atlantic City to 12th seeded Saint Joe’s who barely made their way into the tournament. It was not unlike any other loss that the Dukes have fell victim to this season with the exceptions of the defeats at the hands of Pitt and Saint Louis. Pure and simply, free throw shooting lost the game.

A team cannot expect to win many games in which its efficacy from the charity stripe is less than 53 percent. Going along with the free throws there were a host of missed lay ups as well and an offensive meltdown in the final minutes. After the Dukes took the lead with 1:29 remaining in regulation the squad only managed two shot attempts—both layups—both missed. A dunk by the Hawks’ Ronald Roberts sent the game to overtime where SJU took control of the game.

Once again, there was no lack of motivation only lack of intelligence. Until Duquesne can make the shots it is supposed to and playing consistently smart basketball will the Dukes firmly establish themselves as an A-10 power. As for this season, its off to the CBI tournament in which hopefully the Dukes can win a game or two. Better luck next year.

Dukes Close Regular Season with Loss at Richmond

Yesterday, I was anxious to watch the Duquesne game on TV because, since the Atlantic 10 sucks and no Pittsburgh stations are willing to broadcast games which limits opportunities to see the Dukes. My cable went out yesterday morning through the length of the game including my Internet access, so I listened to the game on the radio. Good thing I did. Had I watched the game something probably would have been broken.

Yesterday’s game was a perfect encapsulation of everything that is wrong with Duquesne. Poor free throw shooting, missed layups and contested shots. Generally the Dukes are average at grabbing offensive boards. Not yesterday. Duquesne managed to corral only 25.5 percent of misses. That is not enough for a team that like Richmond that is so good at preventing open shots and is so poor at cleaning up the glass. Saturday marked another poor performance from the charity stripe resulting in 61 percent effort. Most importantly, and most frustratingly 12 missed layups.

Missed layups have been secretly a problem for Duquesne over Everhart’s tenure. Why can’t anyone finish a layup in traffic. Other teams do it all the time, even those that are undersized. I have come up with a few potential explanations for this phenomena. It always seems that the layups are rushed which would seem to indicate that the Dukes are afraid of contact. This could be because of a general fear of going against a bigger guy, but I think it is that they are afraid to shoot free throws, particularly Damian Saunders.

This apprehension could explain all of this. If foul shooting is the root cause, then fix the foul shooting and the layup problem will take care of itself. When players are not confident in making free throws it limits their desire to drive hard to the basket since when there is ca foul, they don’t think they can make the freebies. This needs to change. If I am right, then that could make Duquesne’s offense no longer suck, because the source of the timidity that has marked the offense will be eliminated.

In better news, Rhode Island lost to St. Bonaventure which gives Duquesne a first round bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Even better news is that George Washington beat Dayton which makes them the five seed, and the likely quarterfinal matchup for the Dukes. GW is the preferred opponent because, unlike Rhody, it is a poor field goal defense team. We saw what Richmond, an excellent field goal defense team do against Duquesne, we don’t want to see that again with URI. Yesterday was not all doom and gloom because of these events and this season still is one of the best in the history of the program.

Dukes Pull Off First Close Victory

Wednesday night’s six point victory over St. Bonaventure effectively pulled the monkey off the team’s back. It turns out the Dukes can win a close game. The game was overall unspectacular. The defense and offense were solid if not outstanding. The primary highlight to be taken from the game was the large amount of turnovers created. The created 23 turnovers in 67 defensive possession or 34.5 percent which was the largest percentage since a 37.2% mark in the George Washington game. That’s a good sign going forward that the defensive pressure can still be effective because that is likely how this team will upset better clubs such as Richmond or Xavier.

Not everything went right for the Dukes but they still pulled off the win. Bill Clark and Damian Saunders had sub-par performances, but they were more than picked up by TJ McConnell, Mike Talley and Sean Johnson, who were spectacular last night. Effort from the team was high across the board and when Duquesne needed a basket in the final minutes Sean Johnson Stepped up and made an open three pointer from the top of the key despite missing his first three chances. That is primary aspect I am looking for the games remaining. Will the players play timid? Often the offense devolves into a game of ring around the rosey in which the ball moves around the perimeter but no functional motion occurs leaving the Dukes too easy to guard. The result of that is the team falling down. That did not heppen yesterday though and with a URI loss last night the Dukes once again control their destiny for the 4 seed and a bye in the league tournament. All is not lost yet.

Dukes Suffer Bad Loss at St. Louis

Alright, now I am concerned. After a Danny Nee like stink bomb led the Dukes to a 62-51 loss. Maybe the commenters on the message boards are right and the URI loss was just too deflating. I still don’t quite believe that. It seems clear that there was a lack of effort yesterday as evidenced by a slow start and terrible offensive performance. Steve Overbey of the Trib reports,

“This was close to the worst effort we’ve had all year,” Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said. “We just didn’t guard the basketball.”

Monteiro agreed.

“We didn’t come out with enough energy to win,” he said.

Everhart and Monteiro’s analysis is apt but the question remains, why? There are clues in Everhart’s statement. “We just didn’t guard the basketball,” the coach exclaims. Was that truly the problem? Ken Pomeroy’s site reveals that Dukes let up only 0.942 points per possession, which is quite a good figure. The problem was not on the defensive end but rather, as has been the issue of late, the offense. The offense was absolutely putrid scoring an absurdly bad 0.775 points per possession and notched an effective field goal percentage of an equally terrible 34.5 percent. This being the case, why can’t Everhart see the obvious? It’s the offense stupid.

I have a theory. Its fair to say that Everhart is a defensive minded coach which has its merits. Defense is only half the game however, and when a team that is based around getting turnovers to score in transition does not, it must get offensive production from somewhere else. That simply is not happening too often. While I have never been to a formal Ron Everhart conducted practice I’m going to venture to guess that much more time is placed on defense and hustle than is on formulating a coherent offense. That is why there is too much standing around. That is the reason for players dribbling in circles 30 feet from the basket. That also is the reason why Duquesne teams miss too many free throws and lay ups. I could be wrong but this logically makes the most sense.

If offense is not made a priority and only the rudimentary structure of a scheme is put in place, no wonder a team fails to get a consistent offensive effort. Teams see other clubs’ style and they adjust. Success is all about adjustment. This goes for players, coaches or any other profession. It seems to me that this team is incapable of altering its game plan when things do not go right. The forbearer of that responsibility must be the head coach. St. Louis got blown out in the previous meeting against Duquesne, so it adjusted and got better results.

Lack of adjustment would also explain the inability to close out tight games and why Everhart’s teams seem to fade down the stretch. The novelty wears off and eventually teams are not blindsided by the up tempo style. Opponents adjust and the Dukes’ advantage is nil. Duquesne must counter those changes with their own alterations, but I don’t know if this coaching staff and players have it in them to do that.

Look, I love Ron and the job he has done at Duquesne. I’m so glad he chose to come to the bluff when it was not a promising job and transform it into something that matters. He deserves primary responsibility for that. The program is light-years better than it was under his predecessor and I hope he stays for a long time. That being said, he needs to get better. He must adjust if he wants this program to become John Chaney’s Temple Owls. Playing one-sided basketball is not enough. More focus must be placed on the offense. As I suggested in the Rhody preview, perhaps he and Jim Baron can do some type of mind meld. Until that point, there will be lots of tough losses like the one at St. Louis. The Dukes have two game left and can easily turn it around and make a nice run in the Atlantic 10 tournament, as Everhart said in a post game interview.

“I keep reminding them that they are the same team that ran off 11 in a row,” he said. “I still think this is going to be a very good basketball team before the end of the season.”

Dukes Lose Heartbreaker to URI

Duquesne falls to Rhode Island after failing to score in the last three minutes of yesterday’s contest blowing a five point lead. This failure to score brings up an inherent problem in Ron Everhart’s offense. The Dukes run a 4-1 motion offense where there is only one player in the post, usually Damian Saunders. It being a “motion” offense, that means there are no set plays only guidelines for players to follow often giving them options. The benefits of this are that a team can have a more fluid offense where each of the players can better feel each other out and more importantly, it is more difficult to defend because there are not preordained movements that can be tracked and adjusted for.

A problem for a team like Duquesne is that with only one post player, especially one who is not a good offensive creator, is that there is a tendency to stand around the perimeter far away from the basket, run the clock down and then force a bad shot. That is exactly what happened yesterday and those are usually the circumstances under which the Dukes’ offense sputters. When four of your players start behind the perimeter it becomes critically important to get penetration. That penetration can come from either a ball handler or someone off the ball. In that regard, the offense was very good yesterday except for the last three minutes. Players were in constant motion, constantly working to get open looks and it paid off. The Dukes scored 1.100 points per possession in yesterday’s game. The offense was not bad except at the end of the game.

How can this be fixed? It seems that when the Dukes absolutely need a bucket they cannot get one. I think this is because there is not one player on the team that is capable or willing to get to the rim. However, that is not exactly true. There is one player on the team that can do this, Sean Johnson. Johnson has shown that he is not timid and is both willing and able to get to the rim and finish. The Dukes need to utilize his instincts at the end of games. That may solve the problem.