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An Honest Appraisal Of Next Year’s Duquesne Dukes

Can now-eligible transfer Tarin Smith energize the PG position and power the Dukes? Photo via Nebraska University Athletics

Can now-eligible transfer Tarin Smith energize the PG position and power the Dukes?
Photo via Nebraska University Athletics

For the entire 2015-16 basketball season, Duquesne’s looming transitional season to follow the current season also seemed to hijack the spotlight in conversation. Here is a generalization of the course of just about every conversation I saw about the Dukes on social media.

November

Fan #1 : Dukes didn’t beat Pitt, but they crushed Penn St and looked good in Florida.

Fan #2 : Yeah, but they’re gonna suck next year without Colter and Mason.

December

Fan #1 : Dukes are off to their best start in a long time and they look OK even without Jeremiah Jones.

Fan #2 : Yeah, but they’re gonna suck next year without Colter and Mason.

January

Fan #1: I know they played the soft part of their conference schedule, but this team could win 20 games and go to the NIT.

Fan #2 : Yeah, but they’re gonna suck next year without Colter and Mason.

February

Fan #1: What a collapse! I’m devastated.

Fan #2 : And they’re really gonna suck next year without Colter and Mason.

***

With the departure of Ty’Sean Powell and LG Gill to transfers, the transition year looked as if it were sliding down the path of full rebuild. The recent additions of grad transfers Emile Blackman and Kale Abrahamson appear to have at least softened the blow of losing four of their top six players. However, the shift from dread to hope may turn into a dubious reassessment.

The Dukes have two known commodities returning to their program next year in center Darius Lewis and swing man Eric James. Both had inconsistent years at both ends of the floor, but both have the potential to provide some stability. James started the year on fire around the hoop, but his finishing diminished as the year went on as he faded slightly down the stretch. A half season in the starting lineup should prepare him mentally for what it takes to be an important player in the A-10 and he began playing a game more suited to his skill set, shooting fewer threes in conference play and crashing the offensive glass more. Lewis allowed the game to come to him and never did too much. He’s improved year over year since arriving at the Bluff and I see no reason why that won’t continue.

Fair or unfair, there are question marks surrounding Tarin Smith because the highly thought of transfer guard that came before him, Rene Castro, didn’t pan out in year one. Rave reviews abound from folks including the Post Gazette’s Craig Meyer who repeatedly called Smith the best player at Duquesne practice the last year. Who needs first hand accounts when you have a logically flawed historical comparison to hang onto?

That said, there are some red flags greater than the Castro comps for Smith. First and foremost, people expecting a true point guard may be disappointed. He had an assist percentage of 9.4% with an assist to turnover ratio under one as a freshman at Nebraska. That’s significantly off the pace set by Colter’s career 26.8%, who was point guardy enough for many of our fans. Smith is a combo guard and one whose primary function will be to attack the rim and finish around the basket. He’ll shoot far more often to end possessions more often than he passes. Of course, this is modern era basketball so it’s fine for him to play that way and lead the offense. The second issue is that he’s still only a sophomore in class standing and he just sat out a year. He still has developing to do. He will have rust to shake off.

As for the incoming grad transfers, both have some talent but both have some baggage as well. Neither Blackman or Abrahamson are highly regarded defenders. Both can fill it up offensively with Abrahamson posting a 30 point and a 40 point game in 2016 at Drake, while Blackman closed five 20 point performances in his final six games at Niagara, but both posted a defensive rating above 110 points per 100 possessions. Abrahamson also hasn’t rebounded like a player of his size should, only grabbing defensive rebounds about 13% of the time. For comparison, Gill was closer to 17% last year. For those thinking Abrahamson would mean fewer threes, they’re wrong. Abrahamson took them about as frequently as Gill, although he is a slightly better shooter. On positive note with the Abrahamson, he does fit the all around offensive profile of a Jim Ferry four a little better, as he does pass and handle the basketball better. He’s also used to being a bigger part of the offense.

The returning bench will be the most experienced since Ferry started at Duquesne. It should get more play as the gap between starter and reserve shouldn’t be as stark especially at the guard spot. The four veteran post players Lewis, Abrahamson, Nakye Sanders and Jordan Robinson should be fairly interchangeable and it’s possible that highly freshman regarded Isiaha Mike may work his way into the mix at the four or even the three. Mar’Qywell Jackson worked his way into the rotation and played important minutes in conference play. It would be safe to expect his role along with Josh Steele’s role to increase. The addition of Blackman could allow Ferry to bring Mike Lewis and Spencer Littleson along more slowly, but both could also tap into the starters minutes by mid-season.

Overall, the team looks better than it could have been with the addition of the two grad transfers. While bad was the most likely outcome before, they look appreciably more capable and decent is now the upside. They’re not as good as last year’s team, but they are better than they were a few weeks ago. With the Dukes’ February fade, it’s not out of the question that this team matches last year’s win total anyway, hopefully en route to better things next year. Thirteen to fourteen¬†wins isn’t out of the question either, but the grad transfers seem have improved the outlook. Probably not as much as some are considering, however.

About Steve DiMiceli (139 Articles)
Steve is a naturalized yinzer hailing originally from just north of Allentown, PA. He came to Pittsburgh to attend Duquesne University and decided to stick around after graduation. Steve is best known for his contributions to Duquesne hoops community as the owner of the Duquesne Dukes forum on Yuku and as the former editor of We Wear the Ring on the Fansided network. He is an avid Pirates fan, home cook and policy nerd. He is the co-founder of the Point of Pittsburgh. Easily irritated by people who misuse the word regress.