Duquesne’s men’s basketball schedule isn’t complete, but it’s complete enough to analyze it and begin to make some guesses. The non-conference schedule has been fully released and while the league hasn’t issued the dates for the games, the Atlantic 10 has announced its home and away pairings for the contests that really count.
That said, the schedule has been likened to some of the below imagery on social media:
In truth, the non-conference schedule does seem a little bit weak, but people often forget that the overall difficulty will be balanced out by 18 games in the Atlantic 10. Even in a down year like the one I and a lot of others would predict for 2017-18, the league still will produce some very difficult home and road games for any team in the league. You still can’t take days off. With a comparably weak looking non-conference schedule heading into 2016-17, save for replacing Kentucky with Stetson, the Dukes still ended up with the 141st most difficult schedule in terms of RPI and 167th according to Kenpom thanks to league play. In the grand scheme of Division I college basketball, they had a slightly more difficult than average overall schedule with only an impossible task, two other OK BCS squads, and a number of teams from lower level conferences.
This year’s schedule is notably worse, but it will likely go from slightly more difficult than average to slightly less difficult. In truth, the difference from this year to last will likely make the difference of maybe one game to the positive. Other influences, like new coach Kieth Dambrot, the overall lack of depth and replacing of promising young players in Isiaha Mike and Nakye Sanders with unknowns will likely have more of an impact on how successful the Dukes can be than the full schedule wrongly described with imagery above.
As I do every year, I will place each game on the schedule into categories that determine how likely the Dukes are to win a game. Normally, I do four groupings, but this year I will add a fifth. At the bookends are Upsets if the Dukes Win or Lose. These are games that reasonably should not be competitive one way or the other and while one or two might flip, they go into the projection assuming the favorite will take care of business. From easiest to most difficult, the remaining games are Game the Dukes Should Win, where I expect them to emerge victorious about 60-84% of the time, Coin Flips, where the Dukes matchup pretty evenly and should win 40-59% and Tough but Winnable. The Dukes should only take those 16% – 39%.
Upsets if the Dukes Lose
St Francis (NY)
UM – Eastern Shore
Mississippi Valley St.
North Carolina A & T
I won’t spend a lot of time here. All of the above have a solid chance of finishing in the 300’s of RPI. Some will be better than I predict but I think even with their question marks, the Dukes should be a lot better than the above teams. The Dukes start with a baseline of 7 wins.
Games the Dukes Should Win (60-84%)
This part of the schedule is pretty telling about why the schedule is more difficult than people think. Only two of eighteen Atlantic 10 contests look like probable wins. I’m even on the fence with putting GW into this category. That is a tough hill to climb in year one with a new coach trying to rebuild a roster and implement his system. Robert Morris will be at the Palumbo Center and while this is a game the Dukes should win given the Colonials equally turbulent offseason, they just seem more up for this game every year. Cornell and Lamar are likely the best of the rest of the home slate, though I would certainly put the Ivy League school closer to the 85% than 60%. I expect the Dukes to win between 3 – 4.2 of these games.
Coinflips (40 – 59%)
This range should really be between 40 – 50% but I will follow the rules I created for myself, though I’d be surprised if the Dukes come out of this group with 3 wins. That said, if things click, it’s not out of the question that they will. George Mason are fairly highly regarded but could have a let down year similar to what the Dukes had in 2009-10 following the loss of Aaron Jackson. I think Marquise Moore will be more difficult to replace than people think even if there is some returning talent in the freshman and junior classes. Saint Louis are a year ahead of the Dukes in terms of their transition, but I still see a home and away split as being possible. Richmond is a team I have a difficult time putting a finger on. They return some promising young players, but I think Chris Mooney’s side has a blip back to mediocrity before taking significant steps next year. Fordham and UMass are probably the only two teams the Dukes might jump in this year’s A-10 standings and are only two of three reasonably winnable road games. I reluctantly give the Dukes between 2 – 2.9 wins in this category.
Tough But Winnable (39% and 16%)
I wrestled with moving a few of these games into the coin flip category so that should help even out my disgust giving them .4 of an extra win than I’d like to under Coinflip. Those games are Davidson, La Salle and most notably the City Games. With Davidson and La Salle, both teams lose key contributors but will also return elite veteran players in Peyton Aldridge and BJ Johnson. In my head, I want to say the Dukes will match Pitt fairly evenly this year, but in my broken heart, I just can’t. Still there are reasons for optimism like how Pitt returns zero players who appeared in every game last year and only one who averaged more than 5 points. This also should be a rare year where Duquesne has the best player in the game in Mike Lewis II. Dayton is the only borderline to an upset game in this category. I give the Dukes between 1 – 2.3 from this category.
Upset if the Dukes Win
One thing can be said for Duquesne’s 2017-18 A-10 schedule home / road splits; they get most of the tough ones out of the way on the road. San Francisco should take some big steps forward and if they played in the A-10, they’d have a chance to be a top four caliber team. The more I think about St. Joe’s the more I like them and I think URI will likely be the favorite to repeat even if they won’t be quite as good. The Dukes get 0 wins for their projection from these 8. It’s worth noting that they still play in more games they have little chance in (8) than games their opponent does (7).
Add it all up and Duquesne fans should expect a range between 13 and 16.4 wins. This may seem overly critical or negative to some who can envision a quick turnaround under Dambrot that allows him to continue his 20 win streak. However, I think it’s high praise given the Dukes lack of depth and overall less talent than last season’s team. I believe Dambrot’s positive thinking alone could amount to an extra win by itself.
The Dukes are going to get better under Dambrot, but to think he will win anymore than than 17 games would be overly optimistic. Truthfully, I think the 16.4 that have topping out this range might be a little high.
That said, I hope internal expectations are much higher and that this team truly believes in itself. It will be a process for Dambrot to get this program to a point where it’s marginally competitive and then to where it’s a true competitor. I think he will quickly take the first step and I expect 2018-19’s team to end up somewhere in the middle of the conference. However, most of Duquesne’s most promising players will be forced to redshirt next year and most will still only be a sophomore in terms of class standing when they do get a chance to play. Duquesne made a significant investment in the program by hiring Dambrot. Now, fans need to invest a little more patience and some grounded expectations.