If Joe Atlantic-10 fan took a look at the Dukes next three non-conference games, they would probably see all three as no-brainer wins. Duquesne will face three teams currently projected by RPIForecast to finish in the bottom third in Division I basketball. They’ll face St. Francis at the War Memorial in Johnstown tomorrow, South Carolina St. on Wednesday before completing the stretch against Robert Morris, with the last two being played at the AJP.
With all due respect to these opponents, Joe is correct. The Dukes should win all three, but burnt taste from last year’s non-conference is still in my mouth and I think both of the NEC teams are likely better than their current record and projection indicate. The same could be true about SC St., but full disclosure, I just don’t know enough about them to say for sure. St. Francis returns a lot of the same parts that blew Duquesne out in Pittsburgh last year. This year, they’ll be playing the Dukes in what will likely be the biggest “home” event of most of the current Red Flash player’s careers. This is a game that the Dukes could get tripped up in if they’re not prepared. For Robert Morris, the rivalry has gotten so hot that I’d throw the records out completely. The Colonials have been taking advantage of a rebuilding Duquesne program. It would be great if the Dukes could return the favor in 2015 against a team that can’t seem to get its feet underneath itself. I expect RMU to bring a level of intensity seldom seen from them thus far in the season.
So what do the next three mean. Here is my outlook after each outcome.
This is so unlikely that it’s not worth commenting much on. The Dukes would need to do some serious soul searching and make major adjustment heading into A-10 play.
I don’t expect this either but it’s not completely out of the question. Questions seem to have quieted about Ferry’s ability to lead the program after their hottest start in 36 years. They’d return quickly with this outcome. The Dukes’ hopes for an NIT bid would be all but dashed at this point and it would become difficult for them to manage substantial progress in the computer rankings. The CBI and a overall winning record also become much more difficult.
This is a very possible outcome. It would likely be perceived as causing more damage to the season than it actually may cause. The Dukes could still rebound and play their way into a considerably improved RPI position. The NIT or even the top 100 probably become long shots, but the Dukes could potentially make up for the bad loss with an upset or two in conference. They’ll get enough cracks at that type of win where it could become possible. Marked improvement would still be possible, but it would be met with sharp criticism from the fanbase. It would also likely prevent any kind of momentum at the gates they could build bring a 10-3 or *gasp* 11-2 record into the Dayton game.
The Dukes are still on track for a considerably improved season. The truth is, this stretch will not help Duquesne but it could hurt them badly. Coming through undefeated would amount to a huge relief to fans and I’m sure plenty of folks in the athletic department. Ticket sales could increase and there could be more buzz generated coming into the conference. Any upsets the team accumulates wouldn’t be seen as offsetting bad non-conference losses as they had in the past two seasons. The Dukes would need to struggle mightily the rest of the way to avoid finishing the season in the top 130 in RPI and they would have a very reasonable shot at finishing in the top 100. A CBI bid would likely be a safe bet provided they take care of business, but the late season success the team has had the last two years might portend for even more.
The Dukes haven’t escaped the out-of-conference without season crushing bad losses in the Jim Ferry era. If they somehow maneuver through the minefield of extremely winnable games, but also easily conceivable losses over the next three, the Dukes will set themselves up to not only help their own cause but endear themselves to the rest of the A-10 for managing to avoid any preseason baggage. Go 3-0 and suddenly the world opens up to you in league play and it becomes realistic to dream about bigger things in the short run. The Dukes loaded conference schedule also turns from a black cloud to one with plentiful opportunities for resume building wins. Every game starts looking more and more winnable. Lose just one and my Twitter feed will look like fiery pit of hatred. Lose two and it’ll look even worse.