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2023-24 Atlantic 10 Team Preview: Duquesne

5. Duquesne Dukes

Last Season: The 2021-22 season was equivalent to ordering fried chicken but you end up getting fried bats (shoutout Anchorman 2). The Dukes injuries completely took away momentum from 2019-20 — on top of losing most of their core guys to the portal — Keith Dambrot had to overhaul most of the roster, particularly the backcourt that the promising Primo Spears once led. Dambrot brought five transfers headlined by Dae Dae Grant, a former 1,000-point scorer from Miami-Ohio, and a VCU leftover in Jimmy ‘Tre’ Clark III who added a high-flying element to this stacked backcourt. Dambrot had a big-by-committee but opted for small ball most of the time.

Behind Grant, Clark, Tevin Brewer’s expertise in facilitating, and last year’s freshmen getting honest minutes, Duquesne had the best turnaround in the program’s history. They went from six wins to a 20-13 record and a sixth-place finish in the A-10. On the back of Grant and his second-team all-conference selection, the Dukes burned teams with their speed and lit it up from deep. They shot 36% as a team from three and hit 9.2 threes per game, both first in the conference. Dambrot’s charges play with a fierce competitive spirit, utilizing their speed to facilitate and kick for jumpers. With 15.3 assists per game as a team, over 40% of their shots were from three (Hoop math). The defense was somewhat of a work in progress from a tactical standpoint, but what mattered was playing with high energy on defense — the same mojo Dambrot has when he coaches during games on the sidelines. It got the Dukes back to a place where many could feel confident in the job he was doing. 

Going from dead last to 6th is a remarkable achievement that gave Dambrot breathing room for this coming season. That being said, something felt very off with this team. For one, defense and size was an issue with this team despite what the counting numbers presented. Crunch time was another issue for these guys — in games where they lost by 10 or less, they went 0-7. Things faltered when they lost two of their last three and were upset by an 11th-seeded La Salle team in the second round of the A-10 tournament. Dambrot’s team did qualify for the CBI but lost a close contest to Rice in round one to close out their season.

Duquesne went through a funky four-year run: the 2019-20 season was their chance to contend for the A-10 crown (nobody was beating Dayton, but that was still a good season for Duquesne). The COVID season stopped the Dukes for a month even with retaining much of the team from the year before. 2021-22 was a disaster because of injuries and inexperience, but 2022-23 was a huge step forward for them. Is Dambrot’s group going to put it all together in 2023-24?

Returnees: Dae Dae Grant, Jimmy ‘Tre’ Clark III, Karim Rozier, Tre Williams, David Dixon, Halil Barre, Matus Hronsky, Andy Barba

Out: RJ Gunn, Austin Rotroff, Joe Reece, Tevin Brewer, Quincy McGriff, 

In: Hassan Drame, Fousseyni Drame, Andrei Savrasov, Dusan Mahorocic, Kailon Nicholls, Jakub Necas

Potential Strengths: Speed and shooting are Duquesne’s most viable assets without question. George Washington’s pace is faster, but Duquesne is a close second in my opinion. Grant can go off the bounce and hit from all three scoring levels. Clark is an elite two-way guard who has a knack for steals and expanded his offensive game to new heights last season. He was a perfect Robin to Grant’s Batman with a 34% clip from range and 44% from the field. 

To replace Tevin Brewer, Kareem Rozier will serve as the main organizer for Duquesne’s three-point air raid. He’ll need to step up in a vital role for this offense as the first playmaker and increase his scoring output. The key for this trio is keeping Grant as a secondary ball handler which takes pressure off him to create — it allows him to work in more isolation situations where he won’t see as many double teams. And if his 40% from three is any indication, he’s certainly going to launch threes at a high volume.

Tre Williams highlights a stronger frontcourt now that he’s had an entire summer to return to form from his knee injury fully. He does have a track record of being a strong defender, especially in the paint, so if he can rebound to a better form he’ll be a solid paint presence for the Dukes. Andrei Savrasov is a graduate transfer from Georgia Southern who will be asked to stretch the floor and play defense. His whopping 1.3 steals per game will help the Dukes’ perimeter defense in more ways than one. Dusan Mahorocic offers a power-six tested body under the rim — an element that will come in handy when the Dukes battle the A-10 teams with size underneath.

The Drame twins are heading across the state after their one season at La Salle. Both can do everything at exceptional levels on offense plus length and lateral quickness on defense. It was apparent last season that Duquesne had issues with defending wings who could go off the bounce. The twins are going to at least keep those types of players at bay while having the ability to switch inside to big bodies. Offensively, both can shoot threes, score in the middle, and crash the boards. David Dixon should be in the fold for real minutes after a solid freshman season with his size inside. He posted three boards per game and 0.9 rejections per contest in 11 minutes per game, but his usage on defense should take an uptick this season.

Potential Weaknesses: If you’re playing bingo at home — and for this series in general — the A-10 has exceptional big men this season. I just have to say it in every article. The Dukes managed the boards at the 8th best rate (35.7 per game) with a relatively small team — Rotroff and Gunn are now gone while they had Williams at maybe 80% of what he normally is last year. While Dambrot added inside reinforcements, some of them are a bit suspect which questions their command of the paint.

For one, Mahorocic is a player to keep your eye on. He offers a 6’10” frame of 230 pounds to give Duquesne a body underneath. But he has one very glaring problem: Mahorocic can’t stay healthy. In the last two seasons between Utah State and NC State, he’s combined to play 23 games. Both of those ended in season-ending injuries to his knees which is alarming. Duquesne had no reason to not take a chance on him because they had a ton of issues inside that needed to be addressed. Mahorocic the idea is better than the actual product — his health will be key.

Duquesne only blocked about 11% of shots and allowed almost 43% of opponent shots at the rim. Teams shot a wild 58% from the paint against the Dukes which is very much going to be a problem if they can’t get anyone to step up in the paint (Hoop Math). They don’t have a shot-blocking machine inside with their veteran bigs/wings. The twins offer rim protection in very limited capacities — they’ll probably get obliterated by brawny bigs if they are asked to guard those regularly AND close out to the three. Savrasov hasn’t proven he is a lockdown post-defender in his career. Most of their inside presence is going to fall mostly on Tre Williams rebounding to his 2022 form. 

Jump-shooting teams usually don’t run into the paint (as you can probably formulate with what I just said above), but Duquesne didn’t score enough in the mid-range last season or the paint. 34% of their shots came at the rim and 25% were mid-range jumpers (Hoop Math). At most times, the Dukes’ only play was to shoot the three or have guards in isolation situations. While it did work, Dambrot will must develop other ways for his scorers to attack and for others to  help with putting points up.

Outlook: Duquesne hasn’t won the conference tournament since 1977 when the conference was the ECBL and Norm Nixon was the star. The team assembled for this year is likely the best team since the 2009 group with Aaron Jackson — I am excluding 2019-20 because the conference tournament was canceled. The Dukes added win-now talent and addressed tons of their problems from last season. They absolutely HAVE to go for it this season. If they can’t get to at least the semi-finals of the conference tournament this season, well… try not to think about that Duquesne fans.