Duquesne’s 2016-17 season was filled with highs and lows, but for the most part, the latter reigned king. Duquesne pulled off an enormous win over Pittsburgh in the 2016 City Game, but the Dukes would also lose to UMBC and Tennessee Martin at home — not good. Duquesne would manage just three conference wins, the biggest coming in a 30 point rout over Massachusetts at the Palumbo Center, the other two against bottom-half teams Fordham and Saint Louis. That win over the Minutemen on February 15th would be Duquesne’s last though, as they’d go on to lose their next six games to close the season. The Dukes lost their last 3 games of the regular season by a combined 7 points.
Undoubtedly most frustrating was Duquesne’s semi-home loss to Saint Louis in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Dukes blew a double digit second half lead and allowed the Billikens to steal one in the final seconds. A blown game to end the year epitomized Jim Ferry’s season as head coach — it’d be his last. Duquesne went on to replace Ferry with Akron’s Keith Dambrot, and the up-and-coming head coach made some timely moves in the transfer market and managed to keep stud sophomore Mike Lewis II in Pittsburgh. Duquesne will look to improve on last year’s disappointing 10-22 mark and rebuild the loss of key seniors and outgoing transfers.
Rene Castro initially announced his decision to transfer from Duquesne after the firing of Jim Ferry. After meeting with Keith Dambrot, he ultimately changed his mind. The Butler transfer Castro averaged 7.1 points and 2.1 assists per game as a junior with Duquesne. His biggest performance of the year came against St. Francis PA where he dropped 26 points to help his team get the 89-75 win. Castro had the 12th best assist rate in the conference last year and only committed 2.5 fouls per 40 minutes. Castro primarily played the role of back-up point guard behind Tarin Smith, but the two shared minutes at the 1 frequently last season. Look for Castro to play a bigger role this year as he and Keith Dambrot seemed to have a pretty good connection which should lead to more playing time.
Though he hasn’t been that essential to this Duquesne team yet, James could be called upon to take on a bigger role his senior season. Averaging 9.3 minutes per contest, James produced 2.3 points and 2.2 rebounds per game last year. While his shooting percentages were lackluster (30.8% field, 26.1% three, 59.3% FT), he provided a spark defensively with a 2.9% steal percentage. James had a nice showing against Dayton where he hit 3-4 threes and went for 11 points, but other than that, he struggled to find the bottom of the net all season. James also only dished out 15 assists while committing 17 turnovers on the year. I’d expect James’ minutes to go up slightly, as this roster is very limited in depth, but he should still play the role of a defensive specialist who fills time when the starters need a break.
Here’s a Duquesne sleeper you should remember heading into the 2017-18 season. Jordan Robinson missed significant time towards the end of last year due to injury; this was unfortunate considering he was just starting to play well in early February. Robinson had a season-high 14 points in a road loss to Saint Louis prior to hurting his knee in practice. The junior also went for 9 points and 5 boards late in January against Rhode Island. I liked the way Robinson was starting to play before hurting his knee, and hopefully he can pick up where he left off. The junior shot 58.1% from the field and reeled in 2.9 rebounds per game in 2016-17. If Robinson can develop and display the ability to control the boards, it will drastically help a team that finished 14th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage last season.
Rising junior Tarin Smith should be Duquesne’s second best player next season; along with Mike Lewis II, the Dukes will have a fairly effective backcourt. Smith ran the point for the majority of last season, and he filled up the stat sheet in a number of categories. The sophomore averaged 8.6 points, 3.1 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game; underrated is his ability to snag boards, especially on the defensive end, for a 6-2 point guard. Smith’s three point game (21.2%) isn’t there yet, but he’s quick through the lane and can manufacture buckets inside the arc. Smith had 23 points against St. Francis PA and 22 against Jackson St. last year; Keith Dambrot will look for more big nights out of his junior point guard. It also should be noted that Tarin Smith is one of the best players in the league when it comes to playing defense without fouling. The sophomore committed just 1.6 per 40 minutes, ranking 2nd in the Atlantic 10.
Junior college transfer Marko Krivacevic is one of few incoming transfers eligible for the 2017-18 season. For the Miami Dade College Sharks in 2016-17, Krivacevic averaged 7.3 points and 5.4 rebounds. Last season, he scored in double digits 6 times and had 3 games with double digit rebounds. Krivacevic’s role for Duquesne should be that of a rebounder, using his 6-9, 200+ pound frame to box opposing players out in the paint. Playing on a JUCO team that went 10-19 last year, it’s unclear how well Marko’s game will transfer to the D1 level, but this addition helps give the Dukes some frontcourt depth after the departure of stud freshman Isiaha Mike.
Mike Lewis II
Here’s a guy you really need to get excited about heading into 2017-18. Mike Lewis II was planning on transferring from the program but decided to stick around and play for Keith Dambrot; this was big news for the Dukes moving forward. He averaged 14.1 points, 1.7 assists, and 2.3 rebounds as a freshman. Lewis II was the catalyst that kept Duquesne competitive in a lot of conference games; his 31 points single-handedly destroyed UMass at home. He’s Duquesne’s best returning three point shooter, and he’ll be the fuel to the Dukes’ fire next season. The ceiling is sky-high for Mike Lewis II who could realistically become an all-conference player by the end of 2017-18.
Eric Williams Jr.
Williams Jr. is a two star shooting guard who committed to the Dukes after the hiring of Keith Dambrot. He averaged 20.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.5 steals per game as a senior at New Haven High School in New Haven, Michigan. Based on his high school numbers, Williams Jr. seems like a Tarin Smith type player who can fill up the stat sheet both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. The incoming freshman was 5-7 at the start of high school but has since blossomed into a 6-5 guard. He should get immediate playing time this season under Dambrot.
The 6-8 forward freshman is Duquesne’s highest rated recruit and should be one of this team’s best players. Verhoeven is 6-8 with a 7-2 wingspan; he averaged 16.5 points, 12.7 rebounds 2.8 assists and 6.0 blocks per game as a senior in high school. Those rebounding and blocks really stand out to me and indicate that Verhoeven could emerge as a Hassan Martin type player in a couple of seasons. His rim-protecting and defensive rebounding ability should help a Duquesne team that ranked 10th and 14th in the league in those categories respectively.
The 6-7 forward from IMG Academy should provide some depth and upside for Duquesne next season. He averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 rebounds last season, and he’s got a good frame to put in work in the post. Kratholm is one of 3 incoming freshmen on scholarship next season; considering Duquesne’s lack of depth due to transfers sitting out a season to become eligible in 2018-19, Kratholm is likely to get more playing time than expected.
St. Francis NY (Home), Nov. 11th
The Terriers went 4-27 last season and ranked 346th out of 351 D1 teams according to Kenpom. You best believe Keith Dambrot is going to get a win to start his coaching career at Duquesne.
VMI (Home), Nov. 14th
Again, Duquesne really isn’t going too hard on itself, playing one of the worst teams in college basketball last season. It’d kill the Dukes to go anything worse than 2-0 to start the regular season.
Robert Morris (Home), Nov. 19th
Duquesne lost this game last season on a neutral court to a Robert Morris team that was ranked worse. This one’s usually pretty competitive, no matter where it’s being played.
Cornell (Home), Nov. 27th
Here’s what should be another bunny game at home for Duquesne. Cornell finished last in the Ivy League last year and failed to win 10 games overall.
Pittsburgh (PPG Paints Arena), Dec. 1st
The City Game is always fun, and Duquesne’s 2016 victory was a marquee moment in a season where there was little to celebrate. Expect the Panthers to be back with vengeance, hoping to retaliate on the Cinderella Dukes. It’d be big for Keith Dambrot if he could take down Pittsburgh in his first season, and it’d be even bigger for Duquesne if it could manage a City Game win two years in a row.
Maryland Eastern Shore (Home), Dec. 4th
Noticing a trend yet? Keith Dambrot made it a point to schedule easy home games next season. His rationale? He wants to get fans out to the games. Here’s another one where the Dukes will be clear favorites.
Stetson (Home), Dec. 6th
Pretty much every single one of Duquesne’s home matchups in non-conference play is against a team that was ranked worse than 300 in Kenpom last year. Stetson is another one of those teams.
Delaware St. (Home), Dec. 9th
Mississippi Valley St. (Home), Dec. 13th
See above yet again.
Las Vegas Classic (Home/Neutral), Dec. 17th, 19th, 22nd, 23rd
The Dukes will get a chance to participate in a non-conference tournament this season, playing in the Las Vegas Classic. They’ll face North Carolina A&T and Lamar at home before facing San Francisco and Southern Illinois in Nevada. It may be possible that Duquesne has the weakest non-conference slate in all of college basketball — seriously. That might not be such a bad thing for a team that will be trying to rebuild this year. If Dambrot cashes in on easy wins, it will boost program morale, but Atlantic 10 play is going to be quite a rude awakening.
Home – Davidson, George Mason, La Salle, Richmond, Dayton, Fordham, George Washington, St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis
Away– Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, VCU, Dayton, Fordham, George Washington, St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis
Duquesne is already going to have a tough time in conference play, being one of the worst teams in the league. Its conference slate is by no means easy either. The Dukes have to play Dayton, St. Bonaventure, and Saint Louis twice, all 6 games of which will probably be big losses. Not to mention, playing Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, and VCU away from home is going to be almost impossible. There are plenty of upsets for the Dukes to pull, but I just don’t see any of them happening barring a meltdown from one of the top dogs.
No one’s expecting Duquesne to turn things around next season and finish in the top half of the league — that’s OK. You have to be patient and give Keith Dambrot a couple of seasons to turn things around. If I’m going to be honest, I don’t see the Dukes winning the Atlantic 10 any time soon, but this offseason hire was undoubtedly a step in the right direction. Give this program some time, and it could really bounce back and even contend with some of the better programs in the league. As for this season, finishing above 12th would be a big surprise.