As a huge follower of Duquesne women’s hoops, one of the biggest questions I’ve been asked is why the Dukes haven’t danced two of the last three years. I view the 2012-13 season differently than I do the 2010-11 season. I’ll take the 2010-11 season first.
In 2010-11, the Dukes started out 19-3 and looked poised for an NCAA season. The Dukes pulled a huge upset at Ohio State, and only lost at WVU and home to Vandy OOC, both 20+ win teams from power leagues. The A-10 was a strong conference at #7 overall, had eight teams in the top 70 in the country, and the win at UD Arena nullified the home loss to Richmond. The Dukes also garnered a lucky win over a bad UMass as a bank three at the buzzer from Alex Gensler sent the game into OT. The Dukes would eventually pull out the win after cutting it close, but that game was the beginning of the end for Duquesne, going 3-5 afterwards.
In 2010-11, I don’t think the Dukes were as talented as many others on the bubble, and eventually it showed.I believe the team over performed early and was due for a letdown with the rough late schedule. The season ended with the following teams by RPI: @68, 65, @7, @59, 294, (44 in the tournament). Ultimately, the Dukes struggled down the stretch, going 2-4 in the last 6, which in my opinion was more indicative of their true talent. Against St Bonaventure in Olean was an expected loss, and the Dukes used every bit of energy they had to defeat the Bonnies at home earlier in the season. Besides, road trips to Olean are never fun (EDITOR’S NOTE: Except Beef n’ Barrel) The St. Joe’s home loss was the killer. The Hawks were a thorn in Suzie McConnell Serio’s side and I bet she’s glad she doesn’t have to face them anymore. At Xavier was another likely loss. The first round tournament game vs. a hungry 6th seeded Flyers team was basically a play-in game between bubble teams for a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. That’s been the big problem two of the last three years: we’ve essentially had a play-in game in the A-10 tourney and lost it.
The 2011-12 season was a wash after Vanessa Abel got hurt halfway through the season. Without Vanessa and with no real backup (the backup PG transferred out right before games were played), Suzie McConnell Serio was forced to disrupt the system and play Jocelyn Floyd out of position. Unfortunately, learning and playing a new system halfway through the year isn’t going to get you any further than a WNIT bid.
The 2012-13 season in my view was much different. I fully believe that last year’s team was talented enough to dance, and I still think we were more talented than a couple of teams that did eventually make it to the NCAA Tournament. To me, the reasons we didn’t dance are as follows:
1. We couldn’t pull out one of either of the back-to-back regular season games against St. Joe’s or at UD Arena. Both wound up as one-point losses.
2. Injuries. Part of why we didn’t win either of those games was Orsi Szecsi’s injury. Orsi left the St. Joe’s game with about five minutes to go in regulation due to an injury. It was the worst possible time for an injury to a post player, especially with Wumi Agunbiade’s foul trouble that led to her eventual ejection. Orsi’s injury changed the gameplan against Charlotte, as the Bobcats had two trees in Jennifer Hailey and Amanda Dowe and we were left with only Wumi to battle them both.
3. With the injuries comes the lack of quality depth. This has come back to haunt the Dukes, both in terms of a PG two years ago when Vanessa was hurt as well as last year when Orsi went down.
4. Coach Serio’s system. Why I was afraid of the St. Joe’s game in the tournament is partly because of Suzie’s system. This past year, it was great for catching teams off guard early then wearing them down late. The 2-3 press wasn’t used much outside of Suzie McConnell Serio in the A-10 last year, and it was a new wrinkle teams had to adjust for. Already seeing it previously would be a huge advantage, particularly to two evenly matched teams. And St. Joe’s wasn’t going to wear down, but the Dukes were as it was our second game in two days. That also goes back to the point of quality depth…it made it hard to play two games in two days against quality opponents.
5. The shooting decline of Belma Nurkic. I hate putting a ton of blame on one player, but she finished 5 for her last 33 threes (15%) to end A-10 play. When your starting SG at the beginning of the year falls off to finish shooting 15% on a team that was defensive minded and in need of scoring, you’re going to struggle some.
6. Luck of the A-10 Tourney Draw. Both of the two years that we had a chance at dancing the Dukes had the worst possible tournament matchups in the quarterfinal round. In 2010-11, the Dukes were the 3 and Dayton was the 6. In my opinion (and also that of the NCAA Selection Committee), Dayton was the #3 team from the A-10, and it was essentially a 3-4 matchup playing in the quarterfinals. If the Dukes were on the other half of the bracket that year, I like their chances. It was the same last year on the other side. The 4-5 game was between DU and SJU. Unfortunately, those were the second and third best teams, but with the unbalanced schedules as well as the injuries to Orsi at the wrong time we were forced to play each other a round early. Another win to get into the semis or if we got on the other half of the bracket this year with Temple and Fordham in the semi (both teams the Dukes beat by 20 this year) and I think the Dukes dance.
7. Getting unlucky on the biggest two foul calls of the year. Foul calls are supposed to even themselves out over the course of a 30 game season, but the Dukes season last year had three primary games, and two one-point heartbreakers in those two games. In both games, there was a foul call (or non-foul call) late that decided or could have decided the game, a charge-block call that went in favor of Van Grimswald of St. Joe’s in the last minute and a non-call against Floyd at Dayton on Duquesne’s final shot.
8. The tourney selection committee factor. I don’t necessarily think the women’s committee has been necessarily consistent over the last three years rewarding teams. I fully believe that if you flip committees, at least one if not both Duquesne teams dance. The current committee looked for – and rewarded – big wins and nullified out the number of losses. If you exchange committees, the Dukes win at Ohio State would have certainly classified much the way that Creighton’s did against Nebraska to likely help the Dukes qualify over a team like Middle Tennessee State, who had no top 50 wins all year but a high RPI of 42. Back in 2010-11, the committee went almost exclusively by RPI, as all of the top 46 by RPI danced and only one outside the top 46 danced (Purdue). The Dukes finished #36 last year by the RPI, and would have been almost assured a spot.
I know some of the last three points may come across as whining, but if you’re a non-BCS school trying to get an at-large invite you often need some luck to go your way like the bank three from Gensler to send the UMass game to OT. Unfortunately last year, the Dukes didn’t get a ton of it other than the Elena Delle-Donne injury for the Delaware home game, where the committee discounted the Duquesne win. When it came down to it, we needed one of the St. Joe’s wins, and didn’t pick up either of them.