This week, I’ll present a series of posts meant to dispel some of what I see as myths, misunderstandings and false assumptions surrounding Jim Ferry, his system and the current state of the Duquesne basketball. Today, I’ll have a look at how the team can get to .500 and what that means for the program.
A quick note before I begin. Throughout this entry, I’ll reference posts I wrote over the summer on Yuku where I breakdown the Dukes 2013-14 schedule and place opponents in categories based on varying probability that the Dukes will defeat them. If you’re not familiar with that series, you might want to go back and have a look because this piece might not make a lot of sense independently and I leave out a lot of the detail.
If you would prefer the short, incomplete summary, I see seven games I would be shocked if the Dukes lost, six games the Dukes should win, eight tough but winnable games, and eight where Duquesne looks like a decided underdog. Throw in the first round guaranteed in the Atlantic 10 tournament and the Dukes will participate in a minimum of 30 games setting the .500 bar at 15 wins. All those wins must occur in the regular season to guarantee a split season. I hear a lot of people talk about the Dukes having a .500 team this year either out of objective player evaluations, optimism or necessity. So what represents the path of least resistance to a non – losing season? Looking at each category of opponents, here’s what I think is the the easiest way to get there.
Against Teams I Would Be Shocked If They Lost
Simply put the path of least resistance necessitates that the Dukes win all of these games. While this doesn’t look like a problem all things equal, four of the games take place on the road. This shouldn’t matter, but it does make these games a more challenging than they ought to be. On top of that, the Dukes will highlight the home schedule for most of these opponents which only increases the potential for the true upset. If the Dukes take care of business, a 7-0 record against the easiest part of their schedule get them nearly half way to fifteen.
Against Teams They Should Beat
While we might like for them to sweep these games, the Dukes won’t. I would favor Penn St and Dayton on a neutral court and both these games sit very close to the “tough but winnable” line. However, the Dukes need to take four of these six games to keep their hopes of a winning season alive. They have a realistic chance to do it because they host all six of these match ups. Now, we have eleven wins.
Against Tough but Winnable
The Dukes out of conference schedule looks outrageously soft and I’m talking Charlotte 49ers soft. However, the weak OOC won’t carry the Dukes to .500 alone and they’ll need to beat some strong competition. Of the “Tough but Winnable” games, four will take place at home. I see Duquesne as a slight favorite against Robert Morris, but Vegas will cast them as the underdog in the remaining three at the AJ Palumbo Center. Richmond presents a strong chance to win especially if some of their depth and inexperience issues don’t resolve themselves. If St Louis plays like it did last year at the AJP, the Billikens should not expect to win. Of the road games in this category, I think Duquesne has its best chance in Morgantown. The Dukes won the game last year and got considerably better while the Mountaineers lost at the Consol and got worse. Not many Atlantic teams go on the road and pick off BCS teams especially not when many predict said team to finish in the bottom third of the conference. The path of least resistance requires the Dukes to steal three victories out of these eight games. However, two wins looks more realistic. Now, the Dukes are at 14.
I don’t know where it will happen, but the Dukes will need to perform over their heads and have one upset to get to .500. I’m not even going to venture a guess as to who could become this year’s Temple.
So what does .500 mean for the Dukes in 2013-14? Probably not a whole lot. It won’t catch the attention of the CBI unless the athletic department write the check for a road game regardless of their record ala Oregon St. Of course, they could probably do that at 14 or even 13 wins if they really wanted. It won’t bring the Dukes in the conversation for the next round of Big East expansion. A winning record would get the Dukes improved perception among the die hards and the Ferry skeptics. However, it won’t capture the imagination of the students with casual interest or the Pittsburgh public at large. It might provide marginal recruiting help where the staff can cite a seven game improvement to the 2015s and give them some proof that they have the program headed in the right direction.
For me, 15 wins isn’t a meaningful win total. 17 marks the dividing line between an ok and a bad season in my mind, because 17 gives you a chance at the post season, a top 100 RPI and a move to the middle of the A-10. I think people’s willingness to settle for the winning record relates to how bad things had been for so long. In my opinion, a split seasons doesn’t mean anything unless it breaks a long string of losing. When you’ve played at or above .500 five of the last six seasons, the bar gets raised. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take every win I can get, but .500 is no longer a meaningful goal.
I can find 15 reasonable wins in the schedule, but I would reach to stretch the total to 17 as of right now. Since they have a limited chance to get to my meaningful cutoff, the record in 2013-14 doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot to me provided there is some improvement. I didn’t believe Ferry when he said he was starting from scratch last year and I was dead wrong. When he says that it’s the first of the rebuild now, I’m listening. 2013-14 represents an opportunity for the Dukes to get back on track by allowing new comers to learn the system, for the new core to gel and for the talented class of 2013 to gain experience. I think the goal should be less about a set number of wins and more about just getting better and putting the team in a position to take the leap to a meaningful win total next year. For me, it’s 17 wins or bust and I just don’t see it happening this year.
I also want to point out that the program probably won’t fall apart if they can’t win 15 games this year. The future of the program doesn’t hinge on 2013-14. If they can’t win next, I can see the argument for panic with greater clarity. However, the process has just begun and what happens in years four and five means more to me than what happened in one and two.