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. This is the final piece in the series.
Statistically speaking Ferry’s LIU teams have played decent, but never great defense. This might come as a surprise since they conceded points at a higher rate than just about anyone in college basketball in 2011-12. Of course, a lot of the raw scoring has to do with how many possessions both teams got. Looking at a number of tempo free defensive statistics like defensive efficiency, effective field goal shooting, rebounding percentage and opponents 3 point percentage, LIU generally lived somewhere in the middle third nationwide. They finished eighth in 3 point defense 2010-11, but that looks like more of an anomaly than anything. They consistently struggled with 2 point scoring percentage, but that might have a lot to do with how little the team fouled. With the exception of 2008-09, LIU was among the 60 best schools in fouls per defensive play including finishing with the second fewest in the country in Ferry’s final year.
I’m amazed sometimes at how quickly Jim Ferry has assembled a squad that appears to suit his offensive system at Duquesne. I’m even more amazed that he ever built the right combination at LIU. Skilled big men that fit his preferred mold rarely surface in the Atlantic 10 let alone in the NEC. Aside from the emphasis on not fouling, Ferry may have sacrificed defense for offense just to find inside options who can play the way he wants at his last job. Hopefully, the all around ability of the forward position improves with the increased recruiting power afforded to an Atlantic 10 coach.
In terms of raw rebounds, Ferry’s teams often sat amongst the elite in his former league. In terms of rebounding margin and percentage, they fell off a little bit. Defensive rebounding is a key statistic for Ferry like turnovers were for Ron Everhart. The more efficiently they clean up the glass, the more often they’ll trigger the offense. Of course, both fast paced systems involve some risk. For Everhart, defenders gambled for steals. In Ferry’s system, he will need players moving up court even before the ball is secured. This will result in more easy opportunities for opponents to gather offensive put backs as the Dukes won’t have five guys behind the rebounding effort most of the time.
I’ve seen conflicting assumptions of what defense Duquesne will run this year. In a number of places, I’ve read that the Dukes will look to the 2-3 zone as their base. I believe this is incorrect, and I think they will mostly play man. We saw man more often to start games last year with Ferry only switching to the zone as an adjustment when his team struggled to defend. Since they struggled often, we saw a lot of zone, but I have no reason to believe man won’t become the preferred defense again.
I don’t expect the Dukes to defend very well this year either but I would expect some improvement. The post got bigger and has begun to look a little more like what you would expect to see from an Atlantic 10 side with two guys 6’8” or taller starting. Of course, Andre Marhold did defend well in spite of his size and had a few memorable defensive performances. While Marhold’s head height made him look undersized, his length allowed him to defend much larger players. Still, I expect either Ovie Soko or Dominique McKoy to at least match him, and certainly rebound better overall. The Dukes will improve greatly at the four. New to the forward position, Kadeem Pantophlet played strong interior defense at times, but never developed much consistency. Whoever, isn’t playing the five should make for an upgrade at power forward on experience alone. Both Jerry and Jeremiah Jones defend well but I suspect Ferry will sacrifice defense for offense. I wrote about my concerns with small guards Tra’vaughn White and Derrick Colter on the perimeter in a previous entry, but I do expect one or both could guard the opposing two better than Sean Johnson did last year.
They’ve improved defensively at the four for sure and maybe the two and five, but the Dukes still lag behind their conference peers. Like Ferry’s teams at LIU, the Dukes in their current manifestation will go as far as their ability to score and rebound takes them. Great defense will be a bonus. While that formula worked in the NEC, Ferry will need to recruit more complete players who can defend almost as well as they can generate offense for the Dukes to reach the top or even middle of the Atlantic 10. I don’t ever expect a defense first system under Ferry but it will need to become a bigger priority moving forward.