Four Games In: What’s Working; What Needs Work?

The Dukes’ record sits a disappointing 2-2 four games into the 2013-14 season. I call it disappointing not because of the record itself as I felt the team could reasonably lose to Albany and West Virginia. Had they won the first two and dropped the last two, I think the cumulative disposition of Duquesne fans would seem a little rosier. The home loss to New Hampshire looms as the dark cloud over the young season even as UNH make themselves look stronger than anticipated against teams like Marquette. I think people realize how close the Dukes are to 3-1 while 2-2 provides a wake up call to others with much higher expectations at the start of the season. That’s disappointing.

It hasn’t been all bad so far for the Dukes and they’ve answered a couple of question marks to the positive. Of course, some anticipated issues turned out worse than expected. I won’t say “what’s not working” in the areas where the Dukes have struggled as they could conceivably correct the early season blemishes, but they need a lot of work.

What’s Working: Ovie Soko

Heading into the season, I expressed concerns with Soko’s consistency during his time at UAB. So far, he’s had three outstanding games for the Dukes and one bad outing. Not surprisingly, the bad outing came against New Hampshire when he seemed to overreact to the early Wildcats lead and never fully recovered. The young man plays the game hard and with a lot of emotion but the emotion serves as a blessing and a curse. When things go as planned, Soko ascends to straight beast mode, and when they don’t, he struggles trying to do too much. He’s been on 75% of the time which marks an improvement over his consistency at UAB even after a long lay off. Soko has lived up to his billing so far and I think he could get even better.

What Needs Work: Defense

I don’t need to belabor this point. In the time off between Albany and the City Game, Jim Ferry already declared in his post game comments following  the Albany win that “We have ten days (off) and (defense is) all we’re going to do.”  Ferry noted that gelling on the defensive side takes time and time they will have with only two games in the next 17 days. . Defense against Albany looked superior to previous outings, but opposing guards still get inside far too easily at times. For the Dukes to get better, players will need to defend with conviction as a unit and as individuals. If the defense can get to a passable level, the Dukes have enough offense to become a very dangerous team come conference play.

What’s Working: Pace and Transition

The Dukes took over a month last year to start pushing the tempo and using the transition offense to their advantage. They came ready to run in 2013-14 and have outscored opponents 49-10 on the fast break so far this season. That tells me that not only is the transition offense working, but the transition defense has done its job as well.

In spite of the increase in pace, the Dukes have mostly done a good job limiting turnovers. They only had five against New Hampshire and on the season they have a 1.27 A:TO ratio.

What Needs Work: Sharing the Ball

While the assist to turnover ratio looks good, I still don’t think the Dukes share the ball well enough for an offense built philosophically around sharing the ball. Derrick Colter heads into the City Game averaging  only three assists a game and that leads the team. Chemistry and unfamiliarity might remain an issue here, but several players have consistently forced plays rather than laying off to a teammate for an easier basket. If passing improves an already strong offense can get to another level.

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The Dukes could also use a little luck on their side. I get the concept of “making your own” but I’ve just seen the breaks go the other way too many times already when the Dukes did everything else right. They box out and weird bounce off the rim goes right to an opposing guard. They make a nice play for a turnover and the ball finds its way back to the offense rather than to the Red and Blue.  According to Ken Pomeroy’s luck adjustment, the Dukes have been one of the most unfortunate teams in the country thus far. You can’t work on luck in practice, but it would help tremendously if it shifted.

Luck aside, the Dukes have the talent, athleticism and size to get better in each of those troubled areas and strengths can get stronger as the weaknesses improve. The transition offense gets more opportunities as opponents miss more shots and the Dukes gather extra defensive rebounds. Ovie Soko gets easier baskets when the team shares the ball better. I’ve said time and time again that the team needs time to gel and it hasn’t happened yet. The Dukes can control most of the issues they’ve had so far and when they do, teams like UNH won’t have a shot.

Topics: Duquesne, Ovie Soko

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