The Dukes haven’t played at full strength this season and given the academic issues plaguing Jordan Robinson they probably won’t. However, with Micah Mason and Isaiah Watkins healthy, they’ve come as close as they’ll get. So what does each player bring to the party?
We’ve seen what Micah Mason can do shooting from the outside and at one point before his injury, Jim Ferry referred to Mason as the teams best statistical defender. However, I think Mason brings a lot more to the table than just the two obvious bonuses of his shooting and extra size guarding the perimeter. Sure, he’s hit almost 56% from three but his 6:1 assist to turnover ratio also make him the most efficient facilitator on the team. Mind you, it’s not because he leads the team in assists by a wide margin, he simply doesn’t give the ball away. He played twenty – four minutes of near mistake free basketball in his UMass – Lowell return and having that back in the lineup adds a huge boost.
Mason also provides an alternative when other the guards struggle. When Derrick Colter, Tra’vaughn White and Desmond Ridenour split minutes at point and shooting guard, the team played poorly when two and sometimes three of them had bad games. Mason improves the odds of getting strong minutes from both guard positions. Given the difficulties Colter has had adjusting to his new role and Ridenour’s freshman lapses, having the Mason ace in the hole provides insurance at both the one and the two.
The Dukes got an impressive debut from Watkins against Penn St but a quiet three games since. While LG Gill played his strongest game against UMass-Lowell, he still doesn’t always look ready for prime time. Watkins should provide the most polished post depth for Duquesne once he shakes off the rust. Early in the season, the Dukes simply weren’t ready to give Ovie Soko and Dominique McKoy a rest and the team struggled when one or both came off the floor. McKoy played thirty plus minutes in four of the first ten contests while Soko played three quarters of the game in six. I’ve heard complaints about his early offensive productivity, but Watkins doesn’t need to do anything this year besides eat minutes, play defense and grab rebounds at both ends. While he hasn’t made a huge impact over the last three games, he has seven rebounds in twenty – six minutes. At the end of the day, that ain’t bad.
Between their opportunities to gel over the first ten games and their new found health, we should know what the Dukes have by the end of the La Salle game. The next two out of conference games give them two more opportunities to work on their issues and hopefully develop confidence. Their first two conference home matchups constitute half of their four best chances to win in Atlantic 10 play. If they win both, it should lighten the hearts of many Duquesne fans. If they split, they will still likely be in better shape than they were last year. If they lose both, we might have some reason for concern.
I’ve said before that the line between 5-5 and 8-2 is a thin one and I truly believe that if the Dukes had a healthy Mason or more prepared Watkins from day one, they could have flipped some of those scorelines. Ultimately, the Dukes season hinges more on the final nineteen games than it does the first ten. I expected they would need some time to gel and to me a strong finish is more important than a strong start. The Dukes will have all their weapons in place and will be the better team for it. Let’s hope that translates into a better winning percentage moving forward.