Are the Dukes Getting Better?

Following the loss to St Bonaventure last night, I was asked if I thought the Dukes’ team and program were getting better. I quickly replied yes though I didn’t provide any evidence. Today, I looked to back it up. Problem is, it was much more difficult than I expected to prove and some evidence even points to no at least for half of the question.

My response was based largely on my subjective evaluation of the team. The Dukes still have a long way to go but the team in February passes the eyeball test better as a unit than in early November. While they haven’t played as a efficiently on offense, the Dukes appear to be gelling more. We’re seeing more inside outside looks, more dishes in the lane, and better set plays in the half court offense even if the finishing has flopped. We’re also seeing better teams and defenses. The Dukes still aren’t good enough on defense but they’ve look better there as well. The 3-2 zone has far fewer holes than it did during the WVU game where Dukes effectively conceded the corner three. In the man, recovery after the help also looks quite a bit better than it did to start the season.

So what’s the issue with my subjective approval? For one, I’m not a coach or a scout so my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. Secondly, they should pass the eyeball test in February relative to themselves. It’s only relevant if the improved compared to other teams.  I don’t have a wide enough sample to say that they are. For example, I’ve watched some of St Bonaventure’s games, but the sample that I can use to judge their improvement is limited. I could repeat that statement for every team in the Atlantic 10.

To prove objectively that the team is better, I looked at efficiency statistics. While offensive efficiency numbers dipped a little from non conference to conference, the defensive rating has gotten better at least according to Ken Pomeroy’s rating system. The Dukes entered A-10 play with defensive  efficiency numbers solidly in 300′s and sit 279 today. Their overall ranking also improved from 227 on December 15th  to 170 now. According to one man and his spreadsheet, the team has gotten better.

Of course, the Dukes haven’t fared as well in other efficiency systems. According to Stat Sheet, they’ve stayed relatively stagnate since the beginning of conference play. On one hand, that’s bad because they’re floating at the same level. On the other competition got better. When I broke the numbers down further and looked at how Duquesne did relative to opponents average performance, evidence of progress depends largely on where you draw the line. If I look at the team since the start of conference play, defense stayed about the same while the offense got worse. If I draw the line at the beginning of the calender year, the defense got better but the offense still dropped. If I divide by month, the offense gradually declines where the defense got better from December to January while falling in February though not to the levels before New Year’s Day. Their best month was January. Their worst, unfortunately, has been February.

From year one to year two under Ferry, the Dukes have gotten better in a real and statistical sense. The Dukes won eight games in his first year and have already tallied eleven. That alone doesn’t mean a lot when you fail to account for the strength of schedule differences. I concluded preseason that the current schedule is about two wins easier than last year’s and my prediction held true. Should the Dukes fail to win another game,  RPI Forecast predicts a fifteen position improvement for the Dukes  over last season at the end of the regular season. Ten wins would have resulted in roughly the same RPI. The year two Dukes have already locked up improvement in terms of adjusted wins, though it probably isn’t as significant as many fans would have liked.

Based on three statistical evaluation systems that consider more than just wins and losses,  the Dukes have improved considerably. Last season, Kenpom ranked the Dukes 248 and currently they sit 170, a seventy – eight game improvement. Following their loss to St Bonaventure, the Dukes dropped to 191 in Warren Nolan’s NPI  still over a hundred positions better than they finished last year. Jeff Sagarin’s ratings show a sixty – two position improvement from the previous season to the current.

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So is Duquesne men’s basketball improving? ‘Yes’ and ‘I’m not sure’ depending on how the question is phrased. If you asked me is the ‘program’ improving, I would still answer a resounding yes. All indicators including their adjusted record points to a positive trend. If you asked me if the ‘team’ is getting better, I couldn’t give as clear of answer. In my observation, they look better, but I can only say that relative to the same team in November. If I look only at Ken Pomeroy, the answer is yes, between 50 -60 positions better. If I look at other statistical indicators, the answer is no. It does appear that they had improved at one point, but have back slid badly so far in February. Of course, they have a chance to re-write their story in the final five games.

Topics: Duquesne Dukes

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