If there is one thing to be said about Duquesne’s defense, it can’t possibly get much worse than last year. The Dukes defending was bad, no sugar coating it, and it helped undermine a fairly strong offensive showing in the first half of the season. It improved as the season progressed, but still had a long way to go.
It was an ugly picture almost all the way around. Duquesne particularly struggled on the perimeter finishing 343rd in three point defense and 349th in assists conceded. Some of the later can be adjusted for the Dukes’ somewhat faster than average offense, but not a lot of it. Duquesne was better in the paint but not by much still finishing in the low 200s in two point scoring percentage against.
To answer the question posed in the title, the defense can get a lot better and there are a lot of ways to improve. I don’t want to make this seem like a swipe, but Tra’Vaughn White struggled more defensively than he did on offense. While he got a better in the 3-2 zone as the season progressed, ultimately his defense that appears to be what cost him playing time more so than his offense. There were appearances, however, where he hurt the team more than he helped.
On top of that, 8 of the 12 available scholarship players have had an entire season to play with one another and learn what Jim Ferry wants them to do. Last year, they looked lost early in the zone, but that should mostly be behind them. We already saw improvement by the end of last season. They had trouble reading when to help, rotate off the double team or fight through screens. With 2/3’s of the team a year stronger thanks to time spent in the weight room or smarter from watching film, I think they could play a more grown up man defense. I don’t want to suggest that the defense will automatically get better with age, but I think it should.
I think added depth will solve some of their woes. The Dukes didn’t defend well in the first half of games last year, but they fared relatively better than they did in the second. At times, the Dukes appeared to wear down. The depth will also help the Dukes play at a faster pace which will hopefully take opponents out of the their rhythm or cause them to fatigue instead.
When I’m looking at A-10 success stories from last season, none stands out more than Dayton’s Elite Eight run. I won’t contend that the Dukes will match their success. Far from it, but I would point out that following the 2012-13 season, they were criticized for their suspect defense. While they added Jordan Sibert and Matt Kavanaugh returned, Archie Miller saw 7 scholarship players remain on his squad. With the addition of a solid recruiting class, Miller was able to go ten deep and kept all his starters under thirty minutes a game. Though there might be more correlation than causality here, the Flyers did improve from Ken Pomeroy’s 162nd worst defense to the 71st.
By the end of the last season, the Dukes defense was already looking better. Hopefully, a longer bench and tooth will help them improve further. We saw Dayton make strides last year on defense at least in part by following a similar formula. Not suggesting the 243rd of Duquesne will improve as much, but any improvement will be welcome. With the Ferry offense, they only need to go from bad to good enough.