Duquesne Dukes Game Preview and Q&A

Posted In News - By Alan Kelly On Friday, January 30th, 2015 With 0 Comments

Saturday, the Patriots (7-12, 2-5 A10) travel to Pittsburgh for a 7pm tip-off against Duquesne (6-13, 1-7 A10) at the A.J. Palumbo Center. George Mason will need to build on Thursday’s 68-60 win over St. Louis as they look to escape the Atlantic 10 cellar and avoid being one of the bottom four teams who will play in the opening round games at the A10 tournament in March.

Mason’s recent history against the Dukes has been quite unpredictable. The teams played an out of conference home-and-home series in December of 2010 and 2011, with the Patriots winning an overtime thriller in Pittsburgh in Jim Larranaga’s final season, only to lose the return game in Fairfax a season later, in Andre Cornelius’ first game back from suspension and with Paul Hewitt at the helm. The road trend continued last season as the two teams became conference foes, with Mason winning 74-68 in Pittsburgh on February 8 and Duquesne returning the favor in Fairfax on March 8, 81-69.

Duquesne’s lone A-10 win this season came at home versus St. Joseph’s, 71-68 on January 7. The Dukes have an RPI of 239 and their best out of conference win was over UMass-Lowell (RPI 245). It’s definitely been an underwhelming season, even for a team picked to finish eleventh in the conference. Adding insult to injury, the Dukes are next to dead last in the country in free throw percentage, at just under 59%.

To learn a bit more about this year’s Duquesne squad, I once again caught up with Steve DiMiceli. He is a co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh, where he cover the Pittsburgh Pirates along with culture and politics in the Steel City. He is the former Editor for the Duquesne blogs We Wear the Ring and YukuDukes and currently contributes to A10 Talk.

masonhoops.com: The Dukes returned all but two players from a promising but young roster last season. What should fans know about this year’s starting five?

Steve: The starting five was a true work in progress that didn’t come together until the game before the Atlantic 10 season started. It honestly felt like Jim Ferry threw everything at the wall till he found something that made some sense. We knew three players who would start coming into the year—juniors Micah Mason, Jeremiah Jones, and Derrick Colter—and all three have. However, their positions have moved around a little. Mason started the year at point guard, supplanting Colter, but they’ve since switched back.

The interior is where the confusion lies. Senior Dominique McKoy regained his starting role after Ferry experimented with two other forwards at the four. Meanwhile, sophomore project center Darius Lewis took over for Jordan Robinson. Robinson sat out last year for academic reasons and was unable to practice with the team until the final weeks essentially losing a year to develop. He’s just now seeing his playing time increase again.

Mason and Colter make the offense go and both can be deadly from three. Mason led the league in 3 point shooting last year while Colter was tops in the country for much of this season (he currently sits 8th). Despite their three point prowess, the Dukes will try to push it inside and work a lot off the pick and roll.

masonhoops.com: Who are the key bench players and what do they contribute?

Steve: The Dukes tightened up their bench considerably about a month ago but they’ve since been working more players back into the lineup. Tysean Powell is one of the more underrated freshman talents in the league. The long 6’6″ power forward has shown good ball handling and strong finishing skills around the basket at times. At others, he’s looked like a true frosh.

Jordan Stevens, a junior college transfer, has alternately been one the best players on the floor for Duquesne and one of the worst. He has excellent on the ball skills, but his shooting and decision making have been questionable as he adjusts from being a go – to player to a facilitator.

Virginia native and sophomore LG Gill started the year playing a major role but an extended shooting slump relegated him to the bench. He appears to be snapping out of it and is slowly looking more and more like an upperclassman.

masonhoops.com: What are the main strengths and weaknesses of this season’s team, aside from the obvious three point shooting talent and free throw shooting woes?

Steve: We’ve touched on 3 point shooting to the good and FT shooting to the bad already. Sadly they don’t have many areas where they excel. They’ve gotten better in transition and at getting the basketball into the paint rather than settling for three pointers. When they’re playing their best, they’re doing a nice job of passing the ball.

They’ve defended poorly all season and their perimeter defense is particularly shaky. The starting guards break down off screens and it just makes it too easy to penetrate against the zone. This leads to a lot of drive and kicks to the wings for an open jumper. The defensive rebounding also seems to slip late in games and Duquesne has had difficulty protecting big leads.

masonhoops.com: Last season, Micah Mason grabbed headlines with his incredible efficiency numbers and by leading the country with a three point field goal percentage of 56.6%. There hasn’t been much buzz this year, even though he’s shooting a respectable 45.3% and averaging the same 10.6 points per game. Does Duquesne need more production from him to be successful, and how has he handled the added pressure thus far?

Steve: Micah Mason’s played well, but I think the Dukes really needed him to step up and become a star this year to take a big step forward as a program. It simply hasn’t happened. He’s trying to create his own shot more and he’s doing a better job of finishing when he does. Problem is with no consistent presence inside like the Dukes had last year in Ovie Soko, defenses are really able to extend and focus on him. Thankfully, Colter’s taken advantage of the space he’s creating, but Mason has had to take more risks to get involved. That’s led to shooting at times when he may have dished last year or forcing a pass that goes for a turnover.

masonhoops.com: A number of people, myself included, had Duquesne as a pick to break out this season and finish in the middle of the pack in the A10, or possibly even higher. Instead, they went 5-6 in non-conference play with losses to teams like NJIT, Maryland-Eastern Shore, and St. Francis of Pa. and have started 1-7 in the Atlantic 10. What happened?

Steve: The Dukes needed two things to happen to take big steps forward this year. As I mentioned, Micah Mason needed to grow into an all-conference caliber player and the defense needed to improve considerably. To facilitate these two keys, Ferry experimented with Mason at the point which led to the early season struggles and lineup instability. Ferry also switched to a 2-3 zone. The zone has done ok at times but really it doesn’t work against teams that pass or shoot well. Both experiments failed and it set the team back.

The Dukes have missed a lot of opportunities where they could have improved on that record and simply haven’t. They blew late double-digit leads against URI and St Bonaventure. They couldn’t get over the hump after charging back late against VCU and they missed 21 free throws in a nine-point loss to the Billikens in St Louis. They also had the final shot and a chance to win or tie in regulation against four opponents this season. All four ended in losses. The Dukes record is what it is and they need to own it. That said, they haven’t missed a considerably better winning percentage by much.

About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

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