Saturday, March 15, 2008

Providence coach fired, could Ron Everhart replace him?

All year long there has been speculation that Ron Everhart would leave Duquesne for a bigger program, and Providence was the school most often mentioned, now the door to that job at Providence is open. Will Everhart leave Duquesne? The Dukes lost 5 games in the stretch run of the season, failed to win close games, and lost to a very beatable La Salle team in the 1st round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, for all of those reasons I think Everhart will be back at Duquesne next year. Only time will tell.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Turning Point? The 07-08 Season in Review

Two years ago Duquesne was one of the worst basketball programs in the country with a 3-24 record. Danny Nee was fired, and Ron Everhart was brought in from Northeastern to turn around the struggling Duquesne program. Coach Everhart cleaned up the Dukes program, and even though he was playing with a young inexperienced team that was depleted by off court injuries due to an on campus shooting the Dukes improved dramatically and won 10 games finishing 10-19 and 6-10 in the A10 last year.

The 07-08 season started with bad news for the Duquesne basketball program. Duquesne's star player and 06-07 A10 Rookie of the Year Robert Mitchell (pictured right) had a falling out with Coach Everhart and he decided to leave the program and transfer to Seton Hall. Mitchell wouldn't be the last player to leave the Dukes program in the off season, junior college All-American Stuard Baldonado, (who had sat out the 06-07 season while he recovered from a bullet wound in his back that occurred as a result of an on campus incident) decided he was going to leave the program after he sued the school and subsequently was suspended for several scrapes with the law. When Baldonado was being recruited by Duquesne he was considered one of the best JC players in the country. Baldonado never played a game in Duquesne uniform.

Despite losing their most talented returning player, and one of their best new players the Dukes started off the 07-08 season on a 6 game winning streak. The Dukes would struggle through a tough December dropping close decisions to now nationally ranked Drake, and a then full strength Pitt squad. By the end of the non-conference schedule the Dukes had earned a 10-3 record with their only loses coming to ranked teams, Drake, Pitt, and WVU.

The Dukes A10 season was a frustrating one. The Dukes were able to upset A10 powers Saint Josephs and Dayton, but they also lost to A10 bottom feeders St. Bonaventure, Fordham, and La Salle. Had the Dukes been able to take care of business against the bottom feeders the Dukes would have secured their first 20 win season since 1980-81. But 20 wins was not meant to be. Oddly enough even with some heart breaking loses during A10 play the Dukes were able to secure a spot in the A10 Tournament, and earn a favorable tournament match up facing a beatable La Salle team in round 1. The Dukes' loss to La Salle in the first round of the A10 Tournament was a microcosm of the Dukes' biggest problem all season, their failure to win close games. The Dukes ended the season 1-9 in games that were decided by single digits. The Dukes only single digit win was their 2 point upset victory over Dayton when Shawn James surprisingly hit back to back 3 pointers in the final minute.

The Dukes added 4 key players to their program this year: transfers Shawn James and Kojo Mensah in addition to freshmen Damian Saunders and Bill Clark. James and Mensah ended the season as the Dukes top 2 scorers with 12.6 and 12.1 ppg respectively. Shawn James also broke the career blocked shots record mid way through the season, he ended the year with 111 blocked shots. Mensah had an up and down season for the Dukes. Kojo was a big part of the Dukes strong non conference run, but he played inconsistently during the A10 schedule. Kojo seemed to be in and out of Ron Everhart's doghouse throughout the season for his poor ball control and team leading 89 turnovers.

Damian Saunders played a huge role on this team as a freshman. Saunders seems to have picked up one of the toughest aspects of the game of basketball, defense, early on in his career. Saunders led the team in steals with 45, and was 3rd on the team with 39 blocked shots. Saunders also displayed wonderful ball control only turning the ball over 32 times this season, the lowest amongst any of the regulars in Duquesne's rotation. Saunders will play an even bigger role as he continues his career at Duquesne and I expect him to be considered one of the best players at his position in the A10 by the time he is a junior.

Bill Clark rounds out the list of Duquesne's newcomers who made a significant contribution this year. Clark led the team with 40 made 3 point shots, but he only shot 31% from beyond the arch, and he shot poorly from the field in general shooting 38%. Clark struggled with his shot but hopefully will find consistency as he continues to mature and develop as a basketball player. The one aspect of Clark's game that I love is his tenactiy. Clark seems to play better in clutch situations, and he turns up his game when it matters most. I don't think Clark's ceiling is quite as high as Damian Saunders, but I do expect him to become a star later in his Duquesne career.

Gary Tucker and Reggie Jackson were vastly improved this year after playing smaller roles last season. Tucker and Jackson were JC teammates and both came to the Dukes with 2 years of eligilbilty when they started their careers here last season. Tucker and Jackson both learned to play tougher more consistent defense, and become contributors on offense. Reggie Jackson had several big games for the Dukes throughout the season, and Jackson played well for the Dukes down the stretch. Both Tucker and Jackson will be missed next year.

I have to tip my hat to Kieron Achara. Kieron was finishing out his long successful career this season at Duquesne, and sadly he knew coming into the season he would be playing second fiddle to Shawn James. Achara had already earned his diploma and could have chosen to forego his last year of eligibility rather than spend the year in James' shadow. Achara chose to come back to Duquesne and the Dukes were a much better team because of it. Kieron earned a 4.0 GPA and was named Scholar Athlete of the year for the 2nd time by the Atlantic 10 this year. In addition to his continued success in the class room Kieron averaged 11.3ppg, 4 rpg, and 45 blocked shots. You will be missed next year Kieron good luck in your professional basketball career.

If someone told me the Dukes would finish the season 17-13 with wins over Dayton and Saint Josephs I would have chuckled but that is how the season ended for Duquesne. The 07-08 season should be considered a success and we should all congradulate Ron Everhart and his team for their efforts this season. Thanks for an exciting season guys.

What made this season so difficult was that the Dukes showed so much promise, but they just couldn't find a way to win close games. Again the Dukes were 1-9 in single digit games, and if they could have won just 3 more of those they could have won 20 games and given themselves a great shot at the NIT Tournament.

Questions for next year:

How will the Dukes respond to the departure of Kieron Achara, Reggie Jackson, and Gary Tucker?
Will Ron Everhart be able to recruit a talented post player to replace Kieron Achara?
How will the new recruits fit into the Duquesne program?
Will the Dukes continue to play the 10/40 two platoon system next year?
Will the Dukes continue to improve their record next year by winning more than 17 games?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dukes lose another close one 82-79

Can the Dukes win a close game, that was the question that every Dukes fan had to be asking themselves coming into tonight's game. The Dukes have only won 1 game this season by single digits. The Explorers kept the game close and the game was tied at 79 with less than a minute to go, Duquesne had the ball. The Dukes presumably in control of the game promptly turned the ball over. Aaron Jackson fouled Green with 23 seconds left. Green made 1 of his 2 free throws. The Dukes were then down by 1 with 23 seconds left, the shot clock turned off. Will the Dukes get the monkey off their back?

The answer?

The Dukes promptly turned the ball over...

La Salle made their free throws and the Dukes season is over. The broken record continues, the Dukes cannot win close games.


Darnell Harris 21 points for La Salle
Rodney Green scored 18 for La Salle

"The General" Reggie Jackson scored a career high 29 points, and 4 three pointers in a losing effort for Duquesne.

Dukes half time update

Dukes trail 39-36 at the half.

I felt the Dukes played well in the first half, and they got some breaks. La Salle is only 3-5 from beyond the arch and the Explorers are shooting horribly from the free throw line, 6-12. Both teams have been equally bad with the basketball the Dukes turned the ball over 10 times, the Explorers turned it over 12 times.

One of the problems Duquesne has had in their recent 5 game losing streak was that they relied too much on the player with the hot hand and the rest of the players stood around watching. Fortunately the Dukes all seem to be working to contribute on the floor so far tonight.

The fact that the Dukes played so well and are actually trailing scares me. Duquesne cannot lose to La Salle. The Dukes have had such a great season, it would be a shame to lose to a team like La Salle in the first round of the A10 Tournament.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Kojo's former team earns NCAA bid

Kojo Mensah (pictured right) left the Siena program after the 2005-06 season to come to Duquesne. I remember when all this went down, Siena didn't want to let Kojo leave, they threatened not to release him from his scholarship, and it was a big mess. As a sophomore at Siena Kojo averaged 16.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 35.1 minutes per game. Siena eventually let Kojo leave the program and he transferred to Duquesne.

Kojo came to Duquesne and sat out the 06-07 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Kojo was one of the Dukes who was injured in the on campus shooting that rocked the Duquesne program during the 2006-07 season. This year Kojo has struggled to find consistency in his role with the Dukes and honestly he has not reached his full potential while in a Duquesne uniform. Kojo is averaging 12.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in 23.8 minutes per game this year for the Dukes. Kojo is shooting 39% from the field and only 24% from beyond the arch this year for Duquesne.

One has to wonder if Kojo's career would have been better had he stayed at Siena rather than transferring to Duquesne where he has been shot, and seen his stats and minutes decrease.

I think that Kojo's numbers have decreased because of the 10/40 two platoon system. One of the biggest drawbacks from the 10/40 is that the Dukes' star players see reduced minutes while players from the end of the bench are in the game as a part of one of the two platoons. In addition to providing less minutes to the Dukes' most talented players the two platoon system does not allow players to develop any kind of rhythm because every 3-5 minutes all 5 players on the floor are forced to sit on the bench. This begs the question, will Ron Everhart stick with the two platoon system next year, or go with the 8 man rotation he has been using the last few weeks of the season? All I know is that I want to see players like Kojo Mensah, Shawn James, and Aaron Jackson see significant playing time every game next year.

Monday, March 10, 2008

I'm back, kind of...

Sorry for the lack of posts the last week or so. I spent most of last week in bed with a horrible cold, and then this weekend I was in Allentown PA for my fiance's surprise bridal shower. I am back in Pittsburgh this week the worst of my cold seems to be over, now it is time to focus on the Dukes.

Duquesne crushed Saint Louis on Saturday night behind a stellar performance from Kieron Achara who was playing his last home game at Duquesne. I was so happy to hear about Kieron's strong showing on Saturday. Kieron has been a wonderful part of the Duquesne basketball program. In addition to being a strong contributor to the Dukes on the floor Achara has been the kind of stand up young man that every program and school needs. Achara has also excelled in the classroom during his time at Duquesne, he has received numerous awards and recognitions during his time at Duquesne for his academic record.

Kieron is going to pursue a professional basketball career when he leaves Duquesne after this year. Kieron has always been a favorite of mine and I wish him the best next year.

It was announced this morning that for the second consecutive season, Kieron Achara of Duquesne garnered Student-Athlete of the Year honors in voting among the Atlantic 10's sports information directors.

The Dukes did qualify for the A10 tournament and have received what I consider a great draw in terms of how the brackets break down. The 10th seeded Dukes will face the 7th seeded La Salle Explorers in the first round of the A10 Tournament Wednesday night at 6:30pm. La Salle and Duquesne split this year, with the road team winning both games. There is no doubt in my mind that the Dukes are capable of beating La Salle. If the Dukes take out La Salle they will play the #2 seeded Temple Owls on Thursday at 6:30pm. Even though Temple is the 2 seed they are still a team Duquesne is capable of defeating. The Dukes played poorly in their loss to Temple last Wednesday, (the Dukes turned the ball over 19 times and allowed Dionte Christmas to score a season high 37 points), yet they still had a shot to win at the end of the game. The Temple game was also at Temple, a major advantage for the Owls, if these teams played a rematch in the tournament it would be at a neutral site.

The real question is which Duquesne team will show up in Atlantic City, the one that beat St. Joe's and Dayton, or the one that lost to St. Bonaventure, La Salle, and Fordham? Let's hope the first team is the one that shows up at "AC by the sea."


The Atlantic 10 announced their all conference teams today, here are our Dukes:

All-Rookie team:
Damian Saunders

The All-Defensive team:
Shawn James

Student-Athlere of the Year:
Kieron Achara. Achara is the third individual to be twice named the Student-Athlete of the Year in men's basketball, joining Saint Joseph's Bill Phillips (2001-02) and Brian Thornton of Xavier (2005-06).

All-Academic Team:
Kieron Achara (3 time member of hte All-Academic Team)

The big awards:
Xavier's Sean Miller was named A10 Coach of the Year.
UMass's Gary Forbes was named A10 Played of the Year.
Richmond's Kevin Anderson was the A10 Rookie of the Year.
UMass' Ricky Harris was the Chris Daniels Award recipient as the league's most improved player.
Josh Duncan of Xavier was named Sixth Man of the Year.
Stanley Burrell of Xavier was named Defensive Player of the Year.

No Dukes appeared on any of the A10 All Conference teams.