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Duquesne tabbed 9th in A-10 poll

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Losing four-year standouts Damian Saunders and Bill Clark led to the Duquesne men's basketball team being picked to finish ninth in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, announced Thursday at the conference's media day.

Xavier, which finished 15-1 in conference play last season and lost in the round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament, was dubbed the favorite. Temple, Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure and Richmond round out the top five.

Despite his team being projected to finish in the bottom half of the 14-team league, Duquesne coach Ron Everhart is keeping his goals lofty.

"My expectation, like it is every year, is that in March, whatever the (postseason) tournament is, we compete for a tournament championship," said Everhart, who has led the Dukes to three straight postseason berths.

Although Clark was the team's leading scorer last season (16.3 ppg), losing him may not hurt the Dukes nearly as much as the departure of Saunders, who anchored the frontcourt. He was the only player in Division I history to record at least 250 career points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

"I don't know if we can (replace them)," Everhart said of Saunders and Clark. "Obviously we have to do it by committee. It's scary looking at our roster (and seeing) how young we are."

The reins will be handed to sophomore guard T.J. McConnell, who was the A-10 Rookie of the Year after averaging 10.8 points and 4.4 assists. The 6-foot-1 point guard, a Chartiers Valley product, made the preseason A-10 third team and the all-defensive squad. McConnell and B.J. Monteiro (11.4 ppg) will anchor a talented backcourt.

Andre Marhold (2.3 ppg, 1.0 rpg), a 6-foot-7 junior, is the only returning big man. Everhart expects him and freshmen Mamadou Datt and Derrick Martin to provide help down low, but all three are unproven.

"We have to have one or two of our big guys step up and play on a level beyond their years, so to speak, and become more mature than where they are in terms of their class," Everhart said. "Marhold is sort of like the guy you hope (will step up) because he's been in the program for two years and he had a really good summer."

Martins Abele is another big man that could enter the rotation. But that's a big "if" -- Abele transferred from Radford, which requires sitting out a year, but Duquesne has appealed to the NCAA for the 7-foot-1 Latvian center to be ruled immediately eligible.

Regardless, the Dukes will rely on their backcourt, which will include Sean Johnson, Mike Talley and Eric Evans, to run and gun. Everhart knows he needs McConnell to score more for the Dukes to be successful, but he wants his talented point guard to be efficient.

"When you look at our roster right now," he said, "obviously McConnell has to go from the 8- or 9-assist-a-game guy to maybe taking some of those assists away and turning them into shot attempts -- as long as they're good shot attempts."

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