NCAA Tourney remains goal for Duquesne
Duquesne men's basketball coach Ron Everhart said his program won't earn the respect it deserves until the Dukes represent the Atlantic 10 Conference in the NCAA Tournament.
"People here have no idea how good the league is," said Everhart, who's entering his sixth season at Duquesne. "On a national level, it's much more respected than it is locally.''
Xavier, Temple and Richmond represented the A-10 in the NCAA Tournament last year. The Spiders extended the conference's streak of sending a team to the Sweet 16 to four straight seasons; they lost to Kansas in that round.
"I was disappointed that we weren't able to get an NCAA bid," Everhart said. "However, that speaks to how good the league is. As good as it was last year, it's going to be better this year."
At 19-13, the Dukes finished fourth in the league last season, losing to Oregon in the second round of the College Basketball Invitational.
Losing seniors Bill Clark and Damian Saunders won't make taking the next step easier. Clark and Saunders both topped 1,500 career points, and Saunders twice was the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
Still, Everhart believes his budding program can overcome losing them.
"Three years ago, we played in the A-10 title game against Temple and lost," Everhart said. "We were right there. I talked to a guy on the (NCAA) selection committee after that season ended. He said we lost a two-point game to West Virginia and we lost a one-point game to Rhode Island. That was the difference. (Last) year, may have been even closer."
Sophomore guards T.J. McConnell and Mike Talley buoy Everhart's confidence. McConnell ranked fourth nationally in assists and was the A-10 Rookie of the Year. McConnell, who starred at Chartiers Valley, averaged 10.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.8 steals. He was the only freshman in the country with more than 300 points, 125 assists and 75 steals.
Sharing backcourt duties with McConnell, Talley averaged 6.9 points last season. A long-range specialist, Talley and McConnell combined for 176 3-pointers and 216 assists while starting 25 games together as true freshmen.
Everhart is hopeful that incoming freshmen Mamadou Datt from Senegal and Kadeem Pantophlet from the Netherlands can step right in and contribute the way McConnell and Talley did a year ago. To help his new players in the transition, Everhart took the Dukes to Canada for a series of exhibition games in August.
"It was great for our kids, especially our two incoming freshmen," he said. "They get a chance to know their teammates, so it was very beneficial. Hopefully, our kids make the new kids understand how hard you have to play and how long of a season it is — and how well you have to play at the end of the season.
"From a mentality standpoint, we have to get there."