Duquesne men hope for good run through A-10 Tournament
Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot is smart enough to pick his fights one at a time.
But he knows when the current season ends another begins almost immediately, and that one will be more difficult than anything he'll see inside Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., during the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
The 10th-seeded Dukes (16-15, 7-11) will play their first game at 6 p.m. Thursday against No. 7 Richmond (11-19, 9-9).
Dambrot is too busy preparing for Richmond to think much about the future. But he knows it will take multiple recruiting classes for Duquesne to become more than a double-digit seed in future postseason tournaments. (In the previous four, Duquesne was seeded 14th, 11th twice and 10th while sporting a 1-7 tournament record this decade.)
“The key is depth and impact guys,” he said.
Depth has been an issue, with Eric Williams Jr., Mike Lewis II, Rene Castro-Caneddy and Tarin Smith averaging between 28.8-35.4 minutes per A-10 game. Only four others receive significant playing time.
Dambrot has preached defense all season — Monday's practice again consisted of almost no offensive drills — but the Dukes allowed 13th-seed Massachusetts to score 85 Saturday night. Worse, that's the seventh time an A-10 opponent scored at least 80, and Duquesne is 2-5 in those games.
Asked to explain his team's defensive deficiencies, Dambrot pointed to a variety of factors.
“Part of it is personnel-based. Part of it is toughness. Part of it is tiredness, mental fatigue, physical fatigue,” he said. “We're good at times. Other times we can't guard anyone.
“A lot of it is too many guys playing too many minutes, having to play too much offense. The key in this league is to have more people than other (teams), have better players and have more people.”
Going three deep on the bench has been problematic. Next season, Dambrot will welcome 10 new players: five transfers and five freshmen. He hopes the other necessity — an impact player — rises from that group, but with freshmen and newcomers, there are no guarantees.
“For another year, maybe, we have to be the consummate team,” he said. “Rather than having an impact guy, we have to win 11 on 6 or 11 on 7. Eventually, if one of those guys turns into a pro, that's really what you're looking for. One NBA guy changes the whole lineup because they make everybody else better.”
When the Atlantic 10 announced its postseason awards Tuesday, no Dukes were among the top 15 players picked to the first, second and third-teams. Smith was named the conference's top sixth man, and Williams earned a spot on the all-rookie team.
“If you don't have anybody in the top 15, obviously, you don't have good enough guys, really, to compete at the highest level,” Dambrot said.
“We need somebody like that,” he said, pointing to A-10 co-Players of the Year, Jaylen Adams of St. Bonaventure and Peyton Aldridge of Davidson. “That's going to be the key for us.”
Meanwhile, there's a tournament to be contested, and the good news is that the Dukes have been competitive with almost every team in the league.
Richmond defeated Duquesne in overtime at Palumbo on Jan. 24, 77-73, but the Dukes rallied from 16- and 13-point deficits to make the game close.
That was the start of the current 11-game stretch in which the Dukes have lost nine.
The team doesn't seem discouraged.
“We have a chip on our shoulder,” Smith said. “We can beat any team we're scheduled to play.”
Dambrot took Akron to nine Mid-American Conference championship games, winning three, so he knows something about tournaments.
“There are a lot of teams that can ratchet up because they've underachieved (during the regular season),” he said, singling out Cleveland State (12-22) playing in the Horizon League championship game Tuesday night.
“If (teams) have good ability, they can win the tournament, but they can never win the regular season. That's what makes it a strange time of the year.”