I don’t want to dwell too much longer on the city game. I‘m sure we’ll talk about it on the podcast on Wednesday, but beyond that and this piece , I’m not sure what else I’ll have to say on it.
“Why?” you may ask. Personally, I don’t find the outcome all that meaningful in the grand scheme. I don’t think the loss says much about what this program has done since Keith Dambrot took over as coach nor do I believe it’s all that indicative of the current state of the team. It doesn’t change how I expect the series to be a more evenly matched moving forward. While it has a great deal of focus being placed on it thanks to its local nature and history, one game should not impact your evaluation of any team all that much.
Let’s be clear what happened on Friday. Pitt played an outstanding defensive game, and Duquesne’s inexperienced team couldn’t get any rhythm going. Put another less polite way, Duquesne crumbled under the literal pressure. The way I see it though, this game was more a natural part of the program’s development rather than an indication that the program isn’t progressing. Pitt happened to be the first team the Dukes faced that defended thirty feet from the basket. The Dukes will see extended perimeter defenses again this season. Having faced that type of defense against Pitt will prepare the Dukes a little more for when it comes around again. Facing it again will prepare them to face Pitt next year. Teams can practice a game plan all they want, but until they experience it in the flesh, scrimmages can’t replace game experience in some situations.
Not trying to make any excuses, but the Dukes were basically down the power forward. With Marcus Weathers out and Kellon Taylor in South Dakota for football, Dambrot had to push players out of position to fill the void. Austin Rotroff played there some against UMass – Lowell, and ultimately, I think the four is his future home. However, he hasn’t looked incredibly comfortable there on offense and though he passed the eyeball test defensively, accumulating three first half fouls suggests, at the very least, he got caught making some mistakes. Eric Williams, Jr is the team’s most important player. Without Rotroff in the game, Williams often enough filled that gap. Thanks to Pitt playing a little smaller, Williams is more than capable of playing the position, but forcing a player of his value out of his normal role doesn’t feel great. Assuming Weathers recovers from whatever bothered him and Taylor gets into the basketball flow as quickly as he did last year, that void should disappear completely.
To anyone more critical of the Dukes than they were on Friday afternoon, I also have to ask the question, what’s a more meaningful sample, the Dukes first five games or just the City Game? I would argue that it’s more likely this performance was a particularly poor one than it was indicative of the same team getting lucky the previous five outings. Duquesne are what they are, a young team loaded with talent, but they need time to develop and gel. They’re going to have rough patches.
Pitt certainly played well and wore the Dukes out. However, I didn’t see anyone on their current roster who I thought severely outshined any of the Dukes. In my opinion, the Panthers have more question marks than Duquesne does. Who will provide their post presence moving forward? Who will replace Wilson Frame as the swiss army knife off the bench? Of course, I expect the Panthers recruitment to pick up, and at some point, Duquesne will need to keep pace. Until that happens, I see this game as a coin flip. Even when the Panthers do regain their top 25 form, I don’t think the Dukes will be that far behind under Dambrot that they can’t compete.
Again, this was one game. It’s not a program. It’s not a season. It’s not a series. I haven’t changed my evaluation of this team one bit regardless of the result and in the end, I think Duquesne will be fine and get better following this loss.