With their trip to Canada mere days away, the Duquesne Dukes have been busy practicing the past two weeks. With the early head start, the Dukes gave season ticket holders a chance to get a first look at the Dukes during the dog days of summer. Here are some observations from the evening.
-One of the first things I noticed was the presence of new assistant coach Pape Koundoul on the sidelines during the scrimmage. He is very loud and enthusiastic. He wasn't afraid to call timeouts to get his squad settled and to set up plays. While most of the assistant coaches under Ron Everhart have stayed in the shadows, Koundoul's approach should help with an undersized, inexperienced team.
-The most interesting battle during the scrimmage was between the two big men, Andre Marhold and Derrick Martin. If I had to pick, I'd say Marhold looked better, although Martin appeared to be more aggressive than he was during the summer league. Both still seem to suffer from mental mistakes, especially on defense. I'm not holding my breath on a breakout season from either of them, but they still should provide some help down low.
-I mentioned during the Greentree Pro-Am that T.J. McConnell would have to be more aggressive taking shots this season since he doesn't have Damian Saunders or Bill Clark to pass to anymore. He appears to be more confident in his shot and it showed during the scrimmages. It remains to be seen how the combination of McConnell, Mike Talley, and Eric Evans will rotate around the point guard position since all three play it, but I could see McConnell moving to shooting guard.
-The Dukes played their full-court press the entire duration of the scrimmage. The gaping holes and miscommunication that plagued the team during the latter part of last season reared their ugly head. While the press may work against lesser competition, I have a hard time seeing it beat teams like Xavier and Pitt. It was nice to see freshmen P.J. Torres and Danny Herrera forcing turnovers at a decent rate and McConnell can really wreak havoc with opposing ball handelers.
-Another Achilles heel for the Dukes last year was foul shooting. Both teams combined to shoot no better than 50 percent from the stripe during the scrimmage, so it appears that the free throw woes will continue.
-Since he was recovering from his recent surgery, Mamadou Datt did not take part and will be out for the team's trip to Canada.
-The Dukes will have to rely on outside shooting to put up points, and fans can be encouraged by the touches from newcomers such as Torres and Herrera. Both can put the ball in the hoop from deep. If and when they need points inside, junior B.J. Monteiro will be the guy they will turn to. He is incredibly quick slashing to the hoop.
-I talked to a Dukes employee who confirmed the Dukes will be traveling to Arizona for a Coaches vs. Cancer regional that will include a game against the Wildcats. West Virginia passed on the Dukes making a trip to Morgantown this season, citing scheduling conflicts, but the Mountaineers will play the Dukes in Pittsburgh in 2012-2013. The City Game is still scheduled for November 30 at 7:00 p.m. at CONSOL Energy Center, though the teams are hoping for that to be picked up on television.
With the team's first two weeks of practice in the books, they will embark on a trip that will get early game experience this inexperienced team needs. There is no reason why they can't finish .500 in the Atlantic 10, but those who are expecting the Dukes to contend for the conference title as they did last season may be disappointed.
Those who want to keep up with the Dukes during their trip can listen to live audio on goduquesne.com and on redzonemedia.com August 12-15. Longtime play-by-play man Ray Goss will have the calls with Jarret Durham.