2005-06 Men's Basketball Quick Preview
Normally, to return seven of your ten most-productive players - including four starters - would be reason to celebrate in this day and age of college basketball.
Not so in the world of the 2005-06 Atlantic 10 Conference.
In a league that welcomes back over 80 percent of its scoring and 12 of 15 all-conference players, Duquesne's returning numbers are pretty pedestrian. Throw in the addition of former Conference USA members Charlotte and Saint Louis, and the Dukes will need every bit of that experience to make a mark in league play.
The numbers are there, if only the Dukes can find a way to keep everyone healthy.
Last year, ten different players missed a total of 18 games with ailments ranging from mononucleosis to pneumonia, as the revolving door to the training room caused head coach Danny Nee to resort to 12 different starting lineups - with all 11 scholarship players starting at least once. The lack of continuity was reflected in the fact that no lineup combination started more than four consecutive games as the Dukes struggled to an 8-22 record.
Nee, entering his fifth season, has two solid building blocks in second team All-Atlantic 10 guard Bryant McAllister and 2004-05 A-10 Most Improved Player center Kieron Achara. The Dukes will also add four newcomers including a promising transfer in 6-7 sophomore forward Ryan Lambert. Nee's challenge - in addition to avoiding the injury bug - is to turn experience into results.
McAllister (16.1, 4.0, 83 assists, 54 steals), a three-year starter who finished fourth in the A-10 with a 16.1 ppg. scoring average last season, will be the cornerstone for the Dukes. The Pittsburgh native, who has played in every game (89 in a row) since stepping on campus, is one of just five Atlantic 10 returnees with 1,000 career points. McAllister, who was a two-time A-10 Player of the Week last season, scored in double digits 26 times while topping the 20-point mark on eight occasions. Recognized as one of the most-athletic players in the Atlantic 10, the versatile McAllister led the team in steals with 54 and also handed out 83 assists.
The 6-9, 255-pound Achara (11.5, 6.7, 46 blocks) put together a solid sophomore season after starting just four times as a freshman. The Stirling, Scotland native emerged as a consistent scorer for the Dukes, reaching 10 or more points in a game 21 times. Achara's eight double-doubles last year ranked fourth in the Atlantic 10 behind Saint Joseph's Dwayne Jones (19), La Salle's Steven Smith (10) and Fordham's Bryant Dunston (9). A member of the Scottish national team, Achara was rewarded by becoming the first DU player to win the Atlantic 10 Chris Daniels Award presented to the league's most-improved player.
Six-six sophomores DeVario Hudson (8.1, 5.3) and Chauncey Duke (4.0, 2.7), who started a combined 33 times as true freshmen, are also back. Hudson, a forward, showed glimpses of explosive scoring ability with 18 points in 21 minutes at George Mason and 17 points in 24 minutes at Boston College. The Decatur, Ga. native posted double-doubles at Richmond (20-11) and versus Akron (12-11) making him one of just three of the Atlantic 10's talented freshman class to post multiple double-doubles last season.
Like Hudson, Duke also scored in bunches as a freshman, with all 24 of his 3-pointers made coming in 10 games. He finished the season strong, hitting 16 of his last 40 3-point attempts (40.0%) to bring his season-ending percentage up to 35.3. Duke, a swingman, went over six weeks (a span of 10 g.) without a turnover, in finishing the year with just 13 miscues in 526 total minutes.
The point guard spot, which was manned by departed seniors Martin Osimani and his back-up Tyler Bluemling last season, is the area of greatest concern for Duquesne. Osimani, whose 5.5 career assists per game average ranks eighth on the Atlantic 10 all-time list, handed out 323 dishes in his two seasons as a starter, while Bluemling was one of just three players to see action in all 30 games last season. The duo of Osimani and Bluemling accounted for over half of DU's total assists and had a combined 215-to-104 (2.1-to-1) assist-to-turnover ratio.
McAllister will be asked pick up the slack at the point with freshman Aaron Jackson expected to provide depth as a back-up. Jackson, 6-2, averaged 14.0 points and 8.0 assists per game last year at Worcester (Mass.) Academy. Five-eleven JC transfer Vandrell Rivers, who was expected to compete for playing time at the point, did not meet NCAA junior college transfer requirements and did not enroll at Duquesne. The loss of Rivers, who ranked second nationally with an 11.087 assist per game average at Southern Union State Community College (Wadley, Ala.) last season, remains to be seen.
The Dukes will have a proven scorer back in senior guard Jack Higgins (9.5, 2.3, 47 3-pointers). Higgins, who has averaged 9.6 ppg. in two seasons off the bench, was third on the team in scoring last year and also ranks third among returnees with 23 career double-digit scoring games. He enters the season second on Duquesne's career 3-point accuracy list at 39.5 percent (88-of-223). Higgins, who missed the first three conference games with pneumonia, rallied from a poor start to hit 37 of his last 98 3-point attempts to bring his final season percentage to 35.3.
A pair of second-year players round out the returnees. Six-ten sophomore center/forward Sean McKeon (3.0, 1.7) saw action in 24 games as a redshirt freshman. McKeon, who missed four late November-early December games with mononucleosis, averaged 13.3 minutes per game in conference play.
Six-eight transfer Keith Gayden (5.2, 4.0) battled injuries in his first season following his transfer in from Kennedy-King College in Chicago. Gayden, who missed games on three different occasions, started strong with all four of his double-digit scoring games coming in his first four outings - including a 15 point, 9 rebound effort versus West Virginia. When healthy, Gayden was the Dukes' most aggressive rebounder. His 49 offensive rebounds were third-most on the team.
Among Duquesne's pool of newcomers, 6-7 Western Kentucky transfer Ryan Lambert is the most intriguing. The 215-pound sophomore, who practiced with the Dukes while sitting out last season, averaged 5.3 points and 4.8 rebounds in starting 20 of WKU's last 23 games in 2003-04. The Germantown, Md. native posted the second-highest freshman rebound total (134) in Western Kentucky history and was part of the reason the Hilltoppers finished the `04 season ranked sixth nationally in rebound margin.
Lambert's arrival couldn't come at a better time for Duquesne, which ranked 261st nationally in rebound margin last year at -2.9 per game. Brian Kelly, a high school teammate of DeVario Hudson, is also expected to help the Dukes close the rebounding gap. The 6-7 Kelly, who took a developmental redshirt last season, will also be counted on to bolster DU's frontcourt defense.
Six-nine, 230-pound true freshman Ronnie Thomas will provide depth at the forward and center positions. The fundamentally sound Thomas averaged 17.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and shot 65 percent from the field last year at Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind.
Senior guard Adam Souply rounds out the squad. Souply, who spent his first three seasons as a walk on, was granted a scholarship for the 2005-06 season in late summer.
BIG MAC: Bryant McAllister, a three-year starter at guard for Duquesne, finished last season as the Dukes' most decorated player since Wayne Smith (1999-02). The Pittsburgh native, who finished fourth in the Atlantic 10 in scoring (16.1 pg.) behind co-Players of the Year Steven Smith of La Salle & Pat Carroll of Saint Joseph's and Temple's Mardy Collins, became the first DU player since Smith in 2000 to be named second team all-conference. McAllister also became the first DU player since Wayne Smith to earn A-10 Player of the Week honors - winning or sharing the honor twice during the 2004-05 season. Only two other A-10 players - Steven Smith and Collins - were named Player of the Week more times in 2004-05. McAllister enters his senior season 28th on Duquesne's all-time leading scorers' list with 1,033 points. He is one of just five A-10 returnees with over 1,000 career points.
EXTREME MAKE-OVER: A $2 million renovation of Duquesne's basketball home - the A.J. Palumbo Center - is underway. The project, which began in late June, involves the creation of new offices for both the men's and women's coaching staffs, video viewing and video breakdown rooms, a large meeting/recruiting room, a new training room and a new state-of-the-art student-athlete weight room. It is the first major renovation of the Palumbo Center which opened its doors in December of 1988.
POINT BLANK: The Dukes, who lose just four players from last year's roster, return eight of their top 10 scorers from a year ago. The problem will be finding someone to get them the ball. Among those gone from last year are starting point guard Martin Osimani and his backup, Tyler Bluemling. Osimani, a two-year starter who finished his career ranked eighth on the all-time Atlantic 10 assist list at 5.5 apg., and Bluemling accounted for over half of DU's total assists and had a combined 215-to-104 (2.1-to-1) assist-to-turnover average. As of now, it looks as though Bryant McAllister will receive extensive time at the point with newcomer Aaron Jackson expected to provide depth. The 6-2 Jackson averaged 14.0 points and 8.0 assists per game in the same backcourt as Rhode Island recruit Jim Baron Jr. last year at Worcester (Mass.) Academy.
LAMBERT TO DEBUT: Duquesne will be looking for big things from first-year Western Kentucky transfer Ryan Lambert. The 6-7, 215-pound sophomore, who practiced with the Dukes while sitting out last season, averaged 5.3 points and 4.8 rebounds in starting 20 of WKU's last 23 games in 2003-04. In the process, the Germantown, Md. native posted the second-highest freshman rebound total (134) in Western Kentucky school history behind the 275 boards posted by 7-1, 285-pound Chris Marcus in 1999-00. Lambert was part of the reason WKU finished the `04 season ranked sixth nationally in rebound margin. Lambert's arrival couldn't come at a better time for Duquesne, which ranked 261st nationally in rebound margin last year at -2.9 per game.
GREAT SCOT: Junior center Kieron Achara, competing as a member of the Scottish Senior Men's National Team, was named Most Valuable Player of the South Africa Tournament played in Johannesburg on August 5-7. The 6-9 Stirling, Scotland native averaged 21.3 points and 8.0 rebounds as the Scots went 2-1 in the tournament designed to help South Africa, Angola Select and Mozambique prepare for the African championship. The 2004-05 Atlantic 10 Chris Daniels Award winner (most-improved player) scored 26 points versus both Mozambique and South Africa. He shot 83 percent from the foul line (20-of-24) and averaged 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.0 blocks per game. He even connected on 4-of-8 3-point attempts. "I think with every international competition I grow more as a player," said Achara. "I feel a lot more relaxed. It really meant a lot to me to be named MVP of the tournament because I had never faced players that were so athletic and quick. I feels good to show that you can play at that level. It gives me confidence entering the [Duquesne's] season." Earlier in the summer Achara led the senior men in scoring in three of four games at the Spuerkess Cup tournament in Luxembourg. He averaged 16.0 ppg. as the Scots, playing without three regulars, dropped two games to England and two more to the host in the four-game Cup played from May 19-22.
LEFT OF CENTER: Duquesne's frontcourt will have a unique bent this season with four left-handers among the seven full-time big men on the roster. In addition to returnees 6-9 F/C Kieron Achara, the 2004-05 Atlantic 10 Chris Daniels Award winner (most-improved) and 6-8 F Keith Gayden, the Dukes will also add a pair of 6-7 lefty forwards in Western Kentucky transfer Ryan Lambert and redshirt freshman Brian Kelly.
SCHEDULE NOTES: Duquesne will face four - and possibly five - 2004-05 NCAA Tournament teams during its 11-game non-conference schedule. The Dukes will travel to Rochester, Mich. to take on `05 tournament surprise Oakland in late November. In early December, DU will tangle with traditional rivals - and Big East members - West Virginia (away), the Cinderella of last year's tournament, and Pittsburgh (home) in back-to-back games. In addition, Duquesne will host first-year Atlantic Coast Conference member Boston College, the first-place finisher in the Big East last season, in late December. A fifth 2004-05 NCAA Tournament team, Niagara, will be part of the four-team Duquesne Holiday Tournament on Dec. 30-31. In the Atlantic 10, Duquesne will play home-and-home series' with La Salle, St. Bonaventure and Fordham. DU will host George Washington, UMass, Richmond, Saint Joseph's and Saint Louis and will travel to Charlotte, Dayton, Rhode Island, Temple and Xavier.