Just days away from college basketball season tipping off, anticipation has reached its apex. By now every die-hard fanatic is convinced his or her team will be dancing in March. It’s only human.
For fans of the Duquesne basketball program, the outlook is and should be much different. As expected, the arrival of Keith Dambrot has re-energized the program and fanbase, but expectations must be quelled in his inaugural season on The Bluff.
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Dambrot is well aware the Dukes are short on talent this season, and injuries to Chas Brown and Marko Krivacevic have shortened an already thin bench. Duquesne will feature an eight-man rotation during the first month of the season—Brown and Krivacevic are expected back in early December—a daunting task for any coach, especially one attempting to rebuild a program.
“We have to a do a really good job of developing that fighting mentality,” Dambrot said of the eight-man rotation. “So in some ways maybe it’s good in the long haul we’ve got our backs against the wall a little bit.”
Once Brown and Krivacevic return, the Dukes will still have to grind out games. They’re not currently built to win with opponents scoring 70-plus points a night. Dambrot’s teams at Akron were known for their defensive prowess and tenacity. For Duquesne to stack up wins early and build momentum leading into Atlantic 10 play, it must mirror those early Dambrot-led Akron squads—the Zips limited opponents to 66 points a contest his first two seasons.
Assuming a fighter’s mentality gives the Dukes a puncher’s chance in games where they’re clearly outclassed. They have notable deficiencies—size, reliable outside shooting, and depth—but Dambrot still expects to compete and win.
“Our margin of error right now is very small, but we’re still capable of winning,” Dambrot said. “And I won’t accept not winning.”
There’s a definitive buzz surrounding the program unlike previous years, yet fans and media types need to be realistic when evaluating this year’s Dukes squad. Dambrot has stressed patience, even for himself.
“I have to be patient—that’s going to be the biggest test for me,” Dambrot said. “I’ve got to build expectations, but at the same time be patient with where we’re at. We certainly aren’t going to be a finished product.”
Key developments to watch for this year are the maturation of sophomore Mike Lewis II, the growth of freshmen Eric Williams Jr. and Tydus Verhoeven, and Tarin Smith’s decision-making at point guard. Those four players figure to have prominent roles on the 2018-19 team, and their progress will be paramount to next year’s success.
“This year is not going to make or break us,” Dambrot said. “Now, we want to win as many as we can win, but it’s not going to be the cure all, end all.”
Once Dambrot adds the five transfers sitting out this year and a full recruiting class, the margin of error widens.
“Eventually what happens is you get to the point where your guys are experienced, you’ve got good talent level, and now your margin of error is bigger,” Dambrot said.
The Dukes are not at that level yet. Until then, they’ll have to keep fighting.