Keith Dambrot and his Duquesne Dukes will open up their 2023-24 season tonight as they take on Cleveland State at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.
Cleveland State is a member of the Horizon League and has been really good mid-major team, winning 60 games over the last three seasons. Dambrot has once again challenged his team with a very competitive non-conference schedule so tonight will not be a cakewalk by any means.
One of the reasons for challenging his team is undoubtedly because Dambrot believes his roster is up to the challenge and could be one of, if not his best team since taking this job seven years ago. In the preseason media predictions, the Dukes were picked to finish 4th in the Atlantic-10.
“I think the only other year that we were picked relatively high was that year we had all those guys back, Marcus [Weathers], Mike Hughes and Sincere [Carry],” said Dambrot. “That was the year we won about 7 games to start the season. That was probably the only time anyone thought that we were any good.”
That was the 2019-20 season that Dambrot was referring to when the Dukes finished 21-9 but the world was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The optimism on The Bluff for this season is as high as it has been in a long time for many reasons, starting with the backcourt of Dae Dae Grant and Jimmy Clark. The other aspect that will give this team a chance is the overall team depth on the roster.
Pittsburgh Sports Now spoke with Dambrot and asked him to compare this team to the 2019 team. How similar are they?
“That’s a good question. I think that team was a little more settled than this team but that doesn’t mean that they had more upside than this team,” said Dambrot. “They were just a bit more settled because they had been with us. We had Tavian, Sincere, Lamar Norman, Maceo Austin, Mike Hughes, Marcus and Baylee Steele.”
“We only had like one new guy,” Dambrot continued. “This team has a lot of new guys, so we don’t know much yet because we haven’t had any games with them yet. That’s really the only difference. This team has better depth. We just have to see them play together.”
Duquesne Guards: Jimmy Clark, Jake DiMichele, Dae Dae Grant, Dailon Nicholls, Kareem Rozier, Ethan Anish and Lucas Perusek.
Duquesne Forwards: Andy Barba, Halil Barre, David Dixon, Fousseyni Drame, Hassan Drame, Matus Hronsky, Dusan Mahorcic, Jakub Necas, Andrei Savrasov and Tre Williams.
“I really like this team as people,” he added. “They’re really good people that also care about winning.”
Something to keep in mind is that this Duquesne team has been battling injuries and sickness and won’t be 100% until December. This opening month will be a challenge as Dambrot tries to get some of these injured players minutes as well as really finding out what he really has with these offseason transfers. Having depth is a good thing but it requires settling on and dividing up minutes.
“The biggest thing for them is their uncertainty as to what their roles are going to end up being. We haven’t had Dixon and Barre out there. Dixon has been out there way less than Barre, who only been out there for a couple of weeks. That impacts everyone’s playing time. Honestly, I don’t even know yet how it [minutes/rotation] is going to turn out yet.”
“We still have to find out what our niche is,” said Dambrot. “What are we? We had Marcus and Mike and those guys; we knew that we could maul people inside and we still had good perimeter play. We still don’t know yet about this team. Are we a pressing team? Are we a running team? Are we going to play any zone? We haven’t played enough yet to know who we are. It’s so hard in practice to tell what you are. We do know that we need to be more aggressive and tougher than anyone out there and we have to utilize our depth. I think that’s probably the hardest thing as a coach, is trying to figure out stylistically what you really are.”
Duquesne will be a good team this season, but the question is how long will it take them to get healthy and gel together?
The journey begins tonight with tipoff at 7 PM. Oddsmakers have installed Duquesne as -9.5 point favorites.