Over the past four years, Jim Ferry has shown how much of a challenge it is to win at Duquesne. Here’s a guy who had a great run at LIU, winning two straight Northeast Conference titles and leaving behind a team that won a third straight under his former assistant when he first arrived in Pittsburgh. He is one of a growing number of coaches who cut his teeth in Division III and worked his way up the ladder from there.
In other words, he knows how to coach. Through four years at the school, the Dukes have gradually improved all the way to a 17-17 mark last year – their first .500 season under him. While it is the school’s sixth season with at least a .500 record since 2007-08, this recent stretch has been an anomaly. Starting in 1982-83, the program had just two such seasons over the next 23 years, winning a single-digit number of games nine times and bottoming out with a 3-24 season in 2005-06. Jim Satalin, John Carroll, Scott Edgar, Darelle Porter and Danny Nee all tried their hand at leading the program in that time, and only Carroll, who had the best winning percentage at .427, got them into a postseason tournament.
You get the idea. Ferry had a tall task in front of him, even though predecessor Ron Everhart had a good six-year run that included three straight postseason tournaments and five straight winning seasons. When he took over, the program had seemingly peaked under Everhart and had seen players transferring more frequently.
With that in mind, you understand why the Dukes 64-55 win in the annual City Game against cross-town rival Pittsburgh is a big deal. It’s their first win against the Panthers since 2000, ending a 15-game losing streak, which by itself is monumental. It’s also a boost for a team most picked in the bottom half of the Atlantic 10, a conference that has done well recently, boosting the challenge at Duquesne.
Pittsburgh was without forward Jamel Artis, who was suspended for the game by Pittsburgh head coach Kevin Stallings, but the Dukes were stronger down the stretch in both halves and Stallings didn’t feel his team deserved to win. Duquesne held Pittsburgh scoreless for the final 4:31 of the first half, then closed out the cold-shooting Panthers (33.3 percent from the field) by outscoring them 11-4 after Pittsburgh got within two with 4:18 left.
Duquesne is now 4-5 on the season, and they have had a couple of tough losses in games they failed to close out the opponent. Their strong finish on Friday night is potentially a turning point, so this game could be a key in more ways than one. It could be just what they need to keep the improvement under Ferry going this season.
Although it was a light slate on Friday night, Alabama traveled to Texas and came away with a 77-68 loss to the Longhorns thanks to a big second half by Texas. Alabama led 38-26 at halftime, but Texas took over in the second half to get back above .500 at 4-3. Also, early MAAC play is on tap this weekend, and in the conference openers, road teams took two out of three as Iona won at St. Peter’s, Marist beat Niagara and Canisius rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to win at Manhattan.
As if Michigan State hasn’t had a tough enough beginning to the season, the Spartans have taken another hit. Miles Bridges, who has been their best player to date, will be out for some time with an ankle injury. The freshman is on crutches as a means of resting it, as head coach Tom Izzo said the ankle has been sore, and it’s not clear when he suffered the injury. The injury doesn’t appear to be serious, and it sounds like they are playing it cautiously so he can heal – you get the feeling he would be able to play if they had an NCAA Tournament game this weekend. Michigan State is already without Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter, and it’s possible Carter won’t return this season.
Leading up to Saturday’s game against UCLA, Kentucky has seen a few players and staff members battling a cold. Every player practiced, however, so there is no expectation of players not suiting up for the game as a consequence of this. The team even went to great lengths with the program’s facilities to protect against it getting any worse.
Maine will play at Duke on Saturday, and the Black Bears will be making a political statement by wearing rainbow-themed warm-up shirts as a way to protest North Carolina’s HB 2 law. The t-shirts are black with a rainbow-colored America East logo, and the school believed doing this made more sense than canceling the trip, something fellow conference member Albany did as the Great Danes were originally slated to play Duke as part of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. In Albany’s case, however, there was the added aspect of New York governor Andrew Cuomo issuing an executive order that banned all nonessential travel to the state.
A big day of games is ahead, both in number and in the quality of the matchups.
- The headliner comes early as UCLA visits Rupp Arena to take on Kentucky at 12:30 p.m. EST.
- Wisconsin hosts an Oklahoma team seeking a signature win in the early going at 1 p.m. It’s the Sooners’ first true road game of the season.
- Arch rivals meet on the Main Line as Villanova hosts Saint Joseph’s (1 p.m.), and later, in Providence as Rhode Island heads north to take on Providence (4:30 p.m.)
- Memphis visits Ole Miss and Tennessee hosts Georgia Tech in a pair of intriguing 1 p.m. matchups.
- Virginia hosts West Virginia in what should be a fun game to watch at 2 p.m.
- Rice is off to a good start and gets a test at Texas Tech, who also has a 6-1 record (2 p.m.)
- The Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge gets going, with Boise State at Evansville (2 p.m.), Northern Iowa at Wyoming (3 p.m.), Fresno State at Drake (3:05 p.m.), San Diego State at Loyola (Ill.), New Mexico at Illinois State (8 p.m.), Nevada at Bradley (8 p.m.), Missouri State at Air Force (9 p.m.) and Indiana State at Utah State (9 p.m.)
- A doubleheader is on tap in the Hoophall Miami Invitational at American Airlines Arena: Illinois-VCU at 3 p.m., then Wofford takes on Miami at 5:30 p.m.
- There is also Hoophall LA across the country, with a pair of West Coast Conferece-Pac-12 matchups. First, Gonzaga takes on Arizona in what will hopefully be another epic battle at 5:30 p.m., then BYU plays USC at 8 p.m.
- Xavier visits Baylor for a fine battle of two undefeated teams that have each won an in-season tournament (3:30 p.m.)
- DePaul visits Northwestern in a battle of local rivals (7 p.m.)
- Arizona State hosts a UNLV team that has surprised some with its 5-2 start (8 p.m.)
- Creighton’s undefeated mark is on the line in a tough test against visiting Akron (8 p.m.)
- Oklahoma State visits Maryland in a nice matchup of two teams that have started well, but we’re still figuring out (9 p.m.)