New-look Duquesne men set for challenging opener

Duquesne appeared to turn a corner last season in coach Keith Dambrot’s first few months on the job, starting 12-4 and injecting energy into the Palumbo Center.

But after a 64-41 victory at Fordham on Jan. 6, fortunes reversed symmetrically, and the Dukes ended the season in a 4-12 slump, including a six-game losing streak and an 81-68 loss to Richmond in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

What followed was a complete overhaul of the roster that included players either exhausting their eligibility or transferring. Dambrot already had been making plans for the future, bringing in seven freshmen and four transfers.

Duquesne’s administration has committed a wealth of resources to the basketball program, starting with hiring Dambrot and announcing plans for a $45 million reconstruction of Palumbo.

Now, Dambrot must produce a product worthy of such trust.

“We have to do our job. We have to win games before this building is built,” he said.

It starts Saturday against William & Mary, a difficult opener. Last season, William & Mary was 19-12 and became the first team in NCAA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field (.511), 40 percent from 3-point range (.434) and 80 percent from the foul line (.810).

“I’m not excited to see them at all,” Dambrot said. “Poor scheduling on my part.”

Three players to watch

Marcus Weathers : A 6-foot-5 sophomore forward, Weathers transferred from Miami (Ohio), where he played in 32 games (nine starts) during the 2016-17 season, averaging 9.7 points and 6 rebounds and shooting 51.3 percent from the field. Dambrot knows him all too well — Weathers scored 14 points while helping Miami rally from an 11-point deficit to defeat Dambrot’s Akron team 79-75 two years ago. Weathers gave Miami the lead with a layup with 48 seconds to play and sealed the victory with two free throws.

Michael Hughes : At 6-8, Hughes gives Duquesne an inside presence after he played 20 games for Dambrot at Akron. As he develops, Hughes could turn into a shot-blocking center. He had 10 while playing only 7.3 minutes per game at Akron.

Sincere Carry : Only a freshman, he will open the season as Duquesne’s starting point guard. At 6-1, he averaged 23.3 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists at Solon (Ohio) High School last season.

The season will be a success if … Dambrot can find a way to blend his mix of new players, who are just getting to know each other, into a well-crafted team.

The season will be a flop if … Returning starters Mike Lewis II and Eric Williams don’t provide most of the scoring and rebounding.

Predicted record: 15-16 overall, 7-11 Atlantic 10

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com.