The Duquesne men's basketball team was picked to finish ninth in the Atlantic 10 Conference by the league's coaches and media, a prediction Dukes coach Ron Everhart said will only serve to motivate his young team.
"Hopefully we'll look at that as something that motivates us," Everhart said by telephone Thursday from A-10 media day in Brooklyn, N.Y., where the annual poll was released. "We're going to have a young frontcourt this year. It's kind of scary how young we're going to be. By the same token, we've always had freshmen step in and make an impact. We just hope a couple kids we have can do that."
The Dukes are coming off a 19-13 season, 10-6 in the conference, the school's best finish since 1994.
Everhart's biggest task is to fill the void left by seniors Bill Clark and Damian Saunders, two players who each scored 1,500 career points for the Dukes. Leading the way will be sophomore guard T.J. McConnell, the 2011 A-10 rookie of the year who was named to the preseason third-team all-conference and the all-defense team.
McConnell, a 6-2 graduate of Chartiers Valley High School, set a league and single-season Duquesne record with 91 steals last season. He scored 10.8 points per game, grabbed 3.8 rebounds and had a team best 4.4 assists per game.
In all, five of the Dukes' top seven scorers a year ago return.
The 14-member conference's usual suspects sit atop the poll: Xavier was picked to finish first and Temple second. They were followed by Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure, Richmond, Dayton, Saint Joseph's, George Washington, Duquesne, Rhode Island, Charlotte, Massachusetts, La Salle and Fordham.
"Every year you expect Xavier, Temple, Richmond, Dayton to be good. This year Saint Louis is up there pretty high, and also everybody feels like George Washington and St. Bonaventure will be very, very good," Everhart said. "As always the league is going to be a tough one, competitive. Every night out there. It's a war-type of league. That's just the nature of it. We're going to expect that and prepare for that."
The Dukes kick off the season with a 6 p.m. practice tonight.
After two home exhibitions, the team heads west for its season opener 9 p.m. Nov. 9 at Arizona on ESPN2.
In the preseason poll a year ago the Dukes were picked to finish eighth, and wound up tied for fourth.