Things don't figure to get much easier for the Duquesne men's basketball team. The Dukes are on a six-game losing streak and the Atlantic 10 is a grind this season with few chances for a young and struggling team to string together a few wins.
At this point, coach Jim Ferry would settle for just one win to get his team some confidence, and he is hoping it comes tonight when the Dukes (7-11, 0-4) play host to Saint Louis (12-5, 1-2).
But the Billikens are just the latest challenge for the Dukes this season, as Saint Louis was picked to finish second in the conference in the preseason poll.
That means the Dukes will have faced four of the top five teams in the Atlantic 10 according to the preseason poll -- Saint Joseph's, which was picked to win the league, VCU (No. 3) and Massachusetts (No. 5) -- in their first five conference games.
It is not an easy start by any measure, especially considering that in the aftermath of the 90-63 loss Saturday to VCU, Ferry made it clear the Dukes likely will have more rough nights this season because they are a bit outmanned by most of the teams in the conference.
But Ferry said that is the story of many teams in the first year of a rebuilding program, and it is why he isn't panicking about the team's losing streak.
"We haven't talked about [the streak]. We have basically lost six games one at a time," he said. "I knew what I signed up for when I took this job. We have to rebuild this program, and this league is a beast and we have to learn from each game.
"But we haven't talked about it one bit. We just have to focus on getting better every game. It is hard for us right now but we have to just keep working. I didn't have any false ideas about where this program was when I took over. There is a lot of work that needs to be done."
Matchup: Saint Louis (12-5, 1-2 Atlantic 10) vs. Duquesne (7-11, 0-4), 7 p.m. today, Palumbo Center.
Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
Duquesne: Has won four of seven games all time vs. Saint Louis in games played in Pittsburgh. ... Is on a six-game losing streak and has lost seven of past eight. ... Coming off a 90-63 loss to VCU. ... Is 6-3 at home, and 5-2 at Palumbo Center. ... Freshman G Derrick Colter has scored in double digits in 10 consecutive games.
Saint Louis: Has lost two in a row after nine consecutive wins. ... Leads series, 8-7. ... Was picked to finished second in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll. ... Senior G Kwamain Mitchell had 29 points, 7 assists and 6 steals in an overtime loss Saturday to Rhode Island.
Hidden stat: Duquesne's rebounding margin at home is plus-6.3 per game. It is minus-4.4 on the road.
Ferry will need to recruit better players, as is the case in every rebuilding situation, and he already has gotten to work on some of the structural, facility and administrative changes he believes are needed to take the program to the next level.
But that all takes time and is more big-picture than the immediacy this season requires. To that end, Ferry said he has tried to keep the team focused on playing and learning from each game and improving.
Ferry's players, especially the underclassmen, seem to be upbeat still, despite the losing, which is always a good sign, and they have tried to take Ferry's approach that each game is a "learning experience."
VCU is a veteran team ranked in the top 25, one of the favorites to win the Atlantic 10 and clearly was far superior to the Dukes in talent and execution.
And while freshman Quevyn Winters knows losing games is not acceptable, he believes the Dukes could learn a few things from the Rams.
"[It] was a good learning experience for us to see and play against a veteran team like that," Winters said. "I think seeing how disciplined they are, how they didn't force shots, how they share the ball and how they play together, and then in their huddles they were all there cheering for each other. Just seeing that is something we can learn from."
Ferry hopes Duquesne will get to the point where it has enough talent to play against a team like VCU, and not only compete, but also win.
In the meantime, he said the most important thing he can do is make sure his team continues to work hard, improve and buy into the program philosophy of defense, rebounding, free throws and turnovers.
That philosophy has proven successful this season in the Dukes' seven wins, and Ferry believes it will again.mobilehome - duquesnesports
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @paulzeise. First Published January 23, 2013 5:00 AM