Duquesne women looking to surprise in Atlantic 10 | TribLIVE.com
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Duquesne's April Robinson is one of two returning starters.

Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt thinks it’s fair his team was picked seventh in the Atlantic 10 preseason coaches’ poll.

It may even be generous, he allows, given that program cornerstones Orsi Szecsi and Wumi Agunbiade graduated and the Dukes have a lot of inexperienced faces on this year’s roster. Yet Burt also believes this team has the makings of a sleeper.

“People don’t know what we have,” Burt said. “I do look at us as a team that can be a top three or four team in our league and have a chance of maybe being on the bubble of the NCAA (Tournament), depending on how things go early.”

Guards April Robinson, a junior, and Olivia Bresnahan, a senior, are the returning starters. The other three spots were up in the air several weeks into practice, and Burt said any number of players could see significant minutes this season.

Senior center Jose-Ann Johnson appeared in 27 games, starting 14, last season, and 6-foot sophomore guard Brianna Thomas is a highly skilled scorer. Sophomore forward Kyasia Duling has shown great improvement, Burt said, and freshman forward Tyra Jones is a practice standout. Burt also hopes to see more offense from senior guard Belma Nurkic.

No matter what happens early in the season, Burt said, he envisions using 10 players with regularity.

“The team that we have now is different than any team I’ve coached and been part of here at Duquesne,” said Burt, a second-year head coach in his eighth year on the Bluff. “This is most talented team I’ve coached at Duquesne, one through 13. At the high end we might not have a player like Wumi at this point, but one through 13 there is very little drop-off.”

Defensively, their look won’t change much this year. Offensively, they will have the depth to employ different looks.

“We can go with a guard-dominant lineup, or we can go with a big lineup,” he said. “We can have a unit that in a sense is a pressing unit that we can play two minutes a game to come out and cause havoc. We’ve got a really nice blend.”

Robinson agreed this team will be a change from her first two seasons.

“My past two years we always had a go-to person with Wumi and Orsi and even Vanessa (Abel),” she said. “Now we all bring something to the table, and we all can score in different ways. Once we bring that together, clean it up and polish it, I think we can go as far as we want to.”

The Dukes open the season with a trio of tough games. They will host Princeton, picked to win the Ivy League for the fifth year in a row, Nov. 16, followed by Syracuse on Nov. 19. From there, they travel to Green Bay, which went to the NCAA Tournament in 2012-13.

Take two of those three games, Burt said, and they will be on their way to showing they’re more than a seventh-place team.

“We’d rather be the underdogs than on top,” Robinson said. “We’d rather work for something than have it just be there.”

Added Nurkic, “And it’s nice to prove people wrong.”

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