Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Checking in with UMass Lowell men's hoop coach Pat Duquette

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One look at the record of the UMass Lowell men's basketball team, and you might think that coach Pat Duquette would be really unhappy.

While the competitor in Duquette would like to be better than 2-3, he understands that the growing pains for this year's River Hawks team will be many.

"No, it's not fun at all," Duquette said with a laugh, because he likes this group.

"They're fun because they're great kids, they're very coachable and they're receptive," he said. "They want to get better.

"Playing through rookie mistakes and coaching young kids is not always a fun thing,"

The River Hawks have lost three straight, including two in the Brown University Tip-Off Classic. Lowell will look to end the skid Sunday against Sacred Heart.

In its three losses, UMass Lowell has not dropped a game by more than eight points.

If you are looking for some fairly easy road trips to see the River Hawks — considering it's a haul to go to Lowell — UMass Lowell will be in Storrs on Nov. 27 to play UConn, at Hartford on Jan. 19 and at Albany on Feb. 13.

Duquette is fielding a team with seven freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and only two seniors. One of the juniors, Christian Lutete, transferred from Radford and is playing after sitting out the 2017-18 season.

Duquette said he didn't anticipate his team being quite as young as it is. Six of the 11 players on last year's roster are back, but three of the top four scorers from 2017-18 are not.

"That's OK," he said. "We brought in a good class. Now it's up to us to develop them and make us better."

If you're looking for a future backcourt, Duquette said he's got the chance to grow one together. Pittsfield's Bryce Daley is a point guard of the future while Alex Rivera from Lowell High School is the shooting guard.

Duquette said the idea of having a 6-foot-4 point guard is very appealing.

"It is, and it actually allows you to play a lot of different combinations," Duqette said. "You can play with a smaller off-guard. He can play on the ball, he can play off the ball. All those things help the team."

That smaller off-guard is Rivera, who scored 16 points in 23 minutes in Lowell's 92-85 win over Army West Point in the Brown Tournament. In that game, Daley played 13 minutes.

This is Duquette's sixth season at UMass Lowell, and his second season guiding the River Hawks as a full Division I member. He was hired, you might recall, to help shepherd the River Hawks from Division II to Division I.

Last year, UMass Lowell was 12-18 and finished sixth in America East with a 6-10 record. Duquette's team is once again picked to finish last in the conference.

"I don't talk about it. I don't know if they see it," he said. "Some of them probably do, the ones that are on Twitter and social media a lot, I'm sure do. I don't bring much attention to it. I don't put much weight in it."

In fact, Vermont (where Lenox's Bailey Patella plays) was the preseason No. 1 team, three points and three first-place votes ahead of runner-up Hartford. UMBC, who pulled off the first-ever 16-over-a-1 upset in the NCAA Division I men's tournament by beating Virginia, is third, while Albany and Stony Brook are fourth.

"I think it's really hard to know in our league this year who's going to finish where," Duquette said when we spoke last week. "There are so many teams that have new parts and are redefining themselves. Vermont and Hartford have a lot of pieces back with quite a bit of experience. I would put them one-two, and the rest of the group has a lot of variables and a lot of uncertainty."

While Pat Duquette said there is uncertainty when it comes to his squad, he said it is going to be an interesting year.

"A lot of it depends on how quickly the freshmen develop," he said. "We've got seven of them and a lot of them are going to have to contribute. How they're going to react in their first college games and how quickly they develop is going to determine how much upside this team has."

But it will be fun to watch.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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