|Put up your Dukes|
We wish Duquesne was in Virginia.
Yep, we have our own Dukes (and hint, we think even minus Precious Hall they are the team to beat in the state), but we admit that Dan Burt and his Duquesne Dukes sound like a fun bunch to write about. Along with our own coaches at Atlantic 10 media day last week, we had a chance to catch up with Burt, the Dukes coach, and an avid LadySwish reader (we promise, more fresh content is in the works).
Before we divulge more, let us say we sure hope Virginia product April Robinson (West Springfield High) has the kind of season for Duquesne that Burt anticipates. He champions his senior point guard as the face of the program, and coining a Geno-ism notes, "We've got April Robinson, and you don't."
(Quick Robinson history lesson: Freshmen rarely start at Duquesne; she has started every game of her career. A year ago, she led the A10 with 87 3-pointers and was in the conference top 12 in six other categories. She also made the conference's All-Academic team last year.)
Now how does this relate to our Dukes? For one, Burt dismisses the "mid-major" label as JMU coach Kenny Brooks does and is cognizant of the scheduling challenges facing non-BCS schools. This year Duquesne will play six teams in the top 1-50 (RPI), five in 50-100 and five through 100-150. He wants this team in the NCAA tournament; a year ago, despite a 23-11 record, they were excluded.
"I've learned a lot about scheduling and the RPI," he said. "You need to have games that are winnable and you need to win and you need to have RPI wins 250 and below with the majority, hopefully, 200 and below. Scheduling is an incredibly difficult thing."
Burt isn't shy about going out of the box to play teams that are reluctant to travel to the A.J. Palumbo Center. Two years ago the Dukes played Notre Dame in Toronto and he alludes to a possible future game against a team even better than the Irish.
Ask Brooks about scheduling woes, and he and Burt are kin. Both coaches are used to teams saying no dice when they ask about a home-and-home series. While we think Harrisonburg is lovely this time of year, it's hard to get an ACC, Big Ten or otherwise Power 5 conference contender to head to the Convocation Center for a game. Even in the state, certain teams aren't eager to make the trek up I-81; Old Dominion hasn't played its former CAA rival since moving to Conference USA. By contrast, Pitt, continues to play neighbor Duquesne despite being on the losing end of the series for the last decade.
"After we beat Kansas and Ohio State back-to-back years, no one was taking that call," Burt said. "Most of the Power 5 will not do it."
Another A10 coach with similar struggles: St. Bonaventure's Jim Crowley, who's built a non-conference sked this season that includes Penn State, Georgetown and JMU, which dominated the Bonnies last year in Harrisonburg.
Like Burt, like Brooks, like us, he's ready to toss the word "mid-major" into the dumper.
"JMU is one of the best programs in the country," Crowley said. "People want to say mid-major; that's garbage. They're one of the best programs in the country. We know what they have and we know what a great job Kenny does; to play a team like that in December is great for our future because we're going to find out things about ourselves."
One more Duquesne note that tickles us: The preseason media supplement notes they're not Lady Dukes and not Dutchesses. Just Dukes, thank you.