Perfect Timing: Pittsburgh’s College Basketball Teams Take Center Stage
Now that football season has ended, it’s time to appreciate what Pitt, Duquesne and Robert Morris have been doing on the hardwood.
Now that another NFL season has come and gone we have some catching up to do regarding what we’ve been overlooking while obsessing over Matt Canada, Patrick Mahomes and whether a flag for holding that ended up deciding Super Bowl LVII should or should not have been thrown.
There’s some stuff that may have fallen through the cracks.
College basketball, for example.
Almost on cue, Pitt, Duquense and Robert Morris found the spotlight in succession this week.
Turns out there’s a lot to see.
The Panthers hosted Boston College on Tuesday night and breezed to their season-high sixth consecutive victory, 77-58.
That elevated Jeff Capel’s team to 19-7 overall and, temporarily at least, sole possession of first place in the ACC.
That Pitt still wasn’t ranked when the latest AP Top 25 was released on Monday seems more a product of an 81-56 loss to West Virginia and a 91-60 loss to Michigan back in mid-November, Pitt’s second an third games of the season, than all that’s happened since. Because since then Pitt has beaten N.C. State (No. 23 in the AP poll this week), Virginia (No. 7), Miami (No. 15) and North Carolina (ranked No. 25 at the time of the Panthers’ first of two victories over the Tar Heels this season).
This isn’t the Pitt team that started the season 1-3.
This isn’t the Pitt team that went 11-21 last season.
This is a Pitt team that can drain the three, one that shows up on the road and one that is developing an impressive habit of doing whatever it takes to close out games late when necessary.
Pitt’s headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016, and looking more and more like a team capable of inflicting some damage upon arrival.
Duquesne took center stage on Wednesday night and celebrated the occasion by thumping St. Joe’s, 76-62.
The Dukes were 6-24 a season ago, including 1-16 in the Atlantic 10.
This season they’re 18-8 overall, 8-5 in the conference and one more win at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse away from tying the school record for home victories in a season (16, in 1950 and again in 1972). Duquesne has won four in a row to open a February for the first time since 1971.
The Dukes will likely have to win the A-10 Tournament to make it to the NCAA event for the first time since 1977. But they’re an athletic team that shares the ball, can shoot from behind the arc and is learning how to defend. They, too, are fun to watch.
Thursday night was Robert Morris’ turn.
The Colonials completed a three-games-in-three-venues-in-three-nights Pittsburgh Basketball Extravaganza by hosting Green Bay.
Robert Morris absolutely, positively has to win the Horizon League postseason tournament to earn its first NCAA bid since 2020 (the year COVID canceled the event) and play an actual NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2015.
But the Colonials took the floor on Thursday night at 12-15 overall, 7-9 in the Horizon and in search of a conference victory that would match the combined eight they managed in their first two seasons in their new surroundings.
They may not be making headlines but they’re making progress.
And Pittsburgh might be about to become a basketball town again.
It’s been a minute.
Football season ended just in time.