Column: Which college basketball team reigns supreme in Pittsburgh this season?

Posted on Jan 17 2018 - 5:59pm by Jarrod Prugar
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The city of Pittsburgh boasts a vast variety of sporting events each night, but the sport that is the most prevalent this time of year is college basketball.

Three Division 1 basketball programs battle it out for the title of the best team in the Burgh every time they take the court.

Between Pitt, Robert Morris and Duquesne, the hardwoods in Pittsburgh are filled nearly every night as each team takes the court. The programs share the city, however, what they don’t share is the product on the court, especially this season.

Robert Morris and Duquesne, as the mid-major schools they are, often find themselves playing second fiddle to the Pittsburgh Panthers, but this year that is far from the case.

The Panthers are mired in a miserable past few seasons with little light at the end of the tunnel while both the Colonials and Dukes (Doesn’t Colonial America rock?) have both experienced a resurgence of sorts to get them to the top of their respective conferences.

Duquesne: 13-5, 4-1 A-10 (2nd in A-10)
Pitt: 8-10, 0-5 ACC (Last in ACC)
RMU: 11-8, 5-1 NEC (1st in NEC)

But who really does reign supreme this year in the Steel City? Let’s take a look at what the writers here at Pittsburgh Sports Castle have to say on the issue.

Jarrod Prugar, Columnist

All three teams have dealt with a rash of adversity this season.

Kevin Stallings and Pitt lost forward Ryan Luther for a majority of the season, and possibly the entire season, with a foot injury. Keith Dambrot and Duquesne have had their fair share of the injury bug too, but have overcome those setbacks to currently sit at 12-5 on the season and 3-1 in the Atlantic 10. For Andy Toole and Robert Morris, it had been two seasons since the Colonials last reached the NCAA Tournament and had a winning record.

Stallings has struggled mightily as coach of the Panthers as he continues to implement his program in a highly competitive ACC conference that seemingly produces four or five tournament teams each year. The lack of success year in and year out under Stallings, while disappointing, has shown glimmers of hope for the ship to be righted.

As of right now, they’re living in the world of struggling basketball, while watching teams like Robert Morris and Duquesne have success right in their backyard, literally only a few blocks away from campus.

The amounts of success both the Colonials and Dukes have had early on this season is impressive. Dambrot is in his first season at the helm of Duquesne taking over for former head coach Jim Ferry who is now an assistant at Penn State. Toole has had to play every game on the road this season as Robert Morris constructs their new arena.

While playing every game away from the friendly confines of Moon Township, Toole has had to guide a youthful Colonials team through the rigors of a difficult non-conference schedule. Robert Morris boasts a roster with no seniors but two graduate transfer players.

Head-to-head, the Colonials took down the Dukes 66-59 in mid-December as many mid-major teams are trying to find their identity. Since that game, Duquesne has gone 10-4 while Robert Morris has gone 9-4 including a 4-0 start to conference play.

With both teams still needing to play the bulk of their conference slates, how either team finishes is still very up in the air, however, this writer has to give a slight edge to the Colonials in the best team in the city category at this moment.

Joe Cinello, Owner and Co-Editor

It’s that time of year again, snow is falling and Duquesne, Pitt and Robert Morris’ basketball programs are in the midst of their conference schedule.

Coincidentally, these three universities are all in a strikingly similar position, playing underclassmen in high-leverage roles.

The two mid-major schools — Duquesne and RMU — usually deemed Pitt’s little brother, are at or near the top of their respective conferences, while the Panthers continue being the lovable losers in the basement of the ACC.

But who holds the keys to the city?

I love this argument: Duquesne beat Pitt last year and RMU beat Duquesne two years in a row, so Bobby Mo rule supreme over the trio.

I hate breaking hearts, but this just isn’t true whatsoever. In fact, it may be the other way around completely.

First off, conference prestige plays a major role when coming up with the premier program at this minute. Obviously, of the three teams here, the ACC is head and shoulders better than the A-10 and NEC. However, when it comes to mid-majors, the A-10 is no slouch, potentially second to only the Big East. And for the NEC, well, let’s just say it’s not great.

With all of that in mind, and my own personal bias pushed to the side, Duquesne currently runs the city.

It’s not easy taking over a program left in shambles, ask Kevin Stallings, but taking over a team who hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since the 1970s takes it to a completely different level. Enter Keith Dambrot, who single-handedly changed the culture on ‘the Bluff.’

“Duquesne’s not going to get plunked anymore. We’re just not going to get punked,” said Dambrot after Chas Brown shoved Kostas Antetokounmpo following a taunt on the big man, which sparked the Dukes to a win over conference rival Dayton.

Even though Dambrot openly said he wasn’t particularly fond of the situation, it shows how far the program has come from winning just three conference games last year.

Rachael McKriger, Co-Editor, Riverhounds & Steelers writer

Pittsburgh is a city of “threes.”

Three rivers, three big sports teams (the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pirates and Penguins) and three major college basketball teams.

The Duquesne Dukes, Pittsburgh Panthers and Robert Morris Colonials are in full swing of their respective seasons. Two teams are dealing with adjusting under a new coach (Robert Morris and Duquesne), yet still finding a way to win, while the other is trying to figure out the antics of their coach (Univ. of Pitt).

The Panthers struggles this season have been the basketball talk of the town, downtown. What genuinely amazes me is the amount of trash talk ‘Yinzers’ unleash on the Panthers, yet the coverage on the team is higher than ever around Pittsburgh media platforms.

Meanwhile, you have two gifted, young programs in Robert Morris and Duquesne that aren’t even close to selling out games at the PPG Paints Arena and A.J. Palumbo Center, and they don’t get the media coverage they should. (Except here, of course!)

Maybe Kevin Stallings’ antics are the appeal of going to the games.

Either way, the focus in Pittsburgh shouldn’t be on the Panthers, but on the Dukes and Colonials. To which team is better, I’m going to hand it to Duquesne for the sole base that Keith Dambrot, first-year head coach for the Dukes, is a well-known winner.

Dambrot came from the University of Akron, where he had a long coaching career. He served as head coach from 2004-17. His overall record for the Zips was an impressive 305–139 (.687).

At Akron, Dambrot was the all-time winningest coach in school history, which included back-to-back Mid American Conference titles in 2016 and 2017.

He’s been to the NCAA Tournament a total of three times with Akron.

This guy knows how to coach, and his players are listening.

Cody Flavell, Pittsburgh Panthers Basketball Lead

The Pitt Panthers are struggling in their current state with second-year head coach Kevin Stallings at the helm. My argument isn’t necessarily that they’re the best college basketball team in Pittsburgh now because that’s far from the truth.

Instead, I believe they’re set up to eventually get back to that peak.

The Panthers have some building blocks in Marcus Carr, Shamiel Stevenson and Parker Stewart. Ryan Luther’s injury will likely allow him to come back next year for the fifth season, which is a big boost for the Panthers who will be of the same core next season, just a year older.

They’re winless in ACC play to this point and they likely won’t be favored to win another game the rest of the way. They’ve clearly fallen behind a bit despite beating Duquesne in the City Game this year, they trail them and shortly, if they haven’t already, will be falling behind Robert Morris.

The next couple years, however, could see them get back to the top of Pittsburgh’s college basketball peak if they continue to develop.

Jonny Heller, Duquesne Basketball Lead

If I had to rank the three teams in Allegheny County right now I would rank them as follows: Duquesne, Robert Morris and lastly, Pitt.

The Dukes and Colonials have both been playing at high levels over the past month. Although the Colonials own a victory over the Dukes in November, I don’t think they could replicate that if the game were played today.

At the time the teams met, Duquesne was without Chas Brown and Kellon Taylor didn’t even have one practice under his belt after football season. The program is on an upward trajectory.

The Colonials are also on an upward trajectory but the difference being in the conferences. The NEC is consistently among the bottom five leagues in the country, while the A-10 is in the top seven or eight.

As for Pitt, well, their problems speaks for itself right now.

Final Tally

Duquesne Dukes: Joe Cinello, Rachael McKriger and Jonny Heller

Robert Morris Colonials: Jarrod Pruger, 

Pittsburgh Panthers: Cody Flavell (In a few years, that is)