Agree or not, the Duquesne Dukes (2-2) and Pittsburgh Panthers (3-4) have two new, superb basketball coaches at the helm entering the 2017 rendition of the City Game, a game dominated historically by Pitt, other than last season, the past three decades.
Unlike students at the respective institutions, in which Duquesne may have more of a chip hailing from the Atlantic 10 conference, each coach downplayed the magnitude of tonight’s affair.
“I want to win the (City) game, but I have bigger fish to fry,” Dukes’ first-year coach Keith Dambrot said. “I have enough issues on my plate that I just have to get my team to play better and build (the program) from the ground up.
While Pitt’s head coach may not be happy about such an attitude coming from ‘the Bluff,’ Kevin Stallings knows it’s the right answer.
“That’s how every good coach feels,” Stallings said. “I respect him for saying that. So what if he beats us? Really, so what? So what if we beat him? We’ve still got 20 more games. I would almost rather have a guy over there that it would be the whole season beating us, but he’s way smarter than that.”
Stallings, who lost his inaugural City Game and is 0-3 against Duquesne in his career, hopes to finally tame the Dukes, but it’s truly a toss-up and might come down to depth.
“They got more guys than us,” Dambrot joked ahead of Friday’s matchup.
And he’s not lying.
The Dukes have just six scholarship players while five transfers sit out this season, and it doesn’t help that Dambrot’s Duquesne squad is hobbled with injuries.
Forwards Chas Brown and Marko Krivacevic have yet to see the floor for Duquesne, and then add Eric James and Tarin Smith’s pains to the equation and it doesn’t bode well for the Dukes on the surface.
However, Smith, who has yet to be officially confirmed for action tonight, vows to play against Pitt, perhaps citing the feeling of last year’s victory against Pitt.
“I don’t think he moved great,” Dambrot said of Smith after Wednesday’s practice.
Nevertheless, the same will to win this game rings true with Pitt’s only returning seniors, Ryan Luther and Jonathan Milligan, who want to make up for what unfolded last season.
The two men both played large roles in the Panthers’ loss to Duquesne last year, and they both remember that feeling after walking off.
“There’s no denying it,” he said.
Milligan, also contrary to Stallings approach, didn’t downplay the game’s importance either.
“We have a bunch of new guys who really don’t know anything about the rivalry,” Milligan said. “Ryan and I, we probably have a little more of a chip on our shoulder just because of what happened last year.”
Joe Cinello covers Pirates material for Pittsburgh Sports Castle. Connect with him on Facebook (Joey Cinello), Linkedin (Joseph Cinello) and Twitter (@JCinello).