PITTSBURGH — If you’re a college basketball fan and you love close, competitive basketball games, the 2017-18 Duquesne Dukes should be right up your alley.
The Dukes have played seven straight games where the final margin of victory was seven points or fewer and have played a total of six overtime periods played in that span.
There have been 100-point thrillers and strong defensive performances and just about every kind of buzzer-beating theatrics you can think of. If you’re a die-hard Dukes fan, it’s probably been enough to add a few gray hairs.
For head coach Keith Dambrot, that result is probably the same. With a young team new to the spotlight of the top of conference pay, Dambrot has had to walk a narrow path when it comes to expectations.
The Dukes were picked to come in last place in the conference, so with six wins already under their belts, it will be a successful season in regards to those expectations no matter what. But now that goals like a 20-win season (Duquesne is currently 15-9 with at least eight games remaining) and a postseason tournament berth are well within reality.
That’s required a change in mindset for the Dukes, because in order to reach those goals, just playing competitive games against the top teams in the Atlantic-10 conference won’t be enough.
This also hasn’t been the best stretch of the season in the results column for the Dukes, as they’ve lost four of their last seven games and have fallen from second place down to seventh in the crowded Atlantic 10.
“It shows that they can play with the best teams, but also, we had to make sure that we tempered that with the fact that we can play with the worst teams,” Dambrot said.
But a quick recovery is possible. The Dukes are 6-5 in conference play, just one-half game behind third-place Richmond. But don’t expect the change in mentality to mean a paradigm shift in outcomes for the Dukes. They are who they are, and more close games should continue to be the norm.
“That’s kinda how our team is,” Dambrot said. “We’re built solely at that defensive end and we have some offensive struggles, which makes every game the same.”
While there are repercussions as to how the Dukes finish in the conference, from their ability to the goals listed about, to securing a bye in the Atlantic-10 tournament. But Dambrot is more concerned about the preparations for the Dukes next game than the bigger picture.
“I just try to get them better every day,” Dambrot said. “I just try to make sure that the team is improving and we’re getting ready for the next game. I feel like all I do is cram for tests. I go from one exam, that one ends, then I recover for a little bit because I’m dead tired, then I cram for the next exam.”
For the Dukes, the next exam is a visit to Dayton on Wednesday. Dayton is a place that has not been kind to the Dukes over the last few years. The Flyers have won four straight and seven of their last eight against Duquesne at UD Arena. Tip-off Wednesday is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh.