Most college basketball teams approach the start of their season as a swimmer would approach a cold pool. They stick a toe in, swish it around a bit and slowly work up to a leg or two.
The Duquesne women’s basketball team? They’re diving right in.
The Dukes will start it’s 2018-19 season this afternoon against TCU as part of a two-game trip to Texas with one stop Forth Worth and a second on Thursday night in Austin, when they’ll face preseason No. 11 Texas Longhorns.
The difficult start to this season’s slate won’t end there, either. Head coach Dan Burt has also scheduled stops at Toledo, Kent State and Penn State; there’s a two-game tournament against No. 18 Syracuse and Liberty; and Central Florida, Pitt and Temple will come to A.J. Palumbo Center.
Burt said that as his program has grown, a competitive non-conference schedule has become increasingly necessary. RPI, or ratings percentage index, is a primary factor for the NCAA Tournament selection committee determines who goes dancing in March and who goes home.
The fastest way for a team’s RPI to rise is by beating a team that’s ahead of it. But that’s easier said than done. Of the Dukes’ 13 Atlantic-10 Conference opponents, only Dayton (No. 36) finished 2017-18 with a higher RPI than Duquesne (74).
So to improve the Dukes’ chances of gaining an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, schedules like this year’s are going to have to become the norm for Burt and the Dukes.
“We’ve just come to the conclusion that’s the way our scheduling has to be as we go forward as the NCAA has changed,” Burt said. “We have to seek out any opportunity to play a Power Five [team], hopefully on a neutral floor. But we’ll play anyone, anywhere. …
“It really comes down to not bravo, we need the strength of schedule.”
But it’s one thing for Burt one want to schedule those games. Getting them is another thing entirely. As the profile of his program has risen, it’s become tougher for teams to agree to home-and-home series.
“It’s much, much harder,” he said. “I remember 12 years ago, [former Duquesne head coach] Suzie [McConnell-Serio] saying, ‘Hey everyone is calling us to play us.’ … Everyone wants to play you when you’re not very good. Those calls have really started to dry up over the last four years.”
Now with many conferences going to 20-game schedules, there will be even fewer opportunities to go around.
So Burt is going to take his Dukes wherever he has to and play whoever he feels he has to in order to position his team to return to the NCAA Tournament. Even if it means diving right in.