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Saunders: Capel, Dambrot Have Revitalized College Basketball in Pittsburgh



PITTSBURGH — Wednesday night, Duquesne basketball entered a time warp.

The Dukes used a rowdy crowd at PPG Paints Arena to fuel a big second half run that had Dayton, the No. 7 team in the country, looking flustered and bewildered by the Dukes’ defensive prowess.

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It was a throwback to a time when the Dukes were a premier basketball team that routinely drew large crowds and beat some of the top teams in the country.

But it wasn’t just the 7,000 or so that packed into the stands that enjoyed the game. Pitt was off a night after putting a similar scare into Duke (more on them later). The Penguins are in the midst of their idle week.

The Dukes and the Flyers were the biggest sports story in the city on Wednesday night, and it showed on social media with plenty of non-Duquesne fans (and even Pitt fans) taking interest in the game.

When was the last time the Dukes were the talk of the town? Probably not in my lifetime.

With a new building opening next season and the energy and talent level Keith Dambrot has infused into the program, it should be a very exciting time to be a Duquesne fan.

Dambrot is hoping that causes more casual fans to take interest in the Dukes.

“Not everybody can be a Pitt fan, right?” Dambrot said, smiling. “Before, when my daddy was here, they were all Duquesne fans. So maybe that switch could get flipped someday.”

Pitt’s surge in the early part of this century certainly contained a good number of non-alumni that became fans of the successful Panthers under Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon. Everyone likes a winner.

But I don’t think that the city’s casual basketball fans are likely to abandon the Panthers any time soon. After all, they’ve got their own new head coach that they’re excited about and they’ve not only scared top teams, like Duke on Tuesday night, but beaten one in Florida State earlier this season.

No, the Pitt faithful has just as many reasons to be excited as the Dukes fans do.

And that’s the really cool part. During Pitt’s ascent in the 2000s, Duquesne never finished better than fifth in the Atlantic-10. Duquesne’s post-war dominance was also a down period for Pitt.

It sure seems like both coaches have their programs heading in the right direction, and the missing in action cross-town rivalry aside, it’s a good time to be a college basketball fan in Pittsburgh. Throw in Andy Toole’s Robert Morris team with its brand-new arena and a 6-2 start to conference play.

“Maybe both teams become so good that Pittsburgh goes crazy with basketball again,” Dambrot posited.

It certainly seems as if the city’s teams could be entering a new golden age.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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