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March Madness prospects bleak for Pittsburgh's 3 Division I basketball programs

Jerry DiPaola
| Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, 9:12 p.m.
Duke's Justin Robinson and Marvin Bagley III defends on Pitt's Jared Wilson-Frame in the second half Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Duke's Justin Robinson and Marvin Bagley III defends on Pitt's Jared Wilson-Frame in the second half Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Duquesne's Tydus Verhoeven defends on Richmond's Grant Golden in the first half Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018 at A.J. Palumbo Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Duquesne's Tydus Verhoeven defends on Richmond's Grant Golden in the first half Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018 at A.J. Palumbo Center.

Pittsburgh's three Division I men's teams enter the final month of the regular season without much to offer fans starving for meaningful March basketball.

Duquesne (15-10, 6-6 Atlantic 10) had its moments last month, but its weak nonconference schedule is almost an official ban on reaching the NCAA Tournament. Losing six of its past nine also won't help.

Pitt (8-17, 0-12 ACC) has set a school record with 12 consecutive losses, the past three by an average of 22.2 points. There were signs of improvement late last month, but they weren't sustainable. How bad is it? Pitt committed a total of 42 turnovers in its past three road games.

At one point, Robert Morris (13-13, 7-6) looked like a Northeast Conference contender, winning six of its first seven league games. But it has lost five of six heading to Long Island Brooklyn on Saturday.

PPG Paints Arena will host the first two rounds of this year's NCAA Tournament, but don't expect to see any local programs in action.

Here's a deeper look at the past, present and near future:

Pitt

The scores will be important, but attendance figures will matter nearly as much when Pitt returns home to play Louisville on Sunday and Boston College on Tuesday.

Average attendance in 14 dates at Petersen Events Center is only 4,110, less than half of the record low (8,328, last year).

From a high of 11,004 in 2013-14, the number of people pushing the turnstiles has fallen every year. But not like this year.

Discouraged fans remember the best years at the Pete where the noise was deafening and Pitt compiled the 10th-best home record in college basketball (233-41 from 2002-03 through 2016-17).

Hard to believe it's the same place.

Robert Morris

While coach Andy Toole prepared to usher his team around Brooklyn, N.Y., this weekend, he might have found it difficult not to look south.

That's where former Colonials player Marcquise Reed, now a junior guard at No. 16 Clemson (20-4, 9-3), was passing out seven assists Thursday night in a 72-48 victory against Pitt.

Reed was the Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year in 2014-15, averaging 15.1 points while helping the Colonials earn their most recent NCAA Tournament berth.

Overqualified for the NEC, Reed has turned into one of the ACC's best players, averaging 15.4 points.

Outgoing transfers are the demons college basketball coaches fear most. The NCAA has reported 40 percent of all men's players who enter Division I directly out of high school leave their original school by the end of their sophomore year.

That's bad news for smaller programs such as Robert Morris. Toole is a good talent evaluator, plucking players such as Reed while bigger programs weren't paying attention.

“They out-evaluated people (on Reed),” Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said, “and got a kid who was really, really good.”

But the better they are, the more likely they will transfer.

Duquesne

Defense is one of the cornerstones upon which coach Keith Dambrot wants to build his program. But the numbers say there's still much work to do.

The past three opponents are averaging almost 82 points after the 88-73 loss to Dayton.

Give Dayton credit, though. The Flyers, playing at home Wednesday night, made all 10 of their shots in the first 7 minutes, 36 seconds of the second half and missed only four of the next 14. Shooting percentage: 83.3 percent for the half, 64.6 for the game.

Duquesne will arrive at a turning point in its season Saturday when it welcomes Fordham to A.J. Palumbo Center.

The excitement generated by the Dukes' 5-2 start in the Atlantic 10 is starting to fade. Losing to Fordham (8-15, 3-8, last in the conference) would injure Dambrot's attempt to seek relevance for his program.

Duquesne has been wedging its way into local fans' consciousness, and school officials will try to capitalize on that Saturday. The team will wear black and gold uniforms as a tribute to the professional sports teams in town, the first 1,000 fans will get a similarly colored T-shirt, more than 30 former Dukes will be recognized and (my favorite) advance tickets were $4.12.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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