Duquesne's season ended in a 73-55 loss to George Washington in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Duquesne’s season ended in a 73-55 loss to George Washington in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

As a lifelong college basketball fan, I love this time of year. I also hate it.

Let me explain.

I loved watching Robert Morris beat North Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last night, and I imagined how exciting it must be for head coach Andy Toole and the NEC Champion Colonials to experience a tournament victory.

This week I watched two of my colleagues talk trash in support of their alma maters – Ken Laird (Northeastern) and Mike Grau (Notre Dame) – as Northeastern just fell short of an upset this afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center.

I watched UAB bust brackets across the country wide open (including my own) in knocking off Iowa State.

I see those things and I always love this time of year.

But when I watch West Virginia face Buffalo Friday night, my mood will change as soon as I see the first cutaway shot of the Mountaineers bench.

I’ll see WVU assistant coach Ron Everhart sitting next to his good friend and head coach Bob Huggins and I’ll think to myself: That was supposed to be us.

And because of that thought, I always hate this time of year.

By “us” I mean Duquesne, my alma mater, whose Dukes were once the class of college basketball in Pittsburgh (believe it or not). But Duquesne hasn’t been selected to an NCAA tournament since 1977 – that’s 38 years ago; or for better perspective, four years before I was born.

Since Duquesne’s last NCAA tournament game, five U.S. presidents have been elected, and six mayors in the city of Pittsburgh. Duquesne has had eight head coaches in that span, and the Dukes have won 20 or more games in a season only twice.

Duquesne’s highest season win total during that span is 21, which came during the 2008-09 season when Everhart coached them to the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship Game.

Or, as I like to call it, “The Year the Dream Died,” when the Dukes won three games in three days to come within one game of the NCAA Tournament, but then lost to rival Temple, 69-64.

I watched that game with a group of friends – all of us Duquesne alumni – not only realizing that our dreams had just been crushed, but also questioning when, if ever, that opportunity will come again.

Three seasons later after a subsequent record of only 51-44, Everhart was fired and replaced by Jim Ferry, who took LIU-Brooklyn to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances before coming to the Bluff.

Ferry’s record after three full seasons at Duquesne is 33-58, and my beloved Dukes sit even further away from hearing their name called on Selection Sunday than they did six years ago.

I’ve seen this program from nearly every perspective possible as an undergrad and post-graduation. I worked as an usher at A.J. Palumbo Center. I once wore the mascot outfit as the “Duquesne Duke.”

I have a Duquesne basketball jersey hanging in my closet. My face is on a poster in the campus bookstore as one of the inaugural members of the Red and Blue Crew.

I have covered the team for three media outlets as well as the campus newspaper and student television and radio stations.

Despite that, I am one of the many 21st century Duquesne alumni who are the only local college basketball fans to never see their alma mater play in the NCAA Tournament in their lifetime.

Change is on the horizon at Duquesne: President Charles Dougherty is retiring at the end of next school year, and Rev. Sean Hogan, Vice President of Student Life, will transition into a fundraising position with the university this summer.

But will new leadership mean a fresh focus on athletics, a stronger commitment to supporting the athletic department, or a better and more modern approach to marketing said product?

Will it mean more winning seasons for the men’s basketball program, maybe even seasons that end with playing in the NCAA Tournament instead of just hosting it?

Will it mean patience with the head coach and the patience to properly rebuild a basketball program with a strong foundation to match its once robust history?

Will I finally stop hearing questions like the one I received in a text message from my cousin, a fellow Duquesne graduate and former men’s basketball team manager that read: “Do you think Duq has a curse on it?”

Right now the only reply I can think of is the one I sent back to him: “It certainly feels that way, doesn’t it?”

And because of that thought, I always hate this time of year.

Posted in College Sports