Photo credit: Tori Flick

Tori Flick

Carney’s Corner: Why is RMU basketball the odd man out in Pittsburgh?

January 25, 2018

After beating Duquesne, Dachon Burke said something that has lingered with me ever since.

“Well, every game means a lot, but I think it says for itself,” said Burke. “You have Pitt, Duquesne and Robert Morris. I think sometimes we’re overshadowed because they’re the two in the city.”

Nobody can deny that Robert Morris is clearly overshadowed by the two teams in the city. Yes, Robert Morris has a strong rivalry with Duquesne in all sports, but what about Pitt? Why hasn’t Robert Morris, a D1 local school, played Pitt in basketball since the 2011-2012 season?

Is it because Pitt, who was number 11 in the 2011-2012 preseason poll while coming off a number-one NCAA tournament seed and Big East regular season championship, only defeated Robert Morris by 10 in what was a close game throughout? Is Pitt worried that Robert Morris would upset them at what would most likely be a home or neutral-site game?

That is doubtful. As we all saw this year with the annual City Game between Pitt and Duquesne, a bad power seven team will always have the ability to put away a team from a much smaller conference.

It doesn’t make any sense as to why Pitt and RMU won’t play each other in basketball each and every season. If Pitt is going to play a bunch of lower and mid-conference teams, why not play one that actually has meaning? It is very unlikely that Montana, Lehigh and High Point will draw more fans to The Pete than a local, and competitive, Robert Morris? If you believe that, then obviously you haven’t watched the City Game which sold 10,118 seats at PPG Paints Arena despite Pitt having dominated that rivalry since 2001.

It’s not like the NEC is too small to play Pitt either. Pitt hosted Mount Saint Mary’s this year and won 82-78 in a game that went into overtime. The attendance for that game, 2,333. That attendance is one of the lowest in The Peterson Event Center’s history.

So why is it then? Why does Pitt play Duquesne and not Robert Morris? Why is the Pittsburgh sports media freaking out about Duquesne’s 13-6 record when Robert Morris is the only Pittsburgh team currently tied for first in their conference and won at Duquesne earlier this year? Why is Duquesne, who has lost six of the last seven against Robert Morris and has lost 16 of their last 17 against Pitt, seemingly getting significantly more coverage than their Moon counterpart?

The only thing that I can think of is a respect thing.

Sure, the location of being in the city as opposed to being in Moon Township helps Duquesne and Pitt. Not to mention Duquesne and Pitt have had a basketball program much longer, which generates history — even though Pitt’s program didn’t get good until Ben Howland took over the program in 1999, and even though Duquesne has been absolutely insignificant from their success in the early 1980s, they still haven’t won their conference since 1981, until last year when that team started to win again.

So despite the consistency that Robert Morris basketball has had since its conception, they’ve had eight NCAA tournament appearances, eight conference tournament championships and 11 regular season championships since 1982 which is eight, eight and 11 more than Duquesne has had in that same time frame, Robert Morris is not talked about on the same level as the other two programs in Pittsburgh.

For Pitt it makes sense. They’re an ACC school and had one of the best programs in the country from the Ben Howland era to the end of the Jamie Dixon era, amassing 13 NCAA tournament appearances in 14 years. That being said, Duquesne basketball is being talked on the same level due to the rocky start, and that’s putting it lightly, with the Kevin Stallings Pitt era in which they are still winless in the ACC this season.

But for Duquesne? Is Robert Morris seriously not respected enough to be talked on the same level as Duquesne?

Yes, Duquesne plays in a better conference than Robert Morris. The A-10 features teams such as No. 24 Rhode Island and consistent competitors like Richmond, VCU and George Mason while the NEC features Robert Morris, Saint Francis (PA) and Wagner. But Robert Morris has been a lot more competitive in their conference than Duquesne has ever been in the A-10.

But the thing is, Duquesne has one win against Robert Morris in seven years. Duquesne has one win over Pitt in the past sixteen seasons. It is absurd to put them over Robert Morris and talked about on the same page as Pitt when, and this is reality, they can’t beat either Pittsburgh team.

It’s not that Robert Morris is hands down the best team in the city. It’s the idea that it should get put on the same level as Duquesne and Pitt.

While all three programs each have a reason to claim the title of the best in Pittsburgh, only the one that is overshadowed is currently tied for first in their conference. And that team beat the only other one with a winning record in this city.

 

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