At his introductory press conference Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt told those in attendance that his goal was to get his team into the NCAA Tournament. The result is a 13 game non-conference schedule which will include seven match-ups against teams that appeared in postseason play last season.
While the schedule presents challenges, it prepares Burt to help the Dukes take the next step which is to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve been charged with taking this tournament from being good to being great and a great year is making the NCAA Tournament,” Burt said in an exclusive interview. “A good year is winning 20 games and we’ve been good for five consecutive years.
“We 100 percent believed we would be in the NCAA Tournament last season and so we have a lot kids that have big chips on their shoulders and are very upset about that to this day. We’ve been the bridesmaid two out of the past three years. I know our seniors don’t want something like that to happen and I know our juniors know what that hurt feels like.”
Burt told the media that “the person that arranged the schedule didn’t do himself any favors” referring to himself when he planned all of the games as the team’s assistant coach.
“It is a very rigorous schedule,” Burt said. “To start with Cal Poly, Harvard and DePaul in the Maggie Dixon Classic is certainly not going to be easy. We have a difficult schedule not just because of the teams we play but some of the environments that we’re playing in. To go on the road to Miami of Ohio and a vastly improved Morehead State is going to be very challenging in itself.”
The game that will pop out to many is a Dec. 1 clash against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish made the Final Four last season and coach Muffet McGraw and her 612 career victories will return a team that could repeat previous success.
The game will be played at a neutral site in Toronto and is a trip back home for Wumi Agunbiade, Jose-Ann Johnson, Oditte Odisho and Brianna Thomas of Duquesne, as well as Natalie Achonwa for Notre Dame.
“Any game where we can get our kids back home is important to us,” Burt said. “It’s very difficult to get our Toronto kids back because we’re finding that schools along the Canadian-US border are not willing to play us anymore, so to be able to do something special like this is truly something we’re very excited about.”
Planning for the game started three years ago when Burt looked for teams that had players from Toronto. It was then that he contacted former Notre Dame associate head coach Jonathan Tsipis to make his pitch. Both thought scheduling the game was a good idea, however things stalled when Tsipis left during the offseason to become the head coach for George Washington.
Burt tried to reconnect with Notre Dame and the”‘organic process” reached a conclusion upon talking to McGraw. Both sides hope the game will be televised both in the United States and Canada. It is Burt’s hope that Toronto becomes a staple on the team’s schedule.
“We’re trying to explore about hopefully being able to do, maybe if not on a yearly basis, on an every-other-year basis, playing a neutral-site game there,” Burt said. “Toronto, after western Pennsylvania, is probably the most important place we do recruit.”
Also included in the schedule is a road test against 2012 WNIT participant Miami (Ohio), a home opener against Green Bay which went 29-3 last season, and home games against Robert Morris and West Virginia which are separated by three days.
The annual City Game will be played at Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center on Dec. 29th. Last year, the Dukes won 70-61, however the game has a different feel this season as Duquesne lost former coach Suzie McConnell-Serio and the remainder of the coaching staff aside (besides Burt) to the Panthers.
“It’s bittersweet, because we all care about Suzie (McConnell-Serio) and (assistants) Carmen (Bruce), Lindsay (Richards) and Lauren (Reinshuttle),” Burt said. “We wish them nothing but the very best and we want them to have success, just not on December 29.
“I know they feel the same way about us. That game will only help strengthen women’s basketball in the city of Pittsburgh and it’s a game that celebrates women’s basketball. I hope to see a big crowd that day, it’s going to be a very good game.”
The conference schedule will be released in early September shortly after the players return to campus.