ESPN’s Joe Lunardi speaks at basketball season tip-off event

Christain Daikeler | staff photographer | Duquesne Head Men's Basketball Coach Keith Dambrot (left), ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi (center) and Duquesne Head Women's Basketball Coach Dan Burt (right) pose at Duquesne's basketball season tip-off event on Thursday. Both coaches will look to build on their winning seasons in 2022-23 this winter.

Matthew Theodros | Staff Writer

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi spoke at the Duquesne Men’s and Women’s basketball preseason tip-off for the 2023-2024 season event last Thursday.

Lunardi has commented in the past about Duquesne’s standing in the A-10 conference, and his continued interest in the Dukes kept the fieldhouse abuzz. Families and Duquesne alumni came together to celebrate the beginning of the basketball season and hear him speak.

President Ken Gormley opened the event with words of gratitude toward the audience, players and everyone responsible for the winning culture at Duquesne surrounding the athletics teams. In his speech, Gormley also emphasized his ambitious expectations for both rosters this upcoming season.

“I want to thank you all for another year of great Duquesne Dukes basketball,” Gormley said. “I am saying it here folks, this is going to be a fabulous season this year.”

The crowd was full of audible energy as everyone cheered and clapped at the promise of a winning season.

Following Gormley’s speech, vice president of athletics Dave Harper introduced Lunardi, who described the madness that goes into his bracketology picks and the ever-changing analysis he has to do to be accurate and timely.

“I have to embarrass myself in front of thousands and thousands of people. It’s just the cost of doing business. Nobody is getting a perfect bracket no matter how many they fill out. You would have an easier job landing a plane in the sun,” Lunardi said.

In May, Lunardi said Duquesne would make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1977. In his most current assessment in bracketology, Duquesne falls short of making it into his projected March Madness bracket.

Following Lunardi, women’s basketball Head Coach Dan Burt discussed the team’s offseason adjustments to the team’s already complex game plan.

“We are playing to get a shot within the first eight to nine seconds of the shot clock while upping our tempo on offense,” Burt said. “Our defense has changed also. From a defensive standpoint we are going to press people for nearly all 40 minutes of the game.”

“Megan McConnell is the best player in the Atlantic-10,” Burt said. “She is the leader of our team, she’s a really good basketball player, and she averages 10 rebounds a game at 5’7.”

A key match up early in the season is a marquee home battle against in-city rival Pitt on Nov. 18.

Naelle Bernard, the team’s scoring threat, emphasized the importance of winning that game at home in front of their home fans.

“They were able to beat us on their floor last year, so we want to get some revenge,” Bernard said. “That is a really good team, but we are too, so that’s a game we are really excited to win for our home crowd.”

The women’s team seeks to make their second ever March Madness in the program’s history. The future is bright in Duquesne women’s basketball as this team is hungry and capable of being a real threat to the competition after improving last season.

The women’s team will open their season on the road at Princeton on Nov. 19.

Meanwhile, the men’s basketball team is seeking to improve off a disappointing end to what was a much-improved season.

Head Coach Keith Dambrot spoke on what is necessary for the Dukes to have another winning season.

“We just have to bring it every game, working on our mental and physical toughness,” Dambrot said. “We have been close but just haven’t been able to get over the hump. We are capable of beating anyone in the league.”

The Dukes maintain a good portion of their team from last season, other than key losses such as starting point guard Tevin Brewer. New additions to the roster were made, including many international players. The full 2023-24 roster includes eight overseas players ranging from Western Africa to Eastern Europe.

The expectations for the men’s teams as a whole are high for players and coaches alike. Scoring forward, Tre Williams, shared a similar sentiment to Dambrot that establishing continuity bench depth is the key to tournament success.

“I feel like we can make a huge run, we have a lot of pieces and depth at each spot,” Williams said.“That’s going to play a huge part in March because guys get fatigued and we have the crew that we can split those minutes evenly.”

The men’s roster has many expectations for this upcoming season, but they are ready to tackle them all and make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1977.

After the event concluded, players had the chance to take photos and sign autographs for the excited fans, a new experience for some of the Dukes this season.

Kareem Rozier, a sophomore guard, embraced the opportunity to sign items for those fans and see the joy in their faces.

“It’s still surreal to me seeing little kids wanting me to sign their basketball,” Rozier said. “I can speak for all of us that it was a great moment to have, and that we love that we bring happiness to people.”