Tonight, the newly ranked #17 Duke Blue Devils travel up the east coast to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where they will look for their second road win of the season at Petersen Events Center against the #18 Pittsburgh Panthers. This game, as you can see with the rankings, will be no cakewalk for either club. Duke’s defense has been vastly improved since the beginning of the season and has gotten even better over the past few games against Miami and FSU. Duke comes in with a 5-2 ACC record with road losses to Clemson and Notre Dame while Pitt is 6-1 in the conference with only a road loss to #2 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, 59-54. Here is a breakdown of the Pitt Panthers:
The Pitt Panthers have a starting five that looks as follows: junior Cameron Wright (6-4, 205lbs Guard), sophomore James Robinson (6-3, 200lbs Guard), senior Lamar Patterson (6-5, 225lbs Guard), freshman Michael Young (6-8, 245lbs forward), and senior Talib Zanna (6-9, 230lbs Forward from Nigeria). Lamar Patterson is the team’s leading scorer with about 18 PPG and the second leader is Talib Zanna with about 14 PPG. Zanna also leads the team with 7.8 rebounds per game and Patterson is next with about 5 rebounds per game. He is also the team’s leader in assist per game with 4.7 and James Robinson is right behind him with 4.2 per game. Pitt is second in the ACC standings and stand at 18-2 overall for the year. The only quality opponents they have played were the aforementioned Syracuse and a tough one-point loss to Cincinnati, 44-43.
Pitt is very much an unselfish team and they rank 10th in the country in assists per game (17 assists per game) and 14th in field goal percentage (.488). The panthers are very much a defense-oriented team, only allowing more than 70 points three times all season, and all of these games were victories for them. Lamar Patterson is an extremely gifted passer, constantly finding the open man, but he is also an above average shooter/scorer. Against Syracuse, Pitt played a man-man defense, but when they needed a stop late in the game, they went to a matchup-zone. Tyler Ennis noticed this and drove to the bucket for an easy layup. Right after that, Pitt went back to their man defense. They didn’t look as if they were comfortable playing zone at that moment. It could have been to try to get Syracuse out of rhythm, but either way it didn’t work.
Pitt is undefeated at home this season, standing at 11-0 in the Quaker State. Duke’s defense has been playing much better and they showed in their last game, against FSU, that they can win without shooting their best. Duke beat FSU on the defensive end, causing turnovers and they did something that was only a dream earlier in the year. They won the rebounding battle and won it handily, 47-23. Marshall Plumlee most definitely earned more playing time after his 7 point and 7 offensive rebound performance. Pitt isn’t a very large team, the same as Duke. Their “center” Talib Zanna stands at only 6-9, as does Duke’s “center” Amile Jefferson. In this past game, Duke stopped using their “shift change” or hockey-style changing methods and returned to the traditional basketball changes. The Blue Devils didn’t shoot well in the least bit, only 30.5% from the field overall.
For Duke to win, they must win the rebounding battle as they have been lately. They also must win the defensive battle because this one will be a dogfight. Pitt plays very good defense and the Blue Devils have been better as of late. Both teams can score and if it does become a shoot-out, which is highly unlikely, Duke is 21st in PPG. I would expect the matchups to look as follows:
Cook-Robinson, Jones-Wright, Hood-Patterson, Parker-Young, and Jefferson-Zanna. The Hood-Patterson matchup is the one to watch as two of the elite players in the ACC go at one another. This game is huge for Duke because it could be a momentum game for them. After this game, the Blue Devils have to travel to New York to play the tough 2-3 zone of the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome.