Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the Atlantic Coast Conference's best square off at the Petersen Events Center on Monday night, as the Pittsburgh Panthers play host to the Duke Blue Devils.
Since losing two of its first three ACC bouts earlier in the month, Duke has turned things around of late with four consecutive victories, with its most recent, a 78-56 home triumph over Florida State on Saturday, being head coach Mike Krzyzewski's 900th at the school. Only Jim Boeheim of Syracuse has more wins with one program (936). The Blue Devils are now 16-4 overall and 5-2 in league play.
Pitt has been one of the nation's most pleasant surprises this year, running out to an 18-2 overall record, with its only losses coming to nationally- ranked foes Cincinnati (44-43) and Syracuse (59-54). The Panthers ventured to Maryland on Saturday and came away with an 83-79 win to improve to 6-1 in the ACC, and now they return to their home floor where they've gone unbeaten in 12 bouts.
These new conference rivals have split 12 all-time meetings right down the middle, with Pitt winning the most recent matchup in December of 2007, 65-64.
The Blue Devils made Krzyzewski's milestone victory a dominant 22-point one the last time out, although it was unconventional to say the least. They shot a meager 30.5 percent from the field while allowing FSU to make good on 50 percent of its tries from the floor, but they had an effective showing at the free-throw line (34-of-43) and generated 15 more field goal attempts than the Seminoles by winning both the rebounding (47-24) and turnover (17-12) battles. Rodney Hood provided a spark off the bench with 18 points and nine rebounds, Jabari Parker tallied 14 points and 14 rebounds and Andre Dawkins and Rasheed Sulaimon netted 11 points apiece.
Duke has shown no discernable weaknesses this season, as it boasts strong margins in terms of scoring (+15.1), rebounding (+2.8) and turnovers (+3.3) while sporting impressive percentages from the field (.472), 3-point range (.408) and the foul line (.746). In his freshman season, Parker has proven to be one of the nation's premiere playmakers, posting 18.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg and more than a block and a steal per contest. Hood (17.7) is an outstanding second option, shooting 51.1 percent from the field. Quinn Cook nets 12.6 ppg and has an excellent assist (109) to turnover (38) ratio.
The Panthers led for virtually the entire game versus Maryland over the weekend, including by 10 with under three minutes to play, and only a meaningless late run by the Terrapins made the final score close. They shot 50 percent from the field, and while they were hindered by a lackluster 1-of-7 showing from 3-point range and 17 turnovers, they made up for it by making 32- of-47 at the foul line. Lamar Patterson was the catalyst with 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, while Talib Zanna (16 points), James Robinson (13) and Cameron Wright (12) were also heavily involved.
Pitt has been one of the few teams in the country more well-rounded than Duke, as it outshoots its opponents from the field, 48.8 percent to 40.2 percent, en route to the nation's seventh-ranked scoring margin (+16.2). It also dominates on the glass (+9.2) and in the turnover battle (+2.3), although its 3-point prowess has been lacking, making less than five long-range buckets per game at a 35-percent clip. Patterson fills the stat sheet on a regular basis with 17.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.7 apg and 1.6 spg, all while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and nearly 80 percent at the foul line. Zanna mans the paint with 13.6 ppg and 7.8 rpg, while Wright (10.9 ppg), Durand Johnson (8.8 ppg) and Robinson (8.3 ppg) bring plenty of balance to the squad.