Slight anticipation. Bit of excitement. Hard ticket to get.
Pitt got through their road game with Maryland. Duke throttled Florida State on the road.
Briefly, I’ll get some thoughts from the Maryland game out of the way, first.
I didn’t get to watch the Pitt-Maryland game until Sunday morning. I didn’t keep myself oblivious to the game the night before, so I knew Pitt got the win. I also knew that the final score got a closer and there was some angst towards the end. It means watching the game with all the unknown removed.
Pitt took the early shot from Maryland in the first five minutes. Let the crowd be into it. Then slowly, methodically took hope from the Terps for the next 30 before the desperation of Maryland closed the gap. Lamar Patterson just went off on them.
Yes, Pitt did not do a good job of making free throws at the end. In the final 2 minutes, Pitt was 5-13 on FTs. The only ones who shot free throws were Talib Zanna, Cam Wright and Josh Newkirk. Quite frankly, with those three shooting free throws, it wasn’t too far from what should be expected. As a freshman, Newkirk makes Brandin Knight look like Ashton Gibbs at the free throw line. 1-10 to this point. Zanna and Wright were probably one FT each short of what would be expected.
And still, it took a meaningless 3 with 9 seconds left to get the game to a four-point difference. Pitt made some mistakes, beyond the FTs down the stretch. It seemed they were too willing to go 4-corners, too early. There were a couple bad turnovers. But for the most part, they handled the desperate late effort from Maryland. They broke their press. That’s why you want to build up the lead on the road. Maryland wasn’t going to give up in front of the home crowd. Especially in this game.
Now for Duke.
Hard to believe Duke lost at Clemson a couple weeks ago. Especially considering the drubbing Pitt put on them and UNC gave them a beating as well last night. A good deal of the change has been because Duke has changed from that point. Particularly, they are playing defense.
“They have used that loss to learn,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said Saturday after his team committed 21 turnovers while losing to Duke.
The Blue Devils have reeled off four wins in a row, allowing 56.8 points per game. Duke’s foes have shot 42.7 percent (85-of-199) from the field, including just 29.4 percent (10-of-34) during the Blue Devils’ winning streak.
That allowed Duke to beat Florida State despite its worst shooting day of the season on Saturday.
“Defense,” Cook said. “It says a lot about defense. Guys weren’t on like we usually are. But we stepped up. We stepped up. Great rebounding from the big guys and the guards. If we just keep fighting and start making shots, we’re going to be an even better team.”
The Blue Devils are rebounding better, too, and will need to keep doing that to have any chance at Pitt tonight and at Syracuse on Saturday (6:30 p.m., ESPN).
Duke gained a 47-24 rebounding edge over Florida State one game after grabbing 14 more rebounds than Miami in Wednesday night’s 67-46 win over the Hurricanes at Coral Gables, Fla.
Freshman forward Jabari Parker, already the team’s leading scorer with 18.7 points per game, averaged 14 rebounds a game against Miami and Florida State.
One of the ways Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has changed the mindset has to do with the way he rotates players. He’s been doing it in waves. Announcers have been regularly referring to as a line change since they are regularly switching 4 or even all 5 players.
In many ways, this is becoming the Duke team Krzyzewski envisioned before the season: athletic and deep; making up for a lack of size inside with effort; embracing a defensive mentality; even working in more of the full-court pressure defense that Krzyzewski talked about before the season, not that Duke needed it Saturday.
The blips – on defense, in the paint, in Jabari Parker’s game, in Rasheed Sulaimon’s confidence – appear to have passed.
“Anybody can be beaten,” Duke guard Quinn Cook said. “We can’t just keep outscoring teams. I think we realized that. Everybody is giving us their best shot. When we play defense and we play hard, the offense will come.”
Even without the hockey-style line changes, at halftime Krzyzewski had used more players (11) than Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton (eight), a shocking inversion of their usual practice. Hamilton typically goes deep into his bench, picking and choosing so freely that at times it appears random. Krzyzewski, who historically has been more comfortable with a smaller rotation, trumped him Saturday.
“We got a lot of depth, so we’re using all of our guys, everybody getting an opportunity, everybody being ready,” Cook said. “Just keep playing unselfishly, that’s what we envisioned. That’s what we’re getting to.”
To keep some perspective on the number of players used, only 8 of the 11 players had 11 minutes or more versus FSU. Krzyzewski may do the volume changes of personnel on the floor but it is mostly for only a minute or so at a time — which makes it look more dramatic. The reality was that only six players had the bulk of the minutes — 160 out of 200 available minutes (80%). Getting hung up on that aspect is misleading.
Lot of (local) media stories about how Pitt is looking to make a statement. About this being a game to see where Pitt is in relation to a legend. Which is amusing in so far as the players acknowledge the Duke name and Krzyzewski, but that’s about it.
“It’s going to be a great game,” Pitt fifth-year senior swingman Lamar Patterson said. “Duke obviously has a prestigious program. They’ve got national championships. They’ve got one of the best college coaches ever. They’re just known for their success.
“So when you have a team like us and coach (Jamie) Dixon — he’s building a program, and we’re reaching a level where Duke is at — it draws a lot of attention. Our fans are going to be ready, the Oakland Zoo is going to be ready, and we’re going to be ready.”
“I know them, and I watch them. They’ve got good players,” Patterson said. “That’s what makes Duke ‘Duke.’ They’ve got great players. But Pitt’s known for having guys who don’t have the accolades but just get down and gritty and grinding stuff out. If that’s what we have to do, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Perhaps that’s why Patterson was dismissive of talk of the presence of Coach K standing on the sidelines at the Pete for the first time.
“I’m a Dixon guy, anyway,” Patterson said. “Coach K is a legend, but we’re trying to get Dixon to be a legend, also.
“It’s going to be crazy. The Oakland Zoo is the best student section in the world, so I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing how they are. First and foremost, I want to get the W.”
Coach Dixon knows the difference between Pitt and Duke. Between he and Krzyzewski are stark.
The first thing Dixon mentioned when asked about Krzyzewski was his incomparable success at one school. “I also look at what he’s done for USA basketball.” Krzyzewski led the United States to gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and at the 2010 world championship. He will again coach the U.S. team at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Then, there are Krzyzewski’s national championships at Duke.
Four of ‘em.
Krzyzewski also took Duke to seven other Final Fours and has an 82-25 record in NCAA tournament games, the most wins by any coach.
You might have heard Dixon hasn’t been nearly so successful in the NCAAs. He has taken Pitt to nine tournaments but hasn’t made it to a Final Four. His NCAA tournament record is 11-9.
“I don’t remember the wins. I only remember the losses,” [Dixon] said. “I can understand the disappointment. No one is more disappointed than we are when we lose.
“We haven’t won a national championship, and we’ve got to get one. It’s not about getting to the Final Four. It’s about winning a national championship. That’s something different. No one remembers who goes to the Final Four. Winning the national championship is the separator.”
Now, the reality is that this is a big game because of the opponent this year. Not the reputation they carry.
Overall the Panthers are 9-0 in games against Top-5 teams at Petersen Events Center. So while the Blue Devils have a Hall of Fame coach and name recognition, they aren’t among the highest ranked teams to play at Petersen Events Center.
That doesn’t mean this isn’t a big game, but its importance goes beyond the fact that it is Duke and neither of these teams has a signature win on their resume.
Pitt, No. 12 in one Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), has played only two games against teams in the top 50 of the RPI — Cincinnati and Syracuse — and the Panthers lost both of those games. The Panthers do have six wins against teams ranked No. 51-100, but they also have eight wins against teams outside of the top 150.
So in short, Pitt has done a great job of avoiding bad losses, which is always a key come NCAA tournament bid time.
But given how down the ACC has been this season, this is one of only four opportunities in the regular season for Pitt to notch a top-20 (RPI) win.
This game is probably more important for Pitt in terms of national perception than anything else. It is a hit if Pitt loses, and yes they are favored. But the overall impact on Pitt in the ACC ranks, polls and computers won’t be devastating. Perception-wise, any national article seems to make mention of the horrid Cinci game since that was the last big stage weekday game.