Pitt takes on Duke in blockbuster matchup

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Rome's classic take on Pete Gillen..Certainly Duke is Duke.. (via kimberly yu)

So yeah, Duke's on TV a lot.

Jokes aside, before the season began, this was the headliner on the schedule. Duke, ESPN, Big Monday? You get the deal. Syracuse has proven to be the best team in the conference so far, and if they come to the Pete undefeated, that will technically be a bigger game. But as a newcomer tot he ACC, playing Duke is a bigger deal for a lot of people.

The program, like North Carolina, is a historic one. Multiple championships and too many Final Fours between the two to count. We can boast all we want about Pitt's regular trips to the tournament and even the Sweet 16s and sole Elite 8 that the team has. But while the Panthers may be ahead of 90% of other programs, they're behind teams like Duke and North Carolina in terms of prestige and a winning track record.

That said, when we talk about one game, you have to like Pitt's chances.

The Panthers get the game at home and we've seen our share of top programs get beaten up at The Pete. In a season like this with what looks to be a very good Pitt team, there's not a single team that you could say the Panthers would have no chance to win against at home - and that's true most years. The bottom line is that home court advantage is pretty significant.

Duke also comes in with some questions. Top 20 team? Surely. However, they also lost both of their major tests against Kansas and Arizona. They have a quality win against Michigan, but it'd be hard to make the case that they're 'elite' this year. Like Pitt, they're a very good team that's probably just short of great at this point.

The Blue Devils, if you haven't noticed, haven't been all that great on the road, either. To date, they've only played three true road games and are 1-2, with losses to Notre Dame and a Clemson team that Pitt just beat by 33. Their sole victory away from home came against a very average Miami squad.

None of that is to suggest it will be a cakewalk for Pitt, but you've got to like their chances.

The thing that should worry you about is, of course, the duo of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. We've raved about Lamar Patterson, who is averaging nearly 20 points a game, but both Parker and Hood are doing that, too. Parker also rebounds like a beast, hauling in eight per game. The thing that is a concern is that Pitt has allowed stars to go off this year. There was Tim Frazier at Penn State, who dropped 27. Youngstown State's star, Kendrick Perry, had 28. Howard star James Daniel had 22. TJ Warren had 23 for NC State.

Pitt just has had their trouble with stars, even if their teams weren't particularly good. If both Parker and Hood go for 20, it will be very difficult to beat Duke. Pitt doesn't need to shut down both of them, but I think they need to contain each or completely stymie one of them.

All of that said, I know Duke is a very good team, but I think the Panthers win this one. That's not a homer pick as you should know from my look at Maryland that I thought they could really give Pitt a run this weekend.

Four of the Blue Devils' six best players are underclassmen. In particularly, Parker and Hood have both played pretty well in the road games, but have also had some struggles at times. Parker had only seven points and four boards against Notre Dame on 2-10 shooting. His 15 and seven against Clemson were both good, but below his averages. Hood was held to only 12 against Miami last week - well below his season average, and he is also averaging only 3.3 rebounds per contest on the road - significantly below his 4.7 per game season mark. I don't personally see both of them going off against a tough team in one of the toughest places to play in the country.

I also just love how Pitt's stars are playing right now. We all talk about Lamar Patterson's season averages of 17.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.7 assists. But playing in the ACC in his last five games, his stats are even better. Patterson is averaging just under 20 points and more than five assists and rebounds per game over that stretch. Zanna's improvement over these past five games is even better. His 17.6 points are far better than his 13.6 season average. His rebounding is up a bit, too, as he's bringing in just over eight rebounds over that stretch, over his 7.8 season numbers.

Those guys are just in a groove right now and if they both show up, hard to believe that Pitt doesn't win this game.

It might not be easy, but I like Pitt's chances here.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and manager/editor of Cardiac Hill @AnsonWhaley

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