Pitt (13-5 3-2) heads to Durham, North Carolina tonight to take on the top ten ranked Duke Blue Devils. The Panthers are riding a modest two game winning streak, and find themselves tied in the ACC standings with the Blue Devils (15-2 3-2), but any similarities end right about there. Duke is a legitimate Final Four contender with multiple future NBA stars lining their roster, whereas Pitt may struggle to even make the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers have some talent, but it pales in comparison to Mike Krzyzewski's team. Speaking of Coach K, he will be looking for career win 999 tonight.
I'll take a quick look at how Pitt stacks up with Duke, and to see if Pitt has any chance at pulling a major upset in front of a national television audience on ESPN's Big Monday.
Michael Young 6'9" 235 13.7 PPG 7.8 RPG vs. Jahlil Okahor 6'11" 270 18.9 PPG 9.3 RPG
No doubt about this one, it is the best individual matchup in the game tonight. It is Duke's best player going up against the Panthers top player. Despite Mike Young's talent and ability, he is up against it in a big way in this one. Jahlil Okafor could very well be the best player in the country, and almost assuredly will be one of the first names called in the NBA Draft in the Spring.
Okafor is a true center in every sense of the word and his 270 pound frame is what should be the biggest concern for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers. Okafor can control the paint on both sides of the ball, and is the type of player you have to plan your whole game against. Keeping Okafor off the glass for a struggling rebounding team sounds like a recipe for disaster for Pitt.
Still, it is not all on Michael Young to stop the big fella, and Okafor has to play defense on Young also. Michael Young looks like a candidate to be the most improved player in the conference, if not, the candidate. The sophomore forward has started nearly every game the past two seasons, and was once a top 100 four-star recruit out of high school. Young has upped his numbers considerably from last season, and he has the versatility to draw Okafor and taller defenders out of the paint. Young can hit jump shots, take defenders off the dribble, and still has made huge strides in his post game. Duke has the advantage, but don't count out Young from making big plays and showing off what he can do.
Jamel Artis 6'7" 220 9.9 PPG 4.9 RPG vs. Amile Jefferson 6'9" 215 8.9 RPG 7.6 RPG
The Jefferson-Artis showdown is another good matchup, and this is one where Pitt is not at a huge disadvantage, and may even hold a slight advantage. Amile Jefferson is the fifth option for this Duke basketball team. He is their energy guy that can rebound and finish at the rim. He is a Pennsylvania native and is now in his junior season, and is now having a breakout campaign.
Jefferson is most comfortable hanging in the low post and he will not take many jump shots, and he is no threat to shoot three pointers. Jefferson is not very bulky for a forward as he only checks in at 215 pounds, but he is a tremendous leaper and gets off the ground and plays above the rim.
Jamel Artis is starting to come into his own this season, and he has doubled his minutes, scoring 5 more points a game, posting two more rebounds, and dishing out one more assist a contest from last season. Jamel Artis is a smart player and is coming off a good scoring game against Georgia Tech. Artis is not a great athlete and gives up that battle to Jefferson, but he is a better shooter and passer, and like Young does to Okafor, Artis has the ability to draw Jefferson away from the rim, but Artis is also crafty enough to give him fits in the paint.
Chris Jones 6'6" 213 8.7 PPG 2.9 RPG vs. Justise Winslow 6'6" 225 11.4 PPG 4.9 RPG 2.9 APG
Justise Winslow and Chris Jones are actually similar players in some sense, but Winslow likely has an edge in talent, though. Winslow is one of three true freshmen starters for Coach K, and like all Duke players, was once a big-time recruit coming out of high school. Still, Winslow has had his struggles as a freshman, and has scored 5 points combined in the past two games.
Chris Jones is a lot like Winslow in terms of his scoring production. Some nights you can see Chris Jones score big points, like he did with a nice 15 point showing over Florida State. He followed that performance up with a foul plagued 6 point game against Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Jones shoots 36% from three, Winslow shoots 34%. Jones is a 71% foul shooter, while Winslow only comes in at 56%. Winslow has an advantage as a passer and at rebounding but overall it is hard to predict what either player will bring in this game.
Cameron Wright 6'5" 205 9.9 PPG 3.5 RPG 2.3 APG vs. Quin Cook 6'2" 185 14.4 PPG 3.0 RPG 2.9 APG
The battle of the senior guards is an important battle for both sides. Quinn Cook has been a solid player for three years now, but has changed his style of play and his role this season. Cook is playing off the ball more than he has in the past, and his scoring average his up, his three-point shooting and free-throw shooting percentages are the best of his career, but with that, his assist numbers are down from the past. Still, Cook can create and make plays and is one one of the better guards in the league.
Cameron Wright was expected to take one of those Jamie Dixon fifth-year senior jumps this season, but with an early season foot injury, it has taken some time for him to take that step up for this team. In the past three games, we are starting to see a better Cameron Wright and if he continues his hot play, it can only result in good things for the Panthers. Wright is averaging 9 points a game, but is averaging 16 points in his past three games. For Pitt to have any chance, Wright needs to have a good scoring day, and to play solid defense on Quinn Cook.
Cook is a better scorer, and all around offensive player than Cameron Wright. Still, Wright's advantage is being a good defender on the perimeter, and that can add to this individual matchup. Wright has showed some life in scoring the ball recently, and him being a threat helps this team, but Cook can really bury some three's, and that is something Wright cannot do.
James Robinson 6'3" 198 10.2 PPG 4.8 APG 3.7 RPG vs. Tyus Jones 9.4 PPG 5.1 APG 3.2 RPG
Tyus Jones is one of the top freshmen guards in the nation, and looks to be a solid all-around floor general for this Duke team. Jones averages 9 points a game, but he is not a huge threat to score. Jones is only posting 6 points a game in their five ACC contests, but he is not totally inept at putting up points either. In three of Duke's better wins this season, Jones came up with 22 points at Wisconsin, 21 against UConn, and 17 against Michigan State. He is coming off a sound 10 points 8 assist game against a big win against Louisville.
James Robinson is another true floor general style guard, and has similar numbers to Tyus Jones. Robinson is not a big scoring threat, but has had big scoring games this season. Robinson is coming off an oddly effective game with 9 assists to just one turnover, 4 rebounds and 2 steals against Georgia Tech. All those numbers came with just two points on offense. Robinson's scoring can go completely away at times, but Pitt still operates better with him on the floor, as he typically can get Pitt into their set offense better than his backups, and he is a good defender that is not afraid to rebound.
Jones is more skilled on offense, and is more capable of coming up with some isolation buckets when they matter most. Robinson's advantage is with his size and physicality over Jones, and his experience. It can be a good battle, but Robinson cannot go away completely in scoring in this game.
Pitt Bench (Newkirk, Jeter, Luther, Uchebo, Phillips-Nawanko) vs. Duke Bench (Sulaimon, Jones, Allen, Plumlee)
Pitt may go deeper than Duke, but Duke's bench has more defined roles with better talent. Rasheed Sulaimon is a good perimeter option off the bench, and would start for most of the teams in the ACC. He is a veteran player with starting experience and can come in and give good minutes. Matt Jones is a similar player to Sulaimon, and gives a three point shooting threat. Marshall Plumlee is serviceable, but hasn't scored at all in the past three games. Grayson Allen would serve as the team's ninth man, and he sparingly plays. Duke relies mostly off their first five and Sulaimon.
Pitt has a well defined and talented sixth man in Josh Newkirk. The sophomore guard's role resembles that of Sulaimon, and he is the one guy that can come in for the Panthers and produce instant offense. His decision making holds him back somewhat, but his raw ability and athleticism is a big asset for this Pitt team. Sheldon Jeter's role has expanded more lately, but he still only has one really good game to his credit. Ryan Luther has disappeared in conference play. From there, Pitt has two post players that have the ability to play anywhere from two minutes a game to double digits, it all depends on their play. Joe Uchebo is big, but is still not 100% and Aron Phillips-Nwanko is a walk-on that has given the team a spark in the past two games.
Breaking down those matchups tells us a few things. Duke should win the game. They have an advantage at just about every spot on the court, including the bench. Duke is a good offensive team that runs in and out through one of the best post players in the country. Pitt is not a good rebounding team, they are not a good outside shooting team, and they lack the personnel to match Okafor in the paint.
Pitt's best chance at a win would be making it an ugly grind-it-out kind of game and getting Okafor in foul trouble. I worry most about Pitt playing at the pace Duke can turn it up to at certain points. Pitt is a guard short to run with this team, and a center away to matchup with this team.