Pitt basketball is back in action tonight and despite the fact that the game doesn't feature a big-name opponent, the Panthers should be on high alert for this one.
The team faces 6-1 Duquesne in the annual City Game tonight at 7:00 p.m. Pitt should always know to be on upset alert for this one, but I'd say that the Panthers should be particularly ready for today's game.
First, this is a big one for the Panthers in my mind. They need to try to rebound from the Purdue loss and while I'm of the belief that it wasn't a bad loss, I realize not everyone shares that feeling. The last thing Pitt needs is to drop its second straight game this early in the year as they try to rebound from missing the NCAA Tournament last season.
And, this just in - Duquesne is not terrible.
Pitt has had little trouble with their downtown neighbors lately, but the Dukes have a look of a program potentially on the upswing. They enter the game 6-1 and few weeks back, they utterly embarrassed Penn State in a 26-point win. They haven't played any other major-conference teams but also defeated Western Kentucky, a program that's been pretty good, winning 20 games for the past three years. The Dukes did drop a game to 3-4 Pepperdine, but otherwise have a spotless record.
While Duquesne doesn't have a ton of size, they do have a big man that could give Pitt some trouble in 6'11" Darius Lewis. Lewis averages eight points, six rebounds, and a block per game and while he isn't a star, will be the biggest player on the court for either side. But the biggest impact will likely come from the team's talented backcourt. Guards Derrick Colter and Micah Mason lead the team in scoring averaging nearly 40 points combined per game.
A couple of other things to watch here. Duquesne shoots the ball very well, making 51% of their shots from the field. And for as much as I've talked about Pitt utilizing the three-point shot more this year, what they're doing there pales in comparison to the Dukes' approach. Pitt has taken 101 three-point shots through only five games this year, but the Dukes have nearly doubled that, attempting 196. They have played two more games but you get the idea. Anytime you shoot that many three-pointers in a single game, it becomes a very real problem for the opponent if you start to get hot. The aforementioned Mason and Colter are the biggest threats as they've shot nearly as many (97) as the entire Pitt team has attempted and shoot a combined 45% from there.
In addition, this is just a game Duquesne wants every year. While it's true that that hasn't particularly mattered recently, in a season where the Dukes look much improved, it's the type of game I expect them to really scratch and claw for to try to justify that their turnaround is for real.
Speaking to the history a little, while I have no problem calling this a rivalry game, this hasn't been a competitive series since, really, the early 1980s. Pitt holds the all-time edge 52-31 over Duquesne and while the Dukes have won their fair share of games in the series, since 1982 when the Panthers sort of ran away with this thing, Pitt is 33-4. Duquesne hasn't been competitive in the series since the days of Dan Marino on the football field for the Panthers. In reality, Pitt has dominated this series for a very long time and many of our readers, I'm sure, can't even recall a time when the games were competitive.
None of that means, however, that the Panthers can't lose tonight. Pitt led by only six with a little over three minutes left last year before pulling away. In 2011, the Panthers held only a four-point lead approaching the midway point of the second half before they blew things open. In 2009, it took double overtime for a Pitt win. Duquesne hasn't made this much of a rivalry in terms of competition recently, but they certainly have given the Panthers some challenges along the way. It goes without saying that a few plays here and there in some games of the rivalry could have resulted in a Duquesne win.
While we may disagree on the outcome of the Purdue contest, I think that we can mostly agree that this is a game Pitt has to win. Yes, it's a rivalry game. Yes, Duquesne embarrassed Penn State to the tune of a 26 point-win. Yes, Duquesne is 6-1. But when it comes down to it, we've sort of seen this movie featuring a Duquesne revival before. In 2008-09, they won 21 games and made the NIT before fading back to obscurity. This team may be better than they have been recently but I'm not convinced they're great (or even very good) just yet. They have the ability to win a single game against Pitt, but if the Panthers show up and don't lay an egg, they simply shouldn't. In terms of matching these two teams up this year, it's a game that Pitt should really win every time out,
The Dukes, I believe, are improved and is it possible they steal a game here and there against Pitt? Of course. But they realistically aren't at the same level as a program that Pitt is and speaking to these teams specifically, the Panthers' talent certainly trumps theirs. In the end, the Panthers have no excuse to lose this game, even as Duquesne looks to be putting some pieces into place for a successful season. As long as Pitt takes this game seriously, this one should end the way the past 14 have - with the Panthers on top.
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