In recent years, the Pitt and Duquesne players have become more familiar with each other, due to the increased popularity of the Pittsburgh Basketball Club's Pro-Am league, held every summer in Greentree.
This past summer, Duquesne freshman T.J. McConnell and Pitt senior Gilbert Brown were on the same team. It wasn't out of the ordinary for McConnell to set Brown up for one of his spectacular dunks. McConnell and Pitt's Ashton Gibbs also went toe-to-toe on a few occasions as members of opposite teams, and will get a chance to do so on Wednesday night. That's just a couple of examples of how these players have gotten to know each other pretty well, and what this game means in terms of being a rivlary.
"We definitely communicate with each other all the time, we're familiar with everybody," Brown said. "It just brings a new level of intensity to the game. We look forward to it every year."
All this despite the fact that Duquesne has not beaten the Panthers in a decade, since a 71-70 win for the Dukes over the Panthers on December 21, 2000. Last year was as close as the Dukes got since then, as they took the Panthers to double-overtime before Pitt came away with the 67-58 win in the final college basketball game held at the Civic Arena.
Brown and senior guard Brad Wanamaker said that game showed that the Duquesne players--regardless of Pitt's accomplishments over the last ten years--weren't backing down from the challenge last year, and likely won't this year either.
"I feel as though it's always been a rivalry game," Wanamaker said. "Coming into (last year's) game, I just saw each (Duquesne) player going at us on the court."
"I know that they're confident, they played a great game last year," Brown added. "They're going to put up a fight this year too. We just have to hold up and play good basketball too."
The biggest threat with Duquesne, is something that Pitt has had a tough time defending in recent years, and that's the three-point play. Duquesne's only loss this season was to Robert Morris; a six-point loss to the Colonials on November 19, just four days before the Panthers defeated the Colonials by 21 points. In Duquesne's three wins, they've averaged 100.3 points a game, including a margin of victory of 36.3 points. In a 90-54 win at Bowling Green, it marked the largest margin of victory in a road game for the Dukes since a 42-point win at St. Peter's in 1973.
Duquesne has done it behind strong three-point shooting; something they have had problems defending in the past, as evidenced in the season-opener against another A-10 team in Rhode Island, who drained 14-of-32 three-point attempts.
"That's what they do," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "That's what they did against us last year. That's what we have to be prepared for; they can shoot the ball."
The Panthers will be put to the test in defending the three. Luckily, they have Nasir Robinson back--who was not available in the Rhode Island game due to rehabbing from a knee injury. Robinson is a player who can provide the Panthers help in this area. Since those 14 three-pointers launched against Pitt three weeks ago, the Panthers have given up an average of 4.8 three-pointers a game. Opponents have also connected on 29-of-86 (33.7%) three-pointers in the six games since then.
Duquesne comes in averaging 11.5 three-pointers a game, with an impressive 41.4 three-point shooting percentage (46-of-111). In just four games, the Dukes have had three games with one player hitting at least five three-pointers in a game. Bill Clark has done it twice (at Bowling Green, at Robert Morris), while Mike Talley had five in the season-opener against Bluefield State.
Just like Rhode Island, Duquesne has multiple players in the starting lineup that can shoot the three. Clark leads the way with 13 three-pointers on 29 attempts (44.8%), followed by Talley, who is 10-of-20 on the season. Freshman guard McConnell hasn't taken as many shots, but with a 7-for-10 start to the season from three-point range, he too is a threat. Sean Johnson is also a 50-percent shooter from three-point range, converting 8-of-16 chances this season.
"They're definitely going to come out swinging," Wanamaker added. "They probably thought they should have won the game. Coming in this year, we feel they may be a little better of a team shooting from the outside. We have to defend (the perimeter) better, and just contest their shots."