Pitt And Duke Programs Are Similar

When discussing the standard for men's basketball programs, Duke University is among those schools mentioned first.

However, during the past six seasons, and thus far this year, the University of Pittsburgh is right with the Blue Devils among the leaders. Duke has the best winning percentage since 2001 (.823), while the Panthers are fifth at .808.

Memphis (.816), Gonzaga (.815) and Kansas (.813) are in between. Duke is 177-38, while Pitt is 172-41. Each has had six straight NCAA Tournament appearances, but Duke has a 5-4 edge in Sweet Sixteen games. The Blue Devils have also been in a Final Four in the past six seasons. The Panthers have been ranked 110 times during the previous 121 weeks, while Duke is 119-for-121.

No. 11 Pitt (10-0) and No. 9 Duke (10-0) play Thursday at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York City and in a national broadcast on ESPN.

"It's always a pleasure to go back home and play in front of my friends and family, so it's definitely going to be exciting,'' junior point guard Levance Fields said. "Especially since it's Duke and with both teams being undefeated, it's going to be a great game. So, it's a good test for us, and we'll be ready.

"It's Duke. You watch them growing up, and you see them on TV. We came very close to playing them in the (NCAA) tournament last year, but it obviously didn't happen. Now, we get to play them, and it's going to be great. We're all looking forward to the matchup now, and we're glad it's in the Garden.''

Fields believed that while facing Duke would be a good test for Pitt, this game shouldn't be considered a measuring stick for the program.

"Every game's a measuring stick, although they certainly will be the most-talented team that we've played so far,'' Fields said. "But our coaches did a great job in the scheduling this year, so we'll be ready.''

The Panthers sold some 3,000 tickets for the game, and it should be a sellout. So, there should be a lot of Blue and Gold in the seats. Duke travels well, too, but that doesn't intimidate the Pitt players. Not in their home away from home, Madison Square Garden, where they've had success in the Big East Tournament.

Five Panthers are from New York, including Fields, senior guard Keith Benjamin, junior forward Tyrell Biggs, senior guard Ronald Ramon and redshirt freshman center Austin Wallace, who just had season-ending knee surgery and might not be ready to play again for at least one full year.

But one player, freshman center DeJuan Blair from Pittsburgh's Schenley High School, has never played in the Garden and looks forward to the opportunity.

"Freshman year, with me starting, it's just icing on the cake playing against Duke in the Garden,'' Blair said. "I've never been to the Garden, and I always wanted to play against Duke. Play with them or against them, but we're playing against them and whatever will happen will happen.

"They put a lot of players in the league, and it's a good test. I can't wait. I'm not going sleep at night while I'm thinking about this game, so it's going to be a fun game. I'm going to have fun, so you'll see a lot of smiling. Duke didn't recruit me at all, so that's another reason why I'm going to go off on them.

"They have an excellent program,'' Blair added, "and I wish I would have gotten recruited by them. But they went another way and got the guys they wanted, and Pitt got the guy they wanted. ... I was a big Elton Brand fan, but I wasn't really a Duke fan. I didn't watch them on TV a lot.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon wasn't about to label this game as a litmus test for the Panthers, but he does have great respect for the Duke basketball program and head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

"Coach Pitino, Boeheim, Calhoun, all those guys are Hall of Fame guys, and he's obviously right with them,'' Dixon said. "We've always spoken of Connecticut's program as one that we've watched and emulated from close range.

"And Duke is one that we've done that from afar. You try to take things from teams that are doing things right, winning games and have consistency in their programs. So, a team like Duke and like Connecticut are ones that you look at.''

However, since 2001, Pitt should be mentioned in that group as well.

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