Ever since the Panthers and Blue Devils appeared to be headed for an NCAA clash last spring, their fans have looked forward to this date, even though it took a great deal of time to finalize.
When No. 11 Pittsburgh (10-0) meets No. 6 Duke (10-0) Thursday night at 7 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, it will be the first game between the schools since 1980. The game will be television nationally by ESPN.
"This is a prime date during the year with when it falls,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "It's a great game for us, as far as playing in the Garden, and we'll always do everything that we can do to get a game there.
"No matter how much it takes, and it took a lot to get this worked out. We tried everything, and it's a great situation for our guys. Last year, we played up at West Point, but any time we can play in New York we'll do that for our guys.''
The two teams were in the same NCAA bracket in Buffalo, N.Y., but Duke lost to Virginia Commonwealth. So, the matchup did not materialize. And for a New York native like Pitt junior point guard Levance Fields, it's great to be back home at Madison Square Garden.
"It's great to play at the Garden, and the opportunity to do that is one of the reasons I came here,'' Fields said. "Sure, it's a little distance from home, but there's a lot of New York guys here, players and coaches. And we get to play in New York a lot against Big East teams and in he Conference tournament.''
Fields noted that Duke's transition game is in high gear right now, and the Blue Devils have many contributors to their offense.
"They're more athletic than they were in previous years, too, I think,'' FIelds said. "I think they've got more guys, even a guy to come off the bench, and they are a lot deeper than last year. So, they're a real good team that will be a good test for us.''
Starters Kyle Singler (13 points per game), Gerald Henderson (13) and DeMarcus Nelson (12.8) are Duke's top three scorers. Freshman Singler (6-foot-8) and sophomore Henderson (6-5) are forwards, while senior Nelson (6-3) is a two-guard.
Sophomore Jon Scheyer (6-5) backs up Nelson and averages 11.6 points per game, while 6-6 freshman Taylor King (6-6) comes off the bench for Singler. Junior Greg Paulus is he starting point guard (9.1). The other starter was 6-8 sophomore Lance Thomas, but he has an injury. Brian Zoubek, a 7-1 sophomore center, started in his place against Albany Monday night. The other major contributor is 6-2 freshman guard Nolan Smith.
Singler and King were secured by Duke this past year, while Blair was a top recruit for Pitt. Blair hopes to show which team got the best deal.
"I can't get too hyped up for this game, because ... I might do something crazy and get into foul trouble,'' Blair said. "I don't know, but I try to be an emotional leader. I know I'm a freshman, but I try to talk a lot and keep the guys up on the court. I like to bring enthusiasm to the team.
"Dixon has been telling me that since the level of competition is going up, I have to step my game up. And I think I stepped it up a lot the past couple games. I've been getting in the weight room a lot to keep my wind up to play more minutes. I'm still losing weight, too, and I want to stay in good shape to help take my game to another level.''
Blair was the Big East rookie of the week and capped his performance with 20 points and 10 rebounds against Oklahoma State. What's a step up from there?
"I played excellent last week, but I think I can take a step up from 20 and 10,'' Blair said. "The sky's the limit for me. ... Nobody talks about me too much, but that's good. I like being underrated. Keep talking about everybody else, and I'll just keep working harder. I don't like to read or watch TV (sports shows) too much, because that's when you can get too big-headed. And I like to stay humble. So, I'll just continue to work hard.''
Notes: Pitt is fairly healthy for the game. Only junior center Cassin Diggs (groin) was limited in practice, and he is questionable for the game.
Finally, Pitt Vs. Duke
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