Pitt poses a tall task for Duke

Rodney Hood being instructed by Duke HC Mike Krzyzewski.
Rodney Hood being instructed by Duke HC Mike Krzyzewski.

After a solid home victory over Florida State on Saturday, the Duke Blue Devils travel to Pittsburgh tonight to take on a hot Panthers team. Tip is at 7 PM.

Make no mistake, this will be one of the toughest games of the season for Duke, and to win on the road at Pitt will be a tall task.The good news is that the Blue Devils enter the game playing solid basketball, but the bad news is the Panthers have about as strong a home court advantage as there is in the league. The student section is called the "Zoo," and they'll do their best to make the more youthful Duke players uncomfortable.

I have told anyone who would listen that the Panthers are one of the most underrated teams in the poll, even before the new one is released later today. Pitt is 18-2, but many feel their schedule has been soft. However, the Panthers have handled every team easily, save losses to Cincinnati and Syracuse. But while the Panthers have not played the schedule Duke has to date, they will certainly have their ears pinned back for this one.

That's because moving forward, they have only two truly tough games left, those being tonight's game with Duke and then the rematch, at home, with Syracuse.  Those are the only two ranked teams remaining on their schedule. So again the unbalanced schedule may play a role in the outcome of the conference race. The long and short of it is that a win tonight could well put them in the driver's seat for the regular season ACC title, and that would earn them a favorable ACC Tournament draw in their first year in the league.

The Panthers are a tough bunch that take after their confident coach Jamie Dixon. They are led by senior Lamar Patterson, a 6-5 guard who has the skill set that Duke has struggled with in the past. Patterson scored 28 points to lead the Panthers to a road win over Maryland on Saturday.

Speaking of Saturday, both teams face an equally quick turnaround to tonight's matchup. But at least Pitt is at home, while Duke had to cut short its preparation in order to board their flight to the Steel City.

If you are figuring out that I think this game will a foreboding task, then you are accurate in that assessment. I actually think this could prove to be a tougher road game than the one this Saturday where Duke takes on undefeated Syracuse.

But the Blue Devils are playing solid basketball right now, and they've improved. This will be a window showing just how far this team has come. But it'll take some mental toughness to win this game. It will also take a solid team effort and the ability to shut out a hostile crowd in yet another game that the opponent has marked on their calendar since the schedule was announced. To say this game is huge for Pitt is an understatement, and their fans will be ready.

But this game is big for Duke too, and with Mike Krzyzewski at the helm, they'll be ready.

Chances are that we'll see a grinder of a game; according to Las Vegas, Duke is a 4 point underdog.

This will be a tall task and if Duke wins, it'll be a huge one.  The Blue Devils still have two games left with Syracuse and their annual battles with UNC, among other challenges, so this is a majorly important game in the conference standings.

I'm expecting a hard-fought game that will go down to the wire, one that could come down to the last possession.  Make no mistake, the Blue Devils will have to bring their "A" game and fight off a lot of intangibles to stay in this one and come out with a win.

The fact that the team is an underdog would make a victory all that much sweeter.  These are the kind of tense games we all love, whether we are fans for media.  We're in store for some nerve-racking fun.

Duke at Miami Game Notes

8Duke vs. Miami

January 22, 2014 • 7:30 p.m.

Coral Gables, Fla. • BankUnited Center (7,972)

ESPN2 • Blue Devil IMG Sports Network • Compass Media Networks

The Opening Tip

• Duke travels to Coral Gables, Fla., to take on Miami in the BankUnited Center on Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 7:30 p.m. The game will air on ESPN2, the Blue Devil IMG Sports Network and Compass Media Networks.

• Duke is ranked No. 18 in the AP Poll and No. 18 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. Duke is 7-4 all-time when ranked No. 18 in the AP Poll.

• Saturday’s game will be Duke’s 237th consecutive as a ranked team. Duke is 196-40 (.831) during that run.

• Duke is looking for its first ACC road win of the season after dropping previous away games at Notre Dame (79-77) and Clemson (72-59). Duke is 3-4 away from Cameron Indoor Stadium this season.

• Duke routed NC State 95-60 Saturday for the Blue Devils’ fifth game scoring at least 90 points this season. Duke leads the ACC and ranks 19th nationally with 82.6 points per game.

The Last Time Out

• Jabari Parker scored 23 points and was one of five Blue Devils in double figures as Duke handled NC State, 95-60, Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

• Parker hit 7-of-14 shots from the field and both three-point attempts en route to his 11th 20-point game of the season.

• Duke scored 33 points off turnovers, forcing the Wolfpack into 21 giveaways, including 14 Duke steals. The 33 points off turnovers were a season-high for the Blue Devils.

• Rasheed Sulaimon scored 13 points, Andre Dawkins and Rodney Hood scored 11 and Quinn Cook added 10 as Duke had five players score in double figures for the fifth time this season.

• Former President George H.W. Bush was in attendance for the game to honor head coach Mike Krzyzewski for his commitment and leadership in working toward eliminating cancer as a public health threat.

By The Numbers

• Coach K is two wins shy of becoming the second coach in NCAA Division I history to record 900 wins at one school. Already the NCAA Division I

all-time leader with 971 wins, he trails only Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim (936) for the most wins at one school.

• Duke has topped 90 points five times this season for the program’s most 90-point games since the 2010-11 team reached that plateau six times. Duke is 5-0 this season and 273-8 under Mike Krzyzewski when scoring 90 points.

• Duke has lost back-to-back road games to the same ACC opponent just once since the 2003-04 season when Wake Forest defeated the Blue Devils in back-to-back meetings at Lawrence Joel Coliseum on Feb. 17, 2008 (86-73) and Jan. 28, 2009 (68-70). Duke fell, 90-63, to Miami in the last meeting at BankUnited Center on Jan. 23, 2013.

• Rodney Hood leads the ACC in field goal percentage (.517 – 107-of-207) and three-point field goal percentage (.457 – 37-of-81). Hood is the only player in the country to lead his conference in both of those categories.

• Hood has hit a three-pointer in 15 consecutive games and has at least one trey in 17 of 18 games this season.

• Duke has at least one 20-point scorer in 17 of 18 games this season. Jabari Parker has a team-high 11 20-point games, followed by Rodney Hood (8, plus one 30-point game), Quinn Cook (3), Rasheed Sulaimon (2) and Andre Dawkins (1).

• Parker has scored 20 or more points 11 times this season, which is tied for the most 20-point games by a Duke freshman, matching the mark set by Gene Banks in 1977-78.

• Reigning ACC Player of the Week Rasheed Sulaimon is Duke’s leading scorer off the bench, averaging 10.4 points per game when not in the starting lineup. Six of his seven double-figure scoring games this season have come from the bench.

• Amile Jefferson is third in ACC play with 9.6 rebounds per game. He has led the team in rebounds in four of Duke’s five league games with a pair of double-figure efforts. Jefferson recorded a career-best 15 boards versus Virginia.

• Quinn Cook has a 3.03:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and is averaging an ACC-leading 5.7 assists per game. His 3.03:1 assist-to-turnover ratio is on pace to tie the school record set by Steve Wojciechowski in 1996-97.