Pitt follows Duke on Duquesne's tough schedule Print
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Tuesday, 02 December 2008 23:21
NCAAB Headline News


 PITTSBURGH (AP) -No. 4 Duke in one game, No. 3 Pittsburgh in the next.
Duquesne is playing the kind of schedule that can get a coach fired, one reason why Dukes coach Ron Everhart is glad he signed a contract extension last summer.
``And next week it's West Virginia, which could be in the Top 20 soon,'' said Everhart, whose team plays Wednesday night at neighboring Pitt (7-0) in a rivalry known as the City Game.
Everhart is hoping the challenging schedule will toughen up one of major college basketball's youngest teams; 12 of his top 13 players are underclassmen, and eight are freshmen. After this two-game stretch, the Atlantic 10 may not look as intimidating to a team with only one senior, guard Aaron Jackson.
Such a week would be frightening to a Final Four squad, much less one picked to finish 12th in its own conference. No. 7 Notre Dame, which met then-No. 6 Texas and No. 1 North Carolina in Maui last week, is the only other school to play successive games this season against teams ranked this high.
PN, a recruiting boost despite the final score. The Pitt game may further teach the Dukes what it takes to compete at a championship level; they haven't beaten a ranked team since 1997.
They came close to knocking off then-No. 12 Pitt a season ago, losing 73-68 in what was a one-point game in the final minute. The Dukes expected to be competitive again this season, but 6-foot-10 center Shawn James and 6-1 guard Kojo Mensah passed up their senior years to turn pro.
Pitt has looked to be in midseason form so far, winning its first seven by an average of nearly 20 points. The Panthers beat Texas Tech by 13 and Washington State by 14 in the Legends Classic in Newark, N.J., last weekend.
``I said it last summer - these guys could win the whole thing,'' Everhart said. ``They've got the defense to do it, the size, the depth, the talent, the athleticism. They have everything in the tool shed. It takes a lot of luck and the right breaks to win the Final Four, but this is a great team.''
Pitt is one of eight ranked Big East teams this week, the first time one conference has landed so many schools in the AP Top 25.
``With it coming out that we're No. 3, actually that keeps us going,'' Pitt forward Gilbert Brown said. ``It pushes us to become even better, because I still don't believe that people think Pitt can be up there with the North Carolinas of the world.''
Wednesday night how the Panthers compare to the Duke Blue Devils of the world.
``Defensively, they might be the best team I've seen in five years,'' Everhart said of Pitt. ``After playing Duke, our guys understand the intensity level it takes to compete for 40 minutes against a team of that caliber. It kind of lit our guys' eyes up.''
Pitt's Sam Young, a 6-6 senior, averages 19.4 points and six rebounds and 6-7 sophomore DeJuan Blair is right behind at 15.3 points and 12.3 rebounds. Point guard Levance Fields, still recovering from a year's worth of left foot problems, is averaging 12.1 points and six assists.
Duquesne's top scorer is Damian Saunders, a 6-7 sophomore and former Marquette recruit who is scoring 17.8 points a game.
``It's a good rivalry for the whole city,'' Blair said. ``They're right down the street from us.''
Pitt plays its following three games at home against Vermont, UMBC and Siena before finishing out the month at Florida State on Dec. 21 and Rutgers on Dec. 31.
``It's cool we're up there, ranked third ... but it only counts if you keep it for a long time,'' Blair said. ``That's what we're working toward.''
The Panthers started at least 10-0 in each of coach Jamie Dixon's previous five seasons. They were 11-0 last season, 10-0 in 2006-07, 15-0 in 2005-06, 10-0 in 2004-05 and 18-0 in 2003-04.
 

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