|A rivalry again? Dukes, for a change, look to give Pitt a game|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 05 December 2007 07:09|
Their campuses located only two miles apart, Pitt and Duquesne belonged to the same conference, the Eastern Eight, and their programs were similar in performance and stature. Their tournament games drew sellout crowds of 16,000-plus at the downtown Civic Arena.
Pitt's entrance into the Big East Conference, the building of the Petersen Events Center and a steady decline by Duquesne's once-competitive program changed all that. Now, Pitt is an elite program playing in a palace of an arena, and Duquesne hasn't been a legitimate rival in a very long time.
On Wednesday night, Pitt and Duquesne may learn if they truly have a rivalry again.
The No. 12 Panthers are off to - yawn - their usual 7-0 start, one that has yet to see them leave the city limits. But, for the first time in 14 years, a reawakened Duquesne (6-1) also brings a winning record into the intracity game, as well as an opponent-perplexing offensive rotation and a run-'til-we-drop system.
Hey, could the City Game really be a game again?
``I can't wait to play this game,'' said Pitt freshman DeJuan Blair, a former Pittsburgh high school star who was recruited by both schools. ``We know their guys from playing against them in the summer and we can't wait to play them again.''
Only two years ago, Duquesne was 3-24 and its program, long in decline, looked to be on life support. Energetic, hardworking coach Ron Everhart has changed that in a heartbeat, performing one of Division I's most dramatic turnarounds even while dealing with the shootings of five players last year.
Two of those shooting victims, 6-foot-10 center Shawn James and 6-0 guard Kojo Mensah, are the main reasons for Duquesne's fast start this season. The Dukes were 6-0 until losing at Drake 77-73 on Saturday in the championship game of a two-day tournament in Des Moines last weekend.
Mensah, the point guard and a Siena transfer, averages 16.4 points while James, a shot-altering defensive whiz nicknamed the Eraser, averages 13 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots. James had a school-record 12 blocked shots at Oakland on Nov. 20.
If Duquesne has any chance of beating a ranked opponent for the first time since a 78-70 win at No. 16 Xavier on Jan. 25, 1997, James and 6-10 Kieron Achara (13.9 points) can't get beaten up inside by the strong Blair and 6-7 Sam Young (18 points, 9 rebounds).
``Their big guys are good,'' Toledo coach Stan Joplin said after Pitt's 78-52 win Saturday. ``We looked like a JV team against some of their big kids.''
One intriguing element of the first City Game since 1993 in which both teams have winning records is how Pitt handles Duquesne's two-unit rotations - and, in turn, how Duquesne deals with Pitt's brand-new running game.
Duquesne is averaging 92.3 points while alternating five-man units every two or three minutes, a system, designed to wear down opponents by keeping fresh players on the floor and constant pressure on the ball.
But Pitt is much more of an up-tempo team this season, partly because 7-0 center Aaron Gray has graduated and the offense no longer revolves around him. Pitt averages 84 points and is winning games by an average of 30 points.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon doesn't think the constant substituting will be a problem because, he said, ``We go against that every day in practice.''
But Duquesne doesn't go against a team like Pitt very often, and that has the Dukes excited. Pitt is the highest-ranked team to play at the A.J. Palumbo Center since No. 9 Saint Joseph's beat the Dukes 78-61 on Jan. 10, 2004.
``We're excited about playing a high-profile team like Pitt,'' Everhart said. ``It will be a great experience playing an NCAA type opponent in a sold-out arena with a great atmosphere.''