Much anticipated appearance by Duke at Petersen Events Center arrives


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No. 18-ranked Duke visits Petersen Events Center tonight for the first time so it is understandable that the game has received plenty of hype.

The Panthers (18-2, 6-1 ACC), who are ranked No. 20, will play host to Duke (16-4) tonight in a nationally televised clash of one of the old-guard, blue-blood programs and one of the top programs in Division I in the past 10 seasons.

The Blue Devils are one of the elite programs in Division I and are coached by one of the game's legends, Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski. Because of their success, they have become one of the teams everybody except for their fans seems to love to hate.

Jamie Dixon greets students camping out in ticket line

Pitt's Jamie Dixon, head basketball coach, distributed doughnuts to students camping out at the Petersen Events Center while awaiting tickets to tonight's game against Duke. (Video by Nate Guidry; 1/27/2014)

That makes them a travelling road show guaranteed to sell out almost any building they visit. When you combine that with the fact that the Panthers are in the midst of a great season themselves, it is clear that this is more than just a game, it is an event.

Pitt students have camped out at Petersen Events Center to make sure they can get into the building. This by far is the most expensive home ticket in recent Panthers history.

All of those factors have generated quite a buzz indeed, but here are two realities that seem to have gotten lost in all of the discussion about the Blue Devils visit. Pitt has played host to much bigger games than this one at Petersen Events Center since it opened in 2001.

And while both are ranked, they still have a lot to prove and desperately need a signature win.

This is the 22nd time the Panthers have been ranked and played host to another ranked opponent.

But neither team is ranked in the Top 10, is in first place in the ACC nor considered a legitimate national championship contender by most observers.

In the 2010-11 season, the Panthers were twice ranked in the Top 10 and played host to two Top-5 teams (Connecticut and Syracuse), and only one of those teams -- the Huskies -- went on to win the national championship.

Pitt also was ranked No. 4 in 2004 when it played host to No. 5 Connecticut and beat the Huskies, who went on to win the national championship that year as well. The Panthers won that game, 75-68.

One of the biggest games at Petersen Events Center, to date however, came in 2009 when the Panthers were ranked No. 3 and beat No. 1 Connecticut, 70-60.

Overall the Panthers are 9-0 in games against Top-5 teams at Petersen Events Center. So while the Blue Devils have a Hall of Fame coach and name recognition, they aren't among the highest ranked teams to play at Petersen Events Center.

That doesn't mean this isn't a big game, but its importance goes beyond the fact that it is Duke and neither of these teams has a signature win on their resume.

Pitt, No. 12 in one Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), has played only two games against teams in the top 50 of the RPI -- Cincinnati and Syracuse -- and the Panthers lost both of those games. The Panthers do have six wins against teams ranked No. 51-100, but they also have eight wins against teams outside of the top 150.

So in short, Pitt has done a great job of avoiding bad losses, which is always a key come NCAA tournament bid time.

But given how down the ACC has been this season, this is one of only four opportunities in the regular season for Pitt to notch a top-20 (RPI) win.

Duke is No. 16 in one RPI and has wins against four teams in the RPI top 50. The Blue Devils also have lost to two of the best teams in the RPI -- Kansas and Arizona -- and have two losses outside the top 50.

Pitt and Duke have opportunities (after tonight) to earn wins against teams in the top 50.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon was asked about the hype surrounding the Duke game Saturday after the Panthers beat Maryland, 82-79. He said it will be a great event for fans and observers but it is another night at the office for him and his players.

"I know people have been talking about it for a while and asking about tickets," Dixon said. "They don't bother me too much about tickets, but my assistants are getting a little flustered by it, but it is what it is. Our team is focused and you can tell by walkthroughs and by the way they handle themselves.

"We'll get ready for it [Sunday]."

Pitt guard Cameron Wright admitted the chance to play against a legend such as Krzyzewski is exciting in itself.

"It will be exciting for us," Wright said. "Looking down to the left and seeing Coach K on the other sideline, I don't even know how to explain it, it will be a pretty remarkable moment I guess. But we're not looking at it like we play Duke, we are looking at it as another game on the schedule, a roadblock that we have to get past.

• • •

Today

■ Game: No. 20 Pitt (18-2, 6-1 ACC) vs. No. 18 Duke (16-4, 5-2), 7 p.m.

■ Where: Petersen Events Center.

■ TV: ESPN.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.


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