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Duke 80 Pitt 65

Welcome to the real ACC, Pitt.

It's not quite "Dean Smith eats Yellow Snow," but they're trying
It's not quite "Dean Smith eats Yellow Snow," but they're trying
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

There was a column from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where the writer was practically promising a Pitt victory and that this was a Pitt era in the ACC, that "Pitt was ready for Duke in every way." Well, not quite, not yet anyway.

Pitt's a pretty good team, but Duke was unquestionably better on Monday night. You could put it down to any number of things, but you'd probably better start with Andre Dawkins, who was brilliant in the second half.

Dawkins finished the game 7-9 overall and 6-7 from three point range for 20 points. That's a hell of a night.

But if you watched, you saw that Pitt had a bad habit of not guarding him and that was largely because of Jabari Parker's first half.

Parker finished the first half with 16 - he finished with 21 - and a half like that tends to get you noticed.

But the thing is, Pitt couldn't plug all the leaks in the defense.

If it wasn't Parker and Dawkins, it was Rodney Hood (13 points and three rebounds) raining threes or Amile Jefferson (14 points, 10 boards, six offensive) or Quinn Cook, who came off the bench after an ankle sprain against Florida State to score nine and hand out six assists.

And much like playing Florida State, playing Pitt means you'd better be ready for a punch in the mouth, and ready to give one back: this is one physical team.

But Duke has come a very long way from the team that couldn't stop Vermont. Hood said it best after the game: "In order for us to win, we have to play defense. It might sound simple, but it’s not that easy with a young group. We’ve been figuring it out."

No one more so than Hood himself. Hood was the primary defender for Pitt star Lamar Patterson, who was held to 4-14 for 14 points. He got 14, but he really had to work for them.

Fellow senior Talib Zanna was limited to 2-10 from the floor. The other starters managed 10-21.

Duke pulled ahead at 34-32 and while Pitt tied a few times, the Panthers never led again.

Oh, the article we referred to at the beginning? It was by Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The previous cockiness? Gone, replaced by an inchoate anger. Check out his lede now: "Call it a choke, a gag, a typical Pitt collapse against a top-caliber team."

Then, after a series of rips, he concludes: "It might well end up that the Panthers will choke, gag and all that other stuff for which there is far too much precedent over the past decade. But I have a tough time envisioning it happening as the result of the mind-numbingly irresponsible defense we witnessed Monday...Incompetent can't be fixed. Irresponsible can."

What's irresponsible here is ripping a hardworking group of 17-22 year old guys. Pitt was outplayed, but the rip seems personal. It's a team in the truest sense, in that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Pitt's very good, but it wasn't like this team was going undefeated. Kovacevic needs a bit of perspective and responsibility. Good grief.

As for Duke, the win sets up an absolutely huge game at Syracuse this weekend.

Though Syracuse is new in the ACC, there are no strangers in this game. Coach K put Jim Boeheim on the Olympic staff specifically to pick his brains on zone defenses.

Boeheim, of course, knows Krzyzewski's ideas as well as K knows his. And even if he didn't, Michael Gbinije spent a year in Durham and not only knows the system but several of the players and their tendencies as well.

The nice thing about the way the schedule has worked out is that, with the exception of N.C. State and Miami, the games lately have each been increasingly difficult.

Clemson did Duke the favor of a sobering, physical defeat; the lessons were applied to Virginia, with the Cavs nearly coming back from the dead. State was a chance to apply and strengthen the lessons. Miami was a chance to take the show on the road. Florida State was as physical as Clemson, but Duke had toughened up enough to dominate the Seminoles. And Pitt is just as physical as Florida State and mentally much tougher.

Next is Syracuse, and that's another mountain to climb. Duke will enter the Carrier Dome with an NCAA Final Four size crowd and, possibly, feel.

As good as Syracuse is, and we have no illusions about the quality of Boeheim's team, it has had some tight games. BC, as miserable a season as the Eagles are having, stayed within 10. Pitt was down one point with five seconds left. Miami gave the 'Cuse not one tough game but two.

Side note: we certainly wouldn't place money on Syracuse losing to Wake Forest on Wednesday night, but a couple of things could happen: 1) Syracuse could be looking ahead, and 2) Wake could get home court happy again.

You'll remember that this same team, although a year younger, gave huge games last year to #5 Duke, losing 75-70 and then to (wait for it) #2 Miami, then a team playing as well as anyone in the country.

Well, #2 Syracuse will be favored, but the Orange shouldn't be too cocky, as we learned this week from a certain Pittsburgh-based columnist.

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