Next up for Duke is Pitt, and while it may not seem as big as some other games, especially given Pitt's struggles this year, Coach K stopped by K-ville on the way back from the Louisville game to tell the Cameron Crazies that actually it's the biggest game of the year.
Why? That's not complicated. In his words, "[b]ecause we need to establish a habit of how we're playing. Sometimes when you're young your habits are not as staunch as they should be." So he'd like some help in maintaining a high level of intensity.
It's probably a fair point, especially since Pitt has been significantly off this season. Duke will be favored, but if Pitt plays as poorly as it has several times lately, Duke could win without playing as well as K might like.
Of course there are no guarantees Pitt will continue to play poorly, and if Duke reverts to pre-Louisville play, Pitt could win too. And it's not like it's a team without talent although it is without one of its best players.
Pitt will go all season without Durand Johnson, who was suspended at the beginning of the year. That's been a tough blow. Cameron Wright had a broken foot which needed surgery but he's back. It's not easy to recover from something like that and we doubt that Wright is close to 100%, but he is playing again.
Junior point guard James Robinson (6-3, 198), who is averaging 10.2 ppg and 4.8 aspg, is Pitt's most important player.
Big man Michael Young (6-9, 235, so.) is averaging 13.7 ppg, Jamel Artis (6-7, 220, so.) is putting up 9.9 ppg and about five boards. Chris Jones (6-6, 213 so.) is getting around 8.7 ppg, 3 boards and 2.1 apg.
Wright, still recovering, is a 6-5 senior. He's contributing 9.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, and a steal and a half.
Pitt has struggled on offense, partly no doubt due to Johnson's absence, putting up just 67.2 ppg and hitting 44% from the floor.
By contrast, Duke is averaging 83.2 ppg, and hitting just over 50%.
Duke is going to be be favored, although it'll be with a caveat since the Duke and Miami games are still fresh. The Louisville win is a big deal, and points Duke back in the right direction, but as Coach K suggests, is part of a process rather than a solution.
Krzyzewski said as much after the Louisville game.
"This was a confidence-builder, whatever the hell, offensively or defensively. Look, we played our butts off today, and we beat a really good team. You get confidence through accomplishment. No matter if you’re like, ‘Have confidence, I believe in you,’ that’s cool, but then when a kid does it, they’re going to have more confidence. Hopefully we can move on now and use that and play really well Monday night and get more confidence."
Which brings us back to talking to the Crazies.
What happened in the State and Miami games is clearer in retrospect: a young team got overconfident.
Part of that was addressed against Louisville, but the bad habits (especially on defense) aren't totally gone, and shooting is not yet where it was.
And there's not much time. Duke has a brutal roadtrip coming up with a St. John's game in the Garden, then Notre Dame and Virginia on the road. That's an incredibly tough stretch, possibly the hinge of the season for Duke.
So yes, this is an important game for Duke.