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Next Up - Pitt

Time: 7:00 || Venue: Peterson Events Center: || Video: ESPN2

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Duke v North Carolina State
RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 06: Omer Yurtseven #14 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack fouls Marvin Bagley III #35 of the Duke Blue Devils during a shot attempt at PNC Arena on January 6, 2018 in Raleigh, North Carolina. NC State won 96-85.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Next up for Duke is a visit to Pitt, perhaps the only team in the ACC which has spent less time together as a group than Duke.

However, while Pitt has seven freshmen, the Panthers also have two sophomores (one walk-on), three juniors, one senior, two redshirt seniors and one grad transfer. Only two of them were on the team last year.

They haven’t been together long, but compare that to Duke’s experience: seven freshmen, four sophomores, two juniors (one walk-on) and a senior.

Pitt’s had an interesting season so far.

The Panthers struggled early, losing to Navy, Montana and Penn State. Give Kevin Stallings credit though because lately the Panthers have been more competitive.

They gave Oklahoma State a six point game and West Virginia a nine point game, both in December. In ACC play, Pitt hasn’t won yet, losing to Miami by 14, Louisville by 26 and Virginia Tech by 14.

Miami and Louisville were over early but Pitt hung with Virginia Tech until quite late.

And Duke?

Most of Pitt’s games this year have been in front of tiny crowds of 3,500 or less. That won’t be the case Wednesday as the Zoo is apparently sold out.

It’s part of Duke being Duke. The Blue Devils are a big draw wherever they go.

For a team starting four freshmen though that’s not necessarily good. Duke has a pattern this year of falling behind then overwhelming a team in the second half and typically late in the second half.

It’s mostly worked but didn’t against BC and NC State.

And in his game plan, coach Kevin Stallings has no doubt pointed out that in its first three conference games, Duke gave up 89 to BC, 93 to FSU and 96 to NC State.

Duke’s defense has been porous, to say the least.

It’s probably part of the price the Blue Devils are paying for recruiting a lot of one-and-dones. In earlier times, Coach K had guys who learned the defensive system over 3-4 years and only played when they had.

And he’s famously talked about having three systems - offense, defense and communication. Only one of those is relatively easy without a ton of experience.

Pitt has had a harder time sorting out its rotation - there was never much question about Marvin Bagley or Trevon Duval starting for instance.

For Pitt, Stallings has sifted and sorted to get what works best. He’s worked out a nine-man rotation, less one without Ryan Luther, who has been out with an injury.

He’s fortunate to have a gifted point guard in freshman Marcus Carr but like Duval, Carr just doesn’t have a lot of experience. He’s done reasonably well though and, like most guys in his world has played against Duval and other elite players quite a bit by now.

Wilson-Frame has struggled with his shot but had a meeting with Stallings and seems to have worked through some of his issues. Stallings said this and it’s something that fans should keep in mind: I think you’ve heard me say it before — these guys have problems like everybody else. Sometimes, it’s helping guys deal with issues, whether it’s emotional, something in the family, something going on socially or anything. We just sat down and had a talk after practice on Thursday. He’s been more like Jared ever since.”

That’s great for Pitt and speaks well of Stallings too. He takes a lot of criticism one way and another, a lot related to his volatility, but that’s good of him.

Parker Stewart is also emerging for the Panthers. He came to Pitt with an offensive reputation but has emerged as a defender too.

The rest of Pitt’s rotation is Shamiel Stevenson, Jonathan Milligan, Khameron Davis, Terrell Brown and Kene Chukwuka.

So can Pitt pull an upset here?

Well, State and BC did, both at home. And while Duke has a huge advantage with big men Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter, both of whom are stellar rebounders, the Blue Devils have a serious concern as well as top reserves Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier probably won’t play.

Well to be clear Bolden is definitely out with a knee sprain and DeLaurier is doubtful with a hammy issue.

No matter how you slice it, it’s a problem for Duke. Carter is a very talented guy but he’s had some foul issues. He’s had six games with four fouls and fouled out against Indiana.

That’s not as dangerous when Bolden is there and DeLaurier brings a dose of athleticism that’s a real shot in the arm, but they won’t be there. Duke will turn to Antonio Vrankovic and Justin Robinson in their absence.

It’s not a big a drop-off as most people think. Bolden is far more talented than Vrankovic but Vrankovic is a heady, smart player with great hands and as far as Robinson goes, that’s a guy we would always want on our side, no questions asked.

Robinson is a great teammate and he may be the most focused player on this team. Despite not playing a lot, he brings immense value to his team.

What we’d like to see from Duke in this game is a stronger defense and better communication. There have been any number of times in the last two games where a guy hasn’t rotated or didn't understand where the ball was going. Natural talent, as a friend once told us in a different context, will only take you so far.

And we’d like to see a better game out of Grayson Allen.

The shy kid from Florida is not a freshman surprise anymore. We don’t like to be critical least of all because we his heart. He plays really hard and there’s no guile. Grayson wants to be good and to do good.

For whatever reason - and remember what Stallings said about his player above - he was’t very good against State.

He was just 3-9 against State and while we expected him to step up late, he really didn’t.

Obviously Krzyzewski is much more aware of this than any of us are (see above comments again) and had this to say:

“...[H]e’s not played well in these three conference games. And he knows it. We have confidence he will play well...And he has to hunt his shot. We haven’t really hit a transition 3 in a while, and that’s a major part of our offense, especially for him. That’s one of his best shots, and he really hasn’t had that. And that kind of gets him going. He’ll play better but he hasn’t played well. And we haven’t played well, as well as we need to play..When he plays well, we usually play well. That’s what happens when you’re the one or two key players on the team.”

Allen is the team’s leader. As Coach also pointed out, he’s still adjusting to new teammates and the long break didn’t help that.

Emotionally though, there’s nothing to stop him - or anyone else for that matter - from stepping up. As we saw in the championship game in 2015, a dive on the floor here, a hustle play there, can define a game.

Or even a season.

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