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Duke, Pitt to play in Garden

| Friday, July 13, 2007

The much anticipated Duke-Pitt basketball game that nearly materialized last March will happen after all.

Pitt is scheduled to play the Blue Devils on Dec. 20 at Madison Square Garden in a nationally televised men's basketball game.

"It's happening," Big East associate commissioner Tom Odjakjian said. "That's been confirmed."

The first meeting between the two schools in 27 years came about after some determined rescheduling by Pitt, which switched dates for games with Dayton, Buffalo and Lafayette to accommodate the matchup.

First, Pitt was scheduled to play host to Buffalo on Dec. 19, which needed to be changed. The Panthers were supposed to play at Dayton on Dec. 22, and that needed to be moved, so the Panthers wouldn't have one day to travel and prepare for the Flyers.

The Dayton-Pitt game was moved to Dec. 29, but that required two more switches. Dayton rescheduled its game with Lipscomb set for that day, and Pitt moved its game with visiting Lafayette from Dec. 28 to Jan. 2.

The Buffalo game also was shuffled, but the exact date still is pending, according to the Buffalo sports information department.

"Trying to move those games wasn't easy," Odjakjian said. "But eventually, it got done."

Neither Pitt coach Jamie Dixon nor Duke officials could be reached for comment.

Both teams are expected to contend for NCAA berths and conference titles. In an ESPN poll, Duke is No. 11 and Pitt is No. 14 in the 2007-08 preseason rankings.

Pitt graduated three seniors, including third-team All-American center Aaron Gray, from last year's 29-8 team, which lost to UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen.

Duke, which returns four of its five top scorers from a 22-11 team, has reached the Final Four 10 times and won three national titles under coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Duke had reached the Sweet Sixteen nine consecutive years before last year's first-round ouster by Virginia Commonwealth. The last-second loss ruined a collision course between Pitt and Duke at the NCAA sub-regional in Buffalo.

The neutral site game will match two teams with a history of play in the Big Apple.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon often has said he would play anytime at Madison Square Garden.

The Panthers are a steady recruiting presence in New York, with five current Pitt players from the city. Dixon also has a good relationship with Garden officials. This year, the Garden will play host to the second Maggie Dixon Classic, held in memory of Dixon's late sister.

Krzyzewski also realizes the recruiting and visibility value of playing in the basketball hotbed. The Blue Devils have played at least one game in or around New York in each of the past nine seasons, including Gonzaga in last year's Aeropostale Classic and at St. John's as part of their long-standing home-and-home series with the Red Storm.

While Pitt needed to move around its schedule, Duke merely was looking for an opponent. The Blue Devils had a previous deal with ESPN to play an opponent Dec. 20 at the Garden.

"Duke had that date saved and had a commitment from ESPN long before they knew who they were going to play," Odjakjian said. "Sometimes, when you have a game like that, it's harder to put together than to play the game."

Other top teams in Pitt's non-conference schedule include December games against visiting Oklahoma State and at Washington. Pitt's full schedule is expected to be released in late August or early September.

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