PITTSBURGH - Pitt's decision to leave the Big East and join the Atlantic Coast Conference got its biggest stamp of approval yet Monday night at the Petersen Events Center.
Despite Duke's 80-65 victory over the Panthers, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski clearly sees Pitt's program and home arena as an equal to his own.
"This is the first time I've coached here, and I was really impressed with everything," Krzyz-ewski said. "It's a beautiful arena, the crowd is terrific. There's a great spirit. What a great addition to the ACC Pitt has been.
"Until you experience it here, you don't know. We have a lot of respect for the people in this region. I just had really favorable impressions of everything, and I would say that even if we lost."
The atmosphere at the Pete, both prior to and during the first 32 minutes of the Panthers' game against Duke, was unmatched in the building's 12-year history.
Pitt has hosted games against top-ranked opponents and had incredible success, but Monday marked a different kind of feeling than wins over Villanova, Syracuse, Georgetown and UConn over the past decade have.
Duke made its first appearance in the building, and it was something the fans and players alike had been looking forward to since the decision to join the ACC was made.
"We wanted to win," Pitt's Lamar Patterson said. "We knew the hype was there. We saw the crowd at the beginning of the game and knew this game meant a lot."
The Blue Devils weren't even ranked in the top 10, but the legacy Duke brings with it is unmatched in its sport, and a regular season game against the Blue Devils seems as important as an NCAA Tournament matchup. When someone thinks about college basketball, Duke comes to mind the way the New York Yankees do when baseball is mentioned.
By joining the ACC, Pitt has guaranteed that Monday's atmosphere will be repeated - regularly.
The Panthers will get their fair share of home games against the Blue Devils and fellow college basketball royalty, North Carolina. Of course, it helps that fellow ex-Big East member Syracuse also made the leap to the conference.
Rivalries with Villanova and Connecticut will certainly be missed, but it will be interesting to see how the programs left behind maintain their national success over the next decade.
Pitt jumped out ahead of the curve, leaving the Big East at its highest point much to the initial chagrin of coach Jamie Dixon, but as season ticket holders continue to renew their seats to see Duke and UNC games over the next few years, it's a decision that will greatly benefit the program.
"What they've built here is a great addition to what I think is going to be the best basketball conference in the country," Krzyzewski said.
Every great thing or team runs its course. At the time, breaking up what the Big East had going in basketball seemed like a bad idea. The Panthers went from playing in what was the undisputed best conference in the game to what is probably now the second best (behind the ultra-competitive Big Ten).
But even the Big Ten doesn't provide the same sexy matchups that the ACC does. It's hard to imagine fans filling the lobby in tents and standing outside in temperatures hovering near zero to see Wisconsin and Ohio State.
But they were there Monday. And they'll be there the next time Duke comes to town, keeping Pitt at the elite level it enjoyed while in the Big East.
Michael Boytim can be reached at email@example.com or at 946-7521