The Blue Devils cruise into the ACC tournament with victories in six of their last eight contests and will look to get off to a strong start Sunday.

No. 3 seed Duke will host Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament Sunday afternoon at Koskinen Stadium. In the first round, the No. 11 seed Panthers upset Virginia 2-0 in Charlottesville, Va., and are looking to improve their NCAA tournament resume. 

Duke enters the tournament on a hot streak. The Blue Devils impressive play allowed them to clinch a first round bye and give them extra time to prepare for these difficult postseason matchups. 

"I think we have momentum entering the tournament and we are definitely wiser than we were this time last year,” head coach John Kerr said. “Last year was the first time in a while that we entered the postseason on a high note and we were disappointed to get eliminated early. But that experience has stayed with us and will hopefully fuel us going forward.”

On the other hand, the Panthers (8-10-0, 2-6-0) struggled down the stretch, losing five of their final six matches before upsetting Virginia on Wednesday. The Blue Devils (10-5-1, 5-3-0) handed Pittsburgh one of those losses, but the Panthers shouldn’t be underestimated. Their 8-10 record is misleading as seven of their losses have come against ranked opponents and they’ve lost tight matches to excellent teams like North Carolina, Louisville, and Notre Dame.

The Panthers are led by sophomore Edward Kizza who has been dominant all season. The star forward has scored 15 goals, the 4th best mark in the country, and has been the engine of Pittsburgh’s offense. Kizza was instrumental in their first-round upset in Charlottesville where he scored both of the Panther’s goals. 

“They’re a good team that’s gained confidence over the course of the season. They work hard for each other and they play really good soccer,” Kerr said. “They have a great striker in Edward Kizza and it should be a tough game for us.”

After slumping in the middle of the season, the Blue Devils have been playing strong soccer over the last month. Highlighted by impressive wins on the road against Virginia and Virginia Tech, Duke seems to be hitting its stride. 

If there’s any cause for concern, its inconsistent offensive production. The Blue Devils have been excellent at generating shots all season. Their 15.13 shots per game and 6.38 corners per game both lead the ACC and are some of the best marks in the country. However, only 39.8 percent of those shots have been on goal—145th in the nation—and there have been games where Duke has struggled to create goals. For instance, in their loss to High Point on Oct. 16, the Blue Devils created 20 shots but none found the back of the net. 

“We are a very offensive oriented team and we will continue to play our style. Hopefully we can be tighter on the backline,” Kerr said. “Our shutout against Virginia Tech was very encouraging and I’m hoping we can keep up that defensive intensity on Sunday.”

Duke’s shutout against Virginia Tech was just one of the many impressive defensive performances in recent games. On the season, the Blue Devils have allowed 1.31 goals per game, eighth in the ACC. However, Duke has allowed just .88 goals per game in October to go along with three shutouts. 

Whoever wins Sunday will play the winner of Virginia Tech vs North Carolina in the semifinals. 

“We are older and wiser,” Kerr said. “I’m hoping we can keep up this momentum and make a deep run in both tournaments.”