Pitt got its feet wet at the ACC Tournament with an 89-81 win over Georgia Tech on Wednesday. The win improved Pitt’s record to 22-10 on the year and the Panthers should feel a lot better about their odds to make the NCAA Tournament at this point. The Panthers were not dominant in the win over the 13th seeded Yellow Jackets, but made enough plays to survive and move onto the quarterfinal round where they are slated to face the fourth-seeded Duke Blue Devils.
The challenge facing the Panthers on Thursday is a much greater one than what they saw on Wednesday, and there is certainly an understanding of that for this team. Pitt had little time to relish in the win over the Yellow Jackets, because the focus immediately went to preparing for Duke.
Pitt played Duke back on January 11th, with the Blue Devils edging the Panthers 77-69 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It was a game, however, where Pitt was leading 43-32 at halftime. The Panthers had opportunities to stretch the advantage, but a lengthy scoring drought allowed Duke to forge ahead.
Capel was asked of that first meeting in Wednesday’s postgame press conference and how the two teams are different since that early January game in Durham.
“Yeah, it seemed like forever ago,” Capel recounted of that first game with Duke. “They’re really good. They’re probably the hottest team in the league. I think they’ve won six in a row. Those freshmen have grown up. Obviously we know that they’re very, very talented. It’ll be a heck of a game. I think we’ve gotten better since we played them, too, so we’re excited about the challenge.”
Duke was picked as the No. 7 team in the country in the preseason. The Blue Devils gained that notoriety because once again, they brought in a top-flight recruiting class. Despite the lofty expectations, there were some mishaps along the way and Duke dropped from that initial billing. Duke had some early ACC losses to Wake Forest, NC State, Clemson, and Virginia Tech to open conference play with a 5-4 record.
The Blue Devils have pieced it together down the stretch, however, and are back in the AP Top 25 after winning six games in a row, including a road victory over North Carolina to close out the regular season on Saturday. Duke freshman center, Kyle Filipowki, has been on a roll of late, with six straight double figure scoring games, and three double-doubles during this Duke winning streak. In his last game, Filipowski scored 22 and grabbed 13 rebounds going up against North Carolina’s Armando Bacot.
The Blue Devils have also been receiving some sizzling hot play from junior guard Jeremy Roach as well. He missed the first meeting against Pitt with an injury, but has been very productive of late, including a 19-point and 11-assist showing against Virginia Tech back on February 25th.
Duke appears to be clicking a lot more of late and looks to be a much better team than what Pitt saw back in early January. The Panthers also feel they have improved since then. At the time of that first Duke game, Pitt was in the early stages of figuring itself out as a team, but managed to stay in the conference title race all season long.
Pitt guard Jamarius Burton paced his team with 21 points and 8 assists yesterday in the win over Georgia Tech. He feels the Panthers have improved considerably since the first meeting with Duke.
“I think some things that we’ve gotten better since that matchup is just understanding switch attacks a little bit better, understanding defensive schemes, and understanding where to attack,” said Burton. “I feel like that first time playing against them, we were just getting our feet wet in that area, and ever since then we’ve been able to grow and get better as a team.”
In order to beat Duke, Pitt will need a much better effort in the rebounding department. The Panthers allowed 24 offensive rebounds to Duke in the first meeting, which is a problem that has persisted for this team all year long. In Wednesday’s second round game, Pitt allowed 12 offensive boards. It’s an area Capel knows his team has improve on for today.
“Look, that’s why they beat us at their place,” Capel said of the offensive rebounding margin. “They dominated the glass. If you go back, and I haven’t looked at the stat sheet yet, I think there were some, I think they were in the 30s shooting the basketball, and that’s with 20-plus offensive rebounds. We have to be better there if we want to have a chance against them.”
Of course there is the game within the game between the two head coaches. There is plenty of familiarity between Capel and first-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer. The two coached together under hall of famer Mike Kryzewsk and both played for him during their college careers.
“I think we worked together for I think it was five years, and you just saw him become more confident and to grow and to get better,” Capel said of his coaching counterpart. “He’s a guy that wants to be really good. He’s passionate about what he does. When you look at the circumstances, you’re taking over for, look, I think he’s the greatest coach ever. There’s no more pressure than that. I think he’s handled everything in an unbelievable fashion.”
Pitt is 8-15 all-time against the Duke Blue Devils, and Capel himself is 1-4 against his alma mater. The Panthers will be looking a two-game losing streak to the Blue Devils when the teams take the court later today in Greensboro.
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