HomeSportsPanther-Lair - Pitt faces tough test against Duke in ACC quarterfinals

Panther-Lair – Pitt faces tough test against Duke in ACC quarterfinals

Pitt got its feet wet in 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 much better about their odds of making 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 advance to the quarterfinal round, where they would face the fourth-seeded Duke Blue Devils.

The challenge facing the Panthers on Thursday is even bigger than the one we saw on Wednesday, and that certainly makes sense for this team. Pitt had little time to enjoy the victory over the Yellow Jackets, as attention immediately turned to Duke’s preparation.

Pitt played Duke on January 11, with the Blue Devils defeating the Panthers 77–69 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. However, it was a game of sorts, with Pitt leading 43–32 at half time. The Panthers had opportunities to extend the advantage, but a long scoring drought allowed Duke to pull ahead.

Capel was asked at Wednesday’s postgame press conference about that first meeting and how the two teams have been different since the opening January game in Durham.

“Yeah, it seemed like forever ago,” Capel recalled 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 games in a row. Those new guys have grown up. Obviously we know they’re very talented. It’s going to be a game I think we’ve gotten better since playing with him, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Duke was picked in the preseason as the No. 7 team in the nation. The Blue Devils gained that notoriety because once again, they brought in a top-flight recruiting class. Despite high expectations, there were some mishaps along the way, and Duke fell short of 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.

However, the Blue Devils have strung together down the stretch, and are back in the AP Top 25 after winning six consecutive games, including a road win over North Carolina to close out the regular season on Saturday. Duke freshman center, Kyle Filippoki, 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 against North Carolina’s Armando Bacote.

The Blue Devils are also getting some hot play from junior guard Jeremy Roach. He missed the first meeting against Pitt due to injury, but has been very productive as of late, including a 19-point and 11-assist performance against Virginia Tech on February 25.

Duke appears to be clicking much of late and is a much better team than what Pitt saw in early January. The Panthers also seem to have improved since then. At the time of that first Duke game, Pitt was in the early stages of asserting itself as a team, but managed to stay in the conference title race throughout the season.

Pitt guard Jamerius Burton led his team with 21 points and 8 assists in a win over Georgia Tech yesterday. He feels the Panthers have improved a lot since their first meeting with Duke.

Burton said, “I think a few things have improved since that matchup, understanding the switch attack a little bit better, understanding defensive schemes and understanding where to attack.” “I feel like playing against them for the first time, we were getting our feet wet in that area, and since then we’ve been able to grow and get better as a team.”

To beat Duke, Pitt will need a better effort in the rebounding department. The Panthers allowed 24 offensive rebounds to Duke in the first meeting, a problem that persisted for this team throughout the year. In Wednesday’s second round game, Pitt allowed 12 offensive boards. This is an area where Capel knows his team has improved for today.

“Look, that’s why they beat us at our 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 shooting the basketball in their 30s, and that with over 20 offensive rebounds Is. We have to be better there if we want a chance against them.”

Of course there is a game within a game between the two head coaches. There is much familiarity between Capel and first-year Duke coach John Shearer. The two coached together under Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewska, and both played for him during their college careers.

“I think it was five years we worked together, I think, and you saw him become more confident and grow and get better,” Capel said of his coaching counterpart. “He’s a guy who really wants to be good. He’s passionate about what he does. When you look at the circumstances, you look, look, I think he’s the greatest coach ever. There is no more pressure than that, I think he has handled everything in an unbelievable way.

Pitt is 8-15 all-time against the Duke Blue Devils, and Capel himself is 1-4 against his alma mater. When the teams take the court in Greensboro today, the Panthers will be looking to snap two games in a row against the Blue Devils.



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