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Next Up - Pitt

As Jeff Capel makes his first trip to Cameron with his Panthers

Miami v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 21: Tre Jones #3 of the Duke Blue Devils talks to his teammates in the huddle against the Miami (Fl) Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 21, 2020 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Jeff Capel brings his Pitt Panthers to Cameron on Tuesday and that means, to a large but not total extent, a mirror image of Duke’s approach.

  • Time: 9:00
  • Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
  • Video: ESPN

Pitt comes at you with a lot of solid athletes and they will try to push you around on defense.

The problem for Pitt - well there are three really. The first is that the offense isn’t quite there yet. The second is they’re fairly small. And the third? Simply time. Capel is building a program and his players are mostly quite young and don’t always know what to do. But they are talented.

Pitt’s sophomore backcourt of Xavier Johnson (6-3) and Tre McGowens (6-4) has turned out to be really good. Johnson had some struggles early this season but has settled into a solid groove.

The first guard off the bench is junior college transfer Ryan Murphy (6-2) and he’s third in minutes behind Johnson and McGowens.

He’s from Calabasas, California by the way, the town where Kobe Bryant’s helicopter tragically went down Sunday.

Justin Champagnie, whose twin brother plays for St. John’s, has been a revelation. The 6-6 freshman is a terrific all-around player. He’s really the role model for the kind of players Capel wants. He’s versatile, strong and tough. He’s also a tough matchup for Duke right now.

Au’Diese Toney (6-6 sophomore) is in a similar mold. He’s also versatile and tough and a solid defender.

Big men Terrell Brown and Eric Hamilton round out the main rotation. We could be wrong here but we think Brown (6-10 junior) is the last significant player recruited by Capel’s predecessor Kevin Stallings. There are a couple of other guys - Kene Chukwuka, a 6-9 Swede who is out after hip surgery and Sampson George, who hasn’t been much of a factor.

Brown is a legitimate shotblocker, getting nearly two per game.

Hamilton is a grad student transfer who has been useful but hasn’t made a huge statistical impact.

To be clear, this is a team with solid athleticism but with some limitations. Pitt at times shoots well; at other times it doesn’t. Size is an issue, at least on offense: Brown and Hamilton average about 10 points between them and about seven rebounds. No one else is close to being a big presence inside.

As Capel learned at Duke, you can overcome poor offense with great defense. Not necessarily the way Tony Bennett does it at Virginia, but with transition offense. If you can turn a team over and get fast breaks, your offensive limitations are much less, well, limiting.

Duke is going to be favored in this game but there are a few things to keep in mind: first, Capel knows the playbook. He doesn't just know that but he knows the emotional programming of the team. He’ll have a good idea of what Coach K will say if he calls an angry timeout and what to expect. He’ll intuitively understand how he’s trying to motivate Duke. He’ll know if and when Duke is about to go on a big run.

He’s seen it all before as a player and an assistant. So nothing will be new for him.

Second, Champagnie is a really dangerous opponent. He’s athletic, he rebounds well, and he attacks. He’s got lots of energy. Add him to the guards and Pitt has some dangerous components.

This is another game where Duke could really use Wendell Moore because he’s a natural defender for Champagnie but unfortunately he’s still recovering from his finger injury.

On the other hand, as ACC competition has ramped up life has predictably gotten more difficult for Vernon Carey. He may get a bit of a break as Pitt is a smaller team.

Duke is going to be favored and Pitt is a year or two away from where Capel is heading, but make no mistake: the Panthers are not consistent yet but they are dangerous to anyone.