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Next Up - Pitt

Pittsburgh v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 28: Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils embraces head coach Jeff Capel III of the Pittsburgh Panthers before their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 28, 2020 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

A few days ago this Duke-Pitt game probably looked pretty different. Duke was missing Jalen Johnson and Pitt was missing Justin Champagnie. And then Pitt just destroyed Syracuse ten days after a three point win over the Orange.

So whatever people thought about this game is not what it’s likely to be.

  • Date: 1/19
  • Time: 9:00
  • Venue: Petersen Events Center
  • Video: ESPN

Champagnie, who missed time the old fashioned way, with an injury, was sensational against Syracuse, scoring 24 points, without taking a three pointer, and grabbing 16 rebounds, six of them offensive.

Basically he got a fourth of Pitt’s points and a third of Pitt’s boards. That’s a sensational night by any standard.

And the rest of Pitt’s team is also pretty tough. As we’ve pointed out for some time now, Capel has assembled a roster of very athletic, versatile players. Really only Xavier Johnson is limited to one position, at point, and that’s because Capel believes that’s the only distinct position left in basketball.

Au’Diese Toney, a 6-6 junior, has matured into a really nice player. He’s a solid defender and he’s putting up 15.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 2.4 apg. Capel can use him in a ton of ways.

Champagnie is getting 18.7 ppg, 12.9 rpg and 1.9 apg. Did we mention that he’s just 6-6 and 200 lbs? The guy is really something else. His twin, Julian, plays for St. John’s, incidentally.

Johnson, a 6-3 junior, is also averaging double figures at 1.5.1 ppg. He’s also pulling down 4.4 boards and 5.6 apg.

Ithiel Horton is a transfer from Delaware where he was a teammate with Virginia Tech’s Justyn Mutts, has provided some much-needed outside shooting.

Abdoul Karim Coulibaly is a 6-9 sophomore who we were told would turn out and he’s on track: he’s not scoring or rebounding tons but he’s defending and giving Pitt size it needed last year when he was a struggling freshman. If he continues to develop, he’ll be a very good college player.

William Jeffress, Nike Sibande and Femi Odukale round out the rotation. John Hugley was in it but his legal problems may force him out of Pitt permanently.

Sibande has only played in two games but the transfer from Miami of Ohio is capable, having lit up Buffalo for 31 when he was at Miami. He was also a bit of cause célèbre when his application for a waiver was denied.

So Pitt’s not going to be an easy nut to crack. However, with a guy like Champagnie you can take two approaches. You can throw everything you have at him and run the risk of someone else beating you or you can try and shut down everyone else and not worry so much about the star.

That’s what Duke did with Len Bias and Rodney Rogers and it worked.

Champagnie may be heading that way but he’s not quite there yet. And Duke has a couple of options to deal with him, starting with Wendell Moore.

Moore has taken a lot of criticism this season but his defense and rebounding have been consistently good even as his offense has struggled. He’s almost ideally suited to take on Champagnie.

And of course Jalen Johnson is back.

His career has been really fragmented so far. He was phenomenal in his first game, less so in the next three then sat out from December 8th until he played four minutes against Virginia Tech last Tuesday.

So he’s a wild card right now. However, he’s had a week to work and to get himself back up to speed and he’s a game and team changer.

Champagnie will obviously be the focus but there’s much more to Pitt than one player. And Duke has had an unfortunate tendency to start slow this season.

In order to win this game, Duke is going to have to deal with Pitt’s ability to apply pressure, both offensively and defensively and can’t afford to fall behind again.

However, it’s not just Johnson who’s had a week to prepare. Duke has had that time to work together to prepare for Pitt as a team and that can’t hurt.

And while Johnson may not be fully up to speed, the guy is an outstanding basketball player and a brilliant passer. And the great thing about great passers is they make the game so much easier for their teammates.

At his best, Johnson can be a force multiplier for Duke. And even at a minimum, he makes the rotation deeper and gives Duke a bit more size. And speaking of more size, it’s possible that Patrick Tapé plays as well.