clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Next Up - Pitt

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 26: Duke Blue Devils Guard Trevor Keels (1) and Duke Blue Devils Forward Paolo Banchero (5) slap hands during the second half of the College Basketball game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Syracuse Orange on February 26, 2022, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • Date: 3/1
  • Time: 8:00
  • Venue: Petersen Events Center
  • Video: ACCN

The final road trip of the season sees Duke at Pitt with a chance to claim at least a share of the ACC regular season championship and the top seed in the ACC Tournament. Jeff Capel will likely welcome Mike Krzyzewski with another presentation and acknowledgement of his brilliant career and their close personal relationship. In Capel’s case, of course, it’s much more personal since he played and coached for Krzyzewski.

Capel tells a great story about his freshman year at Duke. He called his father, Jeff II, who of course was also a coach, and told him he was unhappy and thinking of transferring.

His dad arranged come to come down and took his son out to lunch, where Jeff explained that he was unhappy.

His dad, essentially, said let me get this straight. You’re the starting point guard on the #1 team in the country and you want to leave?

After straightening his son out, Capel II left the restaurant - and left his son with the bill. Capel tells it better than we ever good but you get the point and so did he.

Capel has struggled to turn Pitt around. This is his fourth year and he has yet to have had a winning season. And while you have to factor Covid in, you also have to factor in some high-level transfers. Au’Diese Toney is now at Arkansas. Trey McGowens is now at Nebraska. And Xavier Johnson is now at Indiana.

Last season, Toney and Johnson both came to a mutual agreement with Capel that things weren’t working and they left the team near the end of the season.

We weren’t aware of issues with Toney but Capel commented frequently on being frustrated with Johnson. We weren’t suprised that he left but the timing was unusual.

So far this year, Pitt is 11-18 and 6-12 in the ACC.

The Panthers are basically structured around 6-11 sophomore John Hugley, 6-4 senior Jamarius Burton and 6-5 sophomore Femi Odukale. Ithiel Horton, a 6-3 junior, rejoined the team recently after a suspension forced him to miss much of the season and he’s been a major asset for a struggling team. Mouhamadou Gueye is an effective shot blocker.

Hugley is 6-11 but also 280, which means he’s a load and the sort of big man who could give Mark Williams trouble inside.

He significantly outplayed Armando Bacot in Chapel Hill recently, fouled out Rodney Howard while hanging 18 on Georgia Tech and scored 20 in a loss to Miami.

Hugley, in other words, is a huge deal for Pitt.

Burton and Horton are primarily scoring guards and we’ve never once heard Capel complain about Johnson’s replacement at point guard, Odukale.

This is a good time to point out that while Capel does have a traditional center in Hugley, he has said that he thinks there’s only one position left in basketball: point guard.

He wants versatility and flexibility but Duke probably has more of it.

Williams is a still-slim classic low post shotblocker and his backup, Theo John, is a bulkier presence who, like Williams, spends most of his time in the lane.

Otherwise though?

Duke largely has the template Capel seeks. Paolo Banchero is 6-11 with guard skills. Wendell Moore, AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels can play all over. All four can handle the ball, drive and shoot. And while Jeremy Roach is smaller, he’s shown that he can penetrate effectively.

Duke is bigger, more versatile and probably better on both ends. So how does Pitt counter all that?

Well here’s how.

Jeff Capel, as much as anyone, knows what Mike Krzyzewski is likely to do during a game. He has years of daily experience. He even knows Krzyzewski’s body language.

In short, not only does he understand every weakness and trade off that Duke makes - and every team has some and makes some - he knows precisely how to cut Duke off at the knees.

The question is, can he do it with this group? Well his primary concern is likely turnovers. Only Louisville has more than Pitt’s 403 so far. Duke by comparison has 304. And in the last three games, the Panthers had 18 against UNC, 16 against Georgia Tech and 20 against Miami.

Capel knows full well what Duke will do with that many turnovers and that Pitt can’t hope to win if it has 18-20 against the Blue Devils.

But if Pitt limits turnovers, neutralizes Williams and can pressure Duke’s athletic wings? Then it has a real chance.