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Next Up - Pitt In The ACC Tournament

Things are about to get much more interesting.

 DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 11: Federiko Federiko (33) of the Pittsburgh Panthers defends Kyle Filipowski (30) of the Duke Blue Devils as he shoots the ball during a basketball game on January 11, 2023 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC.
Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Date 3/9 || Time 2:30 PM || Venue Greensboro Coliseum || Video ESPN2

As you may have seen before, we don’t always do full previews during tournament season, largely because the games come so fast. So we’re not going to do a full breakdown of the Duke-Pitt game on Thursday, rather something more like a survey or review.

Let’s start with Pitt’s game against Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets pushed Pitt pretty hard. At one point they turned the Panthers over there straight times. Pitt only had nine but it seemed like much more. Tech managed to put some pretty decent pressure on the Panthers.

But what really stands out is rebounding. Pitt has a lot more size than does Tech, which is really pretty small (and which again only played six guys).

Tech won the boards 34-33 overall but doubled up on O-boards at 12-6. Not surprisingly, given their physical style, Pitt got 25 trips to the line, converting 20.

Jamarius Burton hit 10-15 for 21 points but the big surprise was Federiko Federiko, who shot 7-7 for 19 points. He also had eight rebounds. And that’s really good, obviously, but context is key and Tech simply had no way to counter him.

In fact, it reminded us of Pitt’s trip to Durham earlier in the season when Duke dominated the inside. And this was a game when Dereck Lively came off the bench and still fouled out in 12 minutes.

Duke’s trio of big men combined for 14-26 from the floor for 41 points and 29 rebounds. Four blocks, too.

Toss in Mark Mitchell and you can add another 10 points and nine rebounds so: 51 points and 38 boards.

Jeremy Roach was out this game with his toe injury. Dariq Whitehead got the start and shot just 2-11 for six points while Tyrese Proctor shot 4-9, finishing with 14. Jacob Grandison got six more off the bench.

But fundamentally, if your big guys are getting 51 points and 38 boards and the other team I smaller, you have a pretty good idea of what happened - and even then, Duke won by just 77-69.

Over the last six games, Pitt is just 3-3, with wins over Georgia Tech and Syracuse in February, and of course Wednesday’s big win in Greensboro.

The losses came to Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Miami. Tech played well Wednesday and a good thing, because Tech played very well.

But they’re not necessarily trending great.

That’s not to say that they aren’t dangerous. Burton has been playing great and Nelly Cummings has played very well too. So has Greg Elliott, who shot 4-5 against Tech with four of those three pointers. Consider yourself warned.

Nike Sibande has been great off the bench too.

And we’re sure they’d like another shot at Duke after coming close in Cameron. However, this is not the same Duke team.

For one, Lively has completely transformed his game, and with it, Duke’s defense and, to a lesser extent, its offense.

Lively is long enough and smart enough to even worry as solid an inside player as Armando Bacot, who earlier compared him to a pogo stick.

He also gives Kyle Filipowski more freedom and Pitt has to cover both of those guys.

But just as importantly, if not more so, Jeremy Roach will play this time and he’s really come on lately. Having an experienced guard in the post-season is priceless.

And while we’ve seen immense growth from Tyrese Proctor, lately we’ve seen some nice advances from Mark Mitchell as well.

In short, Duke won in Durham and presents many more challenges now than it did then.

Does it matter?

Well, maybe.

As we like to say, mismatches go both ways and we’ve all seen time over the past several years where Duke’s size worked against it and the Devils were forced to go small.

And Pitt is certainly going to be motivated, not just by the loss in Durham, but by the lingering sense that its resume may not be good enough to get it into the tournament.

Duke is obviously favored - Draft Kings has Duke by -6 - but there is another important factor to consider, and that’s experience.

Jeff Capel has multiple guys with years of experience at various schools and best of all, some of them have had some hard knocks along the way. Duke is vastly improved, but freshmen are still freshmen.

Remember Mike Tyson’s great line? Everyone has a plan until they get hit.

Pitt is likely to play like cold-blooded assassins on Thursday. Duke had better be ready.