Pitt (7-2, 3-1 ACC) is looking for a huge victory Tuesday night at home, where they will be taking on blue-blood, conference-foe Duke. With a win tonight, the Panthers would move to 4-1 in the ACC and pick up a huge resume-building win.
Here are five things to know to get you prepared for Tuesday night’s 9 p.m. tipoff on ESPN from Petersen Events Center.
COACH K DOMINATES HIS FORMER ASSISTANTS
Mike Krzyzewski has been known to develop players like none other, with lots of them going on to play in the pros and/or become coaches.
Lots of his former assistants have become college coaches and have faced off against their former head coach. However, they have not had the best of luck. Coach K currently has a record of 26-5 against his former assistants, including a 3-0 record against Pitt assistant Tim O’Toole when he was head coach at Fairfield.
Against Jeff Capel-coached Pitt teams, Krzyzewski is 2-0. The two never faced off against each other when Capel was the head coach at VCU or Oklahoma but now are in the same conference and take each other on every season.
“He has impacted my life, just me as a man, besides my father, more than anyone,” Capel said about the legendary Krzyzewski. “A lot of the principles that I try to live my life by are some of the things that I learned in my time there as a player. I learned a lot more when I went back there in my time as a coach. But I don’t know if it relates to game-to-game or practices and things like that. There are some things that are, but there are some things that are unique to me. That comes from when I was 27 years old and I got the job at VCU and it was my first job, I’d been coaching for two years and one of the best pieces of advice I got was from him. He said don’t try to be me, don’t try to be your dad, be you and who you are is good enough. I’ve tried to do that and I think I’ve gotten better as the years have gone along and I’ve gained experience in this profession and just gained experiences as a man, but he’s had an incredible influence on my life and continues to have an incredible influence on my life.”
VEGAS LIKES THE BLUE DEVILS BY A SLIM MARGIN
The line for this primetime matchup opened at Duke (-2.5) across most sites. However, since then it has moved to Duke (-4.5) according to popular betting service BetOnline.
Pitt is 6-3 against the spread on the season, a 66% mark. After starting 0-2 ATS to start the season, the Panthers have covered in six of their last seven games. Duke, on the other hand, has struggled to cover this season, starting off 1-7 against the spread in its first eight games.
If you are more of a moneyline guy, Pitt is currently set at (+170) to win the game straight up. In the last five contests between the schools, Duke has won all five. However, the Panthers have won seven of their last eight games and are having their best start to a season in the Jeff-Capel era.
The over/under is currently hovering around 144 points. Pitt is averaging 73.7 points per game and allowing an average of 65.3 points per game. In Saturday’s win over Syracuse, the Panthers threw that average out the door, scoring 64 points in the second half alone en route to a 96-76 home victory.
CHAMPAGNIE BACK, BETTER THAN EVER
Back on Dec. 22, Pitt announced that it would be without sophomore wing Justin Champagnie for 6-8 weeks due to a knee injury suffered in practice. Following that initial 6-8 week timetable, Champagnie would miss up to 12 games. Due to multiple postponements stemming from COVID-19 issues within Pitt and its opponents programs, Champagnie had only missed two games going into Saturday.
Just hours before tip-off in its second straight game against Syracuse, Pitt men’s basketball posted a photo of Champagnie in the locker room preparing for the game. Unbelievably, Champagnie had already healed and was ready to take the floor against the Orange. He ended up starting, and well, finishing too.
In the zone. pic.twitter.com/a4YLM3gmTK
— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) January 16, 2021
“It was exhilarating,” he said about his return. “I was just really happy to be back and get on the floor on my guys and just be out there with them. Pregame, I was just, I don’t know, I had the weirdest amount of energy, couldn’t stop speaking, couldn’t stop dribbling around, so it was just really exciting for me to get back out there and be out there with my guys.”
The Brooklyn native played 34 minutes, scoring 24 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Champagnie, with three emphatic dunks, proved that he was back.
“When I got the first dunk, I said, oh, I’m back,” he said after the game. “That’s exactly what I said when I dunked the ball. I said, ‘Oh, I’m back.’”
Champagnie is certainly making his case for ACC Player of the Year, averaging 18.7 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. He is shooting 49% from the field and leads the team in rebounds by more than 40 even after missing two games. It appears that his knee is at full health, and, as Champagnie said postgame, he never expected to be out for long.
“No,” Champagnie said when asked if he thought he would be out the entire 6-8 weeks. “I said, I’ve got two or three weeks out. After that, they aren’t keeping me out any more. I have to go play. I felt good, my knee felt good.”
MATTHEW HURT POSES DIFFICULT MATCHUP FOR PITT
Leading the Blue Devils in scoring this season has been sophomore forward Matthew Hurt. The 6-foot-9 playmaker is averaging 19.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Hurt is leading the team in 3-point field goal percentage, shooting at a 44% mark from downtown.
Last season, Hurt struggled mostly on the defensive end and with rebounding. However, he has made improvements in both categories this season and has entered his name into the ACC Player of the Year conversation. He possesses very soft touch and a smooth shooting stroke which he utilizes beyond the arc and in the high post where he occasionally camps out. While Duke has not played with a true big man this season, Hurt does give them a height advantage over the Panthers.
Guarding both Hurt and Johnson will be tough for the Panthers, as neither of the two are really inside threats but both stand at 6-foot-9. Wing Au’Diese Toney will likely have to handle Hurt while Champagnie will look to neutralize the recently-injured Johnson. Abdoul-Karim Coulibaly’s strong defensive play this season will also be needed tonight as he could play a big role on switches and screen hedges while holding down the inside.
Another key defender for the Panthers this season has been freshman Noah Collier. At 6-foot-8, he possesses size and a defensive skill set that will undoubtedly earn him minutes in games like this.
PITT NEEDS HORTON, GUARDS TO GET HOT FROM OUTSIDE
In last Saturday’s win against Syracuse, Pitt had three players score more than 18 points each, including redshirt sophomore guard Ithiel Horton. Horton, known as a strong 3-point shooter before transferring to Pitt, found his stroke recently after a slow start to the season and went 5 for 10 from deep against the Orange, finishing with 20 points.
If Pitt wants to take down Duke, it will most certainly need outside production on the offensive end. While Champagnie, Toney, and Johnson all excel at getting to the rim and scoring second-chance points in the paint, this team does not have a big man that can score the ball often.
After freshman center John Hugley was suspended indefinitely due to three felony charges against him, Coulibaly and Terrell Brown remain as pretty much the only big men on the roster that have played solid minutes this year. Neither one of those two has scored more than eight points in a game this season.
So with that being said, look for Horton and Johnson on the wings tonight to light up the score sheet. Johnson is currently having a solid year offensively, averaging 15.1 points per game and shooting 40% from three. He has made some huge shots down the stretch in games against Northwestern and Syracuse, and will look to do more of the same in tonight’s matchup against Duke.