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Jeff Capel Previews Second Chance at Duke Blue Devils in ACC Tournament Quarterfinals



Jeff Capel before Pitt's ACC Tournament game vs. Georgia Tech in Greensboro, N.C. on March 8, 2023. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Jeff Capel is set to face a program he is very familiar with Thursday afternoon. The fifth-year Pitt head coach with face his alma mater Duke in the ACC Tournament Quarterfinals, where he played and coached alongside former Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski. 

Coach K retired after last season, leaving the program in the hands of former All-American and assistant Jon Scheyer. The Panthers and Blue Devils faced off at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 11. Duke recovered from a 43-32 halftime deficit to crush the Panthers 45-26 in the second half. Scheyer’s team stumbled following the win, going 4-4 over their next eight games. Duke has found its stride down the stretch, winning eight of its last 10 and defeating North Carolina twice. 

“It seemed like forever ago,” Capel said. “They’re really good. They’re probably the hottest team in the league. I think they’ve won six in a row. Those freshmen have grown up. Obviously, we know that they’re very, very talented. It’ll be a heck of a game. I think we’ve gotten better since we played them, too, so we’re excited about the challenge.”

Pitt has some issues to clean up defensively before battling the Blue Devils again less than 24 hours after an 89-81 victory over No. 13 Georgia Tech. 

“I thought we did a really good job understanding switch attacks a little bit better, understanding defensive schemes, and understanding where to attack,” Capel said. “I feel like that first time playing against them, we were just getting our feet wet in that area, and since then we’ve been able to grow and get better as a team.”

The No. 5 seed Panthers have grown through toughness and veteran talent including All-ACC players in Jamarius Burton (First Team) and Blake Hinson (Second Team) plus the ACC Sixth Man of the Year, Nike Sibande. 

“We’ve had unbelievable leadership with J.B., with Nelly, with Greg, with Nike,” Capel said. “Those guys have been the leaders of our basketball team. J.B. has been the voice of our team. They’ve just come together. They’ve fought. We’ve been through adversity. It didn’t start the way we thought it would. But we kept fighting.”

“I think some things that we’ve gotten better since that matchup is just expectations and helping them just get better week by week,” Burton said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence. Obviously, they’re really talented. They’ve always been talented, but they’ve grown up because they’ve taken some lumps and they’ve stayed together.”

The ACC Coach of the Year, Capel mentioned needing to be stronger on the offensive glass against Duke after losing the offensive rebounding battle 12-6 to Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils are the ACC’s best offensive-rebounding team (12.6), a full rebound ahead of second-place NC State (11.6). Pitt was destroyed by Duke on the boards in the first matchup, being outrebounded 47-25 and 20-7 on the offensive boards. 

“Those guys have gotten better,” Capel said. “There’s a lot of expectations and pressure on Jon, on the guys in that program, and I think he and his staff have done a really good job of managing that, managing expectations and helping them just get better week by week.”

Capel credits Scheyer for the way he’s taken over the program as his own and not sitting in the shadow left by the winningest coach in college basketball history. 

“I think we worked together for I think it was five years, and you just saw him become more confident and to grow and to get better,” Capel said. “He’s a guy that wants to be really good. He’s passionate about what he does. When you look at the circumstances, you’re taking over for — look, I think he’s the greatest coach ever. There’s no more pressure than that. I think he’s handled everything in an unbelievable fashion.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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