Jeff Capel, Pitt Excited to Return to Greensboro, Battle Iowa State in First Round
GREENSBORO, N.C. – The Panthers are back in Greensboro. Pitt returns to North Carolina one week after the ACC Tournament inside the Greensboro Coliseum and advanced to the Quarterfinals before losing to Duke. This time Iowa State and the NCAA Tournament await, fresh off of a one-point, First Four victory against Mississippi State (60-59) to clinch a spot in the Round of 64.
“Excited to be back in Greensboro,” head coach Jeff Capel said. “Excited to be part of the Big Dance. It’s been a heck of a week for us already after a really emotional and hard-fought game in Dayton against a good Mississippi State team, and we’re excited to play against a very good Iowa State team.”
Capel addressed Federiko Federiko’s status as day-to-day with a knee injury after missing the Mississippi State win. Federiko did not dress for practice Thursday but took light shots.
Jeff Capel described Federiko as day-to-day. He is in sweats at practice today but taking some light shots. pic.twitter.com/K5WsndsBJO
— Austin Bechtold (@AustinRBechtold) March 16, 2023
The Cyclones have not played since March 10, falling to Kansas by 13 points in the Big 12 Tournament. Pitt, on the other hand, looks to build momentum after securing one of the program’s biggest wins in recent history. The experience could also create a sense of calmness for the Panthers compared to other teams not experiencing the environment and atmosphere of March Madness.
Hopefully it will,” Capel said. “We have a game under our belt already, so hopefully the nerves will be out. Obviously, for some of our guys, it was their first time. Even for the guys that have been here, with the exception of Nelly, this was their first-time kind of maybe in a lead role in the NCAA tournament. Even if you have been here, even if you have played in it, when you get out there for the first time in another season, it’s anxious. You’re anxious.
“We have that under our belt. Hopefully, we can still have the same excitement. I know we’ll have that, but we can settle in a little bit quicker.”
In preparation for Iowa State, Capel pointed to their efforts on the defensive end. The Cyclones allow only 62.8 points per game while the Panthers average over 75 points each time on the floor.
“They are outstanding defensively,” Capel said. “They’re very physical. They’re very disciplined. They play with great energy. They’re unbelievably connected on that side of the basketball. You can tell that’s their identity and that’s what they hang their hat on.”
The meeting marks the second time Pitt and Iowa State face off – Pitt won 81-65 in 1981 – while Capel is 6-1 all-time in his coaching career against the Cyclones.
“They rotate well. They defend the basketball well,” Capel said. “Their ball screen defense, their bigs are athletic. They’re energetic, just the physicality in which they play with. That’s what makes them one of the better defensive teams in the country.”
Capel said the Panthers are fortunate to have an extra day of rest and not be playing on Thursday, the opposite of Texas A&M Corpus Christi who played before Pitt on Tuesday.
Blake Hinson will take the floor for the first time against Iowa State since leaving the program prior to the 2021-22 season and not playing the year before due to a medical issue. Capel has not addressed any specifics with Hinson regarding his former program.
“I really haven’t. You know, it’s interesting. I don’t think young people are as emotional about this stuff as we maybe adults are. They’re able to move on very, very quickly and turn the page,” Capel said. “So for us it’s Pitt against Iowa State. It’s not Blake against Iowa State or Iowa State against Blake.”
Playing in the Round of 64 for the first time in seven years, the Panthers remain focused on the task at hand rather than reflecting on what they accomplished. Capel knows the time will come when the reality of Pitt’s achievements will remain in focus, sitting back to appreciate the growth and development to put the Panthers back on the map of the national tournament stage.
“When you are in the midst of it and you are still going, you focus on the next thing that’s in front of you,” Capel said. “One of the things I’ve talked about is right now we have to remove all the rearview mirrors. We’re just looking straight out the front and what’s ahead of us. When we’re finished, and hopefully it’s a while before we’re finished, then we’ll have time to look behind us and talk about what we’ve accomplished.”