It’ll be a homecoming Tuesday evening for longtime Duke assistant and current Pittsburgh head coach Jeff Capel.
For the first time since leaving the Blue Devil program, Capel will return to Cameron Indoor Stadium, as the Panthers travel to Durham to face off against No. 9 Duke at 9 p.m. In the midst of a rough patch, Pittsburgh is seeking to regain some momentum, and a signature win against the Blue Devils would do just that.
"Jeff's outstanding," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He helped our program tremendously and helped us with USA basketball. He's not developing a team—he's developing a program, and you can see that in every aspect of what they're doing. His kids play hard and well, all the time. They're going in a really good direction."
After starting the season 11-3, Pittsburgh (13-7, 4-5 in the ACC) has struggled in 2020, winning three of seven games, two of which came against a historically bad North Carolina team. Most recently, the Panthers lost in a disappointing matchup on the road against Syracuse, their comeback bid falling short multiple times in the second half.
Duke (16-3, 6-2) has suffered its share of setbacks in the new year as well, dropping from the No. 3 team in the country to its current spot. But after blitzing Miami a week ago, the Blue Devils certainly seems in position to give the Panthers their second losing streak of the season and win their fifth straight in the series.
"It definitely helps to be able to see that we can be back to playing like that, back to hungry, back to playing with that energy and enthusiasm," sophomore point guard Tre Jones said on Duke's game against Miami and moving past the consecutive losses. "But also knowing that we can't come out and be lackadaisical and go back to how we were a few weeks ago when we dropped those couple games. We just have to be real with ourselves and know that it all depends on us and how we come out and play."
However, it would be unwise for the Blue Devils to discount the Panthers just yet. Pittsburgh returns four of its starters from a year ago and has four players averaging double figures. For the first time since joining the ACC, the Panthers beat North Carolina twice in the regular season and they’re surely looking to complete their sweep of Tobacco Road opponents Tuesday.
After losing to unranked Clemson two weeks ago, Duke's hopes of cruising through the ACC seem to have been dashed, especially with freshman forward Wendell Moore Jr. still out with a hand injury. If Pittsburgh wants a chance of winning, it will have to earn it at the foul line. Free throws have plagued the Blue Devils all season long, with the team ranking 11th in the ACC in free throw percentage. On the other hand, Pittsburgh ranks second in made free throws in the conference and No. 6 in free throw percentage.
The Panthers have a strong backcourt with Trey McGowens and Xavier Johnson, either of whom can drop 20-plus points on any given night. But with Jones, one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and Jordan Goldwire hounding the duo, Pittsburgh's frontcourt will need to come ready to play. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they lack depth inside, and if the Blue Devils can get big man Terrell Brown in foul trouble, Vernon Carey Jr. and Matthew Hurt should have no trouble attacking the paint, especially with a week of rest.
"You start just doing game plan defense and you get away from some of your fundamentals," Krzyzewski said of Duke's defense as of late. "I think we're fresher, we're healthier and we just got to get back on the horse and start riding again and get going."
Krzyzewski will look to continue his success against his former assistant coaches before heading up north to take on a streaking Syracuse team Saturday.
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