Men’s basketball takeaways | Sibande excels, rebounding needs improvement


Colleen Nguyen | Staff Photographer

Sophomore center Federiko Federiko (23) dunks the ball during Pitt men’s basketball’s game against Tennessee Martin on Nov. 7, 2022.

By Jermaine Sykes, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt traveled south for ACC contests against Duke and Georgia Tech last week. The Panthers fell to Duke 77-69 and defeated the Yellow Jackets 71-60, moving them to 5-2 in ACC play this season. 

Here are my takeaways from Pitt’s two-game road trip.

Sibande excels, but bench needs help

Senior guard Nike Sibande found his rhythm over the two game road trip. Sibande scored 11 points against the Blue Devils, and followed that up with a season high 21 against the Yellow Jackets. 

Sibande is the Panthers’ sixth man, and his 7.3 points per game is crucial for the Panthers’ offense. 

The problem is that Sibande is the only bench scorer for the Panthers offense. Excluding Sibande, the Panthers bench unit scored just five points across both contests, which isn’t sustainable in the long term.

The lack of bench scoring means head coach Jeff Capel has to give big minutes to his starting lineup and Sibande. Smaller lineups are typical for Capel-led teams, but this year it feels like he has no choice but to run a short lineup.

The Panthers’ success to start the season is on the backs of their starting lineup and Sibande. The Panthers will need other players to step up off the bench down the stretch, and potentially in the postseason.

Dominant bigs will have their way with the Panthers

Dominant frontcourts are the Panthers’ kryptonite. The interior of this year’s Panthers defense is a question mark.

Duke first-year center Kyle Filipowski had his way with the Panthers, scoring 28 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. First-year center Dereck Lively added another six points and four rebounds in just 12 minutes.

Pitt sophomore center Federiko Federiko didn’t have his best performance against the Blue Devils, scoring just four points and grabbing four rebounds. His minutes were cut because of foul trouble.

The Panthers used first-year center Guillermo Diaz Graham as backup center. But despite his 7’0” height, he also struggled against the Blue Devils frontcourt, fouling out in just 13 minutes.

In comparison to their experienced teammates, Federiko and Diaz Graham are inexperienced. Yet, the Panthers don’t have any other centers on the roster, meaning the young duo must take advantage of their playing time and provide a spark to the team’s physical presence. The Panthers have the No. 90 ranked defense in terms of efficiency. To improve, they have to tighten up the interior.

But not only are the Panthers allowing opposing bigs to score, but they’re also giving them second, and sometimes third, chances at doing so.

The Panthers allowed the Yellow Jackets to grab 14 offensive rebounds, while they grabbed just six offensive rebounds themselves. They put in an even worse performance against Duke. The Blue Devils grabbed a season-high 24 offensive rebounds, while the Panthers grabbed nine.

The frontcourt can’t be a liability on defense and on the boards in the future. Federiko and Diaz Graham are the team’s only real options at center — regardless of which player head coach Jeff Capel chooses, the Panthers need increased production from both players.

Cummings stepping up as third scorer

Graduate student guard Nelly Cummings added necessary scoring to the Panthers lineup during the road trip. His 14 points against Duke, followed with 11 against the Yellow Jackets, marked two consecutive games scoring in the double digits.

Cummings is a streaky scorer for the Panthers, since prior to last week’s road trip Cummings posted three consecutive contests under double digits.

The Panthers need Cummings to step up as a third scorer. Junior forward Blake Hinson and graduate student guard Jamarius Burton are interchangeably the Panthers’ first and second scoring options. 

Comparatively, Burton has scored double digits in all but one game, and Hinson has in 16 straight games. 

Consistency from the third option is necessary for success down the stretch of the season, and with junior center John Hugley out for the remainder of the season, the Panthers need Cummings to rise to the occasion. Performances like Duke and Georgia Tech are a good sign.

The Panthers continue their road trip with a contest against Louisville on Wednesday. Fans can watch on the ACC Network at 7 p.m.