Men’s basketball takeaways | Sibande shines as sixth man, Panthers deserve national recognition


Hannah Wilson | Assistant Visual Editor

Junior forward Blake Hinson (2) celebrates during Pitt men’s basketball’s game against Louisville on Feb. 7.

By Jack Markowski , Staff Writer

Pitt men’s basketball defeated a pair of teams at the bottom of the ACC standings last week, defeating Louisville 91-57 and Florida State 83-75. The Panthers now stand at 18-7 overall, with an 11-3 record in conference play. 

Here are three takeaways from the two games. 

Interior presence key to Panthers’ success

The Panthers’ frontcourt depth and lack of experience was a concern toward the beginning of the season, following the announcement that junior forward John Hugley would miss the remainder of the season. However, sophomore center Federiko Federiko and first-year forward Guillermo Diaz Graham have stepped in and become invaluable parts of Pitt’s rotation and interior presence. 

Diaz Graham put up five blocks and Federiko recorded three blocks in the win against Louisville, showing off their shared rim-protecting prowess. First-year forward Jorge Diaz Graham got in on the action too, finishing the game with four blocks in 12 minutes of playing time. The Panthers came away with 13 blocks in total against the Cardinals, which is a single-game high for Pitt this season. 

The Panthers also limited Louisville to 10 points in the paint and a 27.6 shooting percentage, showing just how much of an impact the frontcourt had in dictating the outcome of the game. Pitt won the rebounding battle in both contests as well, building on a common trend for the Panthers that provides them with an upper hand against most opponents. 

The emergence of a formidable frontcourt duo in Federiko and Guillermo Diaz Graham has played a big role in Pitt’s turnaround this season and adds an extra dynamic to the roster that was previously missing. 

Sibande provides value as sixth man

Redshirt senior guard Nike Sibande suffered a season-ending injury early last season and returned this year to a bench role, which was somewhat of a new move for him. Sibande started at least 30 games in each of his three seasons at Miami Ohio, as well as half of his games at Pitt in the 2020-21 season. However, he has handled the move with grace and embraced his role as a much-needed scoring option and veteran presence as the Panthers’ sixth man. 

Sibande led all players in scoring against Louisville, as he scored 15 points, while connecting on four three-pointers. He got involved in other areas of the game as well, tallying five rebounds along with a block and steal. 

Sibande did not score against Florida State until the 7:24 mark of the second half, but he played a pivotal role in closing out the Seminoles by finishing the game with 12 points. His defense showed up once again too, as he led the team with two steals. 

An important factor in Pitt’s success thus far is the chemistry and selflessness that the roster exudes. The players are focused on winning and doing what is best for the team on any given night, and perhaps no one displays those qualities like Sibande does. He consistently plays hard and provides immense value off the bench every night in a situation where he could easily complain about a lack of starts. Players with that mindset do not come around too often, making Sibande’s presence vital to the Panthers. 

Pitt deserves national recognition

It feels as though the Panthers never truly received their flowers for the multitude of wins they earned over fellow NCAA tournament contenders. Whether it’s Virginia, Northwestern, Miami, NC State or North Carolina, Pitt owns a resumé that is among the best in college basketball. 

The metrics do not agree, though, as the Panthers currently sit at No. 51 in NET ratings and No. 58 in KenPom ratings. There are a host of reasons as to why this is the case, ranging from margin of victory along with a couple of bad losses earlier in the season. The notion that the ACC is having a “down year” also plays a part and is why Pitt’s wins over Louisville and Florida State were not received with much fanfare. 

Pitt, despite being favorably positioned, also did not earn a spot in the AP’s Top 25 poll this week. They finished No. 29 in the voting, while four teams they previously defeated ranked ahead of them. 

The Panthers can only focus on what they control, but they deserve recognition. They currently sit atop a Power 5 conference with less than a month remaining in the regular season and earned a number of impressive victories along the way. Pitt is a dangerous and talented NCAA tournament-level team, and those around the sport should take notice. 

Pitt will continue its ACC schedule against Boston College at home on Tuesday. Tipoff is at 9 p.m. and coverage will air on the ACC Network.