Preview | Federiko, Burton stellar in victory over Georgia Tech, must stay sharp against Duke


AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Pittsburgh center Federiko Federiko blocks a shot by Georgia Tech forward Javon Franklin during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, Wednesday, March 8, 2023, in Greensboro, N.C.

By Jermaine Sykes, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt men’s basketball (22-10, 14-6 ACC) rebounded well on Tuesday after a tough final week of the regular season. The Panthers defeated the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second round of the ACC tournament, which gives them an opportunity to avenge their loss against Duke (23-8, 14-6 ACC) and boost their NCAA tournament resume even further.

Here are some takeaways from the Tuesday matchup.

Federiko Federiko’s performed perfectly vs GT, but needs a repeat

Sophomore center Federiko Federiko is known for his defensive rim protection, ranking No. 3 in the ACC in blocks per game with 1.8. But on Tuesday, his offensive display played a considerable role in the Panthers’ 89-81 victory against the Yellow Jackets.

Federiko scored 19 points on perfect 7-7 shooting. Despite only playing 26 minutes, Federiko ranked second for the Panthers in scoring behind graduate student guard Jamarius Burton. Federiko only averages 7.1 points per game, which ranks No. 7 on the Panthers. 

The defensive game plan for the Yellow Jackets focused on the perimeter, and the Panthers only made seven three-pointers because of it. But GT’s gameplan suffered in the paint, giving Federiko ample scoring chances.

But Pitt will once again need Federiko on Wednesday, with a tough matchup vs Duke first-year center Kyle Filipowski. The young center torched the Panthers in their last matchup, with 28 points and 15 rebounds. Federiko suffered from foul trouble and played just 23 minutes, leaving Filipowski without a defensive counter for most of the contest.

For the Panthers to avenge their loss, Federiko must put in one of his best offensive and defensive performances of the season.

The Panthers can’t get comfortable

The Panthers’ win over Georgia Tech gave them win No. 22 of the season. Pitt boasts an impressive resume, but ESPN analyst and bracketologist Joe Lunardi still had them on the bubble heading into the ACC tournament.

While the win may boost the Panthers’ chances of making the NCAA tournament, it is no guarantee. The Yellow Jackets finished the regular season as the No. 13 ranked team in the ACC and the No. 176 team according to the NET. The Panthers only defeated them by eight.

An ACC tournament win is still meaningful, but their performance against Georgia Tech won’t make a big difference in the selection committee’s opinion of the Panthers. 

A win over No. 21 Duke on the other hand would make all the difference. 

Duke is a blue blood of college basketball and finished the regular season ranked No. 4 in the ACC. A win in Greensboro over the Blue Devils would just about lock the Panthers into the NCAA tournament. 

Burton continues to lead the Panthers

Burton’s 21 points against the Yellow Jackets led the Panthers, and his consistency is what drives the team week in and week out. Burton scored in double digits in both halves against the Yellow Jackets and he was the only player on either team to do so. A successful and-one with 1:23 left gave the Panthers a seven point lead and daggered the Yellow Jackets.

Burton’s 15.7 points per game rank No. 2 on the Panthers behind junior forward Blake Hinson. But Burton’s game is less about volume and more about reliability. Burton scored less than 10 points only three times all season. 

A team-leading 50% field goal percentage shows why Burton is reliable for the Panthers, and is a big reason why voters awarded him All-ACC first-team honors.

In their last matchup against Duke, Burton’s 16 points led the Panthers. Others will need to step up, but if the Panthers defeat the Blue Devils, Burton will undoubtedly play a key factor in the victory.

Pitt vs Duke is a key game for both head coaches’ careers

ACC coach of the year Jeff Capel led the Panthers to a surprising season. After an offseason full of roster turnover and questions about his job security, many expected that 2022-23 would be Capel’s last in Pittsburgh. 

While he’s largely silenced critics, Capel can make a statement with a win over his alma mater and former employer, Duke. 

A win for Duke head coach Jon Scheyer in his first season as head coach could be an early testament to his coaching prowess. The Blue Devils took a step back from last year’s Final Four team, which analysts expected after the retirement of legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the loss of star players to the NBA. Still, Duke is Duke, and coach Scheyer has huge shoes to fill. 

Both Scheyer and Capel played at Duke and were assistants to Kzyrzewski, and now they face one another in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. 

Fans can watch the Panthers and Blue Devils battle on ESPN at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday.