Pitt Needs More From Frontcourt

PITTSBURGH — The Pitt Panthers were struggling mightily in the first half against Canisius. The Golden Griffins burned them for more first half points than any opponent had all year, they outrebounded the Panthers and even won second chance points. 

Pitt turned things around in the second half and put some lipstick on a very ugly win down the stretch but their first half performance revealed what’s been a glaring issue for this team for the past three weeks – their frontcourt players. These issues were more acceptable or understandable against the giants Florida fielded but the lack of improvement since then is not and it’s time for the Panthers to consider some changes. 

Jeff Capel’s word of the day in his postgame press conference was “force”, a catch-all term for playing with aggression, poise, strength and precision all at the same time. Some members of Pitt’s backcourt needed to learn how to do that earlier in the season and now the frontcourt is catching up to a lesson that should have been learned long ago. 

“I think we were ready to play but we just didn’t have the same force to start the game and really throughout,” Capel said. 

“Force” is something Federiko provided expertly last season. With so many scorers around him, the job was fairly straightforward. He simply had to finish plays and provide some muscle in the paint. This year, Federiko’s been anything but the strong presence he was in 2022-23 – a near non-factor on the glass and sub-par finisher And the Diaz Graham twins – particularly Guillermo – despite putting on some weight this offseason, are still getting pushed around far too easily at this juncture. They’ve shown some flashes as shooters and scorers, but not as defenders or rebounders. 

These struggles in the frontcourt aren’t new and the unfortunate thing is that these familiar issues are all-encompassing and cannot be easily solved by a simple lineup change. Federiko and the Diaz Graham twins have to simply play better. 

But even stuck between a rock and a hard place, the best bet for Pitt moving forward seems clear. If Federiko isn’t going to provide the kind of strong interior defense, consistent rebounding and finishing around the rim that he did last year and during the first two weeks of the season, Guillermo Diaz Graham has to start. Until Federiko plays better, someone else needs to be in the starting lineup. 

Diaz Graham shouldn’t be expected to provide any kind of significant upgrade in terms of defense and rebounding, but he would at least give the Panthers a more consistent offensive threat and a diverse player who could stretch the floor and open lanes for Pitt’s outstanding guards and Blake Hinson. 

To his credit, Federiko did play a much better second half. He played his role in Pitt’s zone defense expertly, scored four points, grabbed an offensive rebound and dealt an assist all after halftime, but it’s that same fact that makes his struggles all the more frustrating. Federiko is capable of being a true top-tier defensive and rebounding force in the ACC but simply hasn’t played that way. 

The Panthers survived with sub-par play from their big men this time, but as the Florida game and other moments have proven, these flaws could prove fatal when the level of competition takes a step up. Pitt may not have a perfect solution right now, but something different must be done at some point, either by Capel or the players. 

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