Fede Federiko is the Game Changer that Pitt Needed

Photo credit: The Toronto Star

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The cliché for a basketball team like the 2022-23 Pitt Panthers is that they "live and die by the 3".  We've heard it a hundred times just this season and we'll hear it a hundred times more, especially if Pitt makes an ACC or NCAA Tournament run.  And it's not the cliché I have a problem with, because it's true.  Pitt does truly live and die by the 3-pointer this season.  However, what really makes this Pitt team stand out to me is the improvement of sophomore big man, Federiko Federiko, otherwise known as just "Fede".

A lot of teams can be characterized by their ability to shoot from beyond the arc.  Pitt is up there with some of the best, but there are certainly better.  Pitt has been great at 3-point shooting all season.  What the Panthers lacked, however, and I pointed it out in a well-received blog on January 13th, was any inside presence.  

When John Hugley was unable to overcome a lingering injury, it left a huge hole in the offense.  Hugley was one of the best centers/power forwards in the ACC last season, and certainly the best player for Pitt.  His impact is illustrated nearly every commercial break when the Panthers play on the ACC Network, with a video of him dunking.  

Hugley was very effective under the basket for Pitt last season.  And it's not like Fede, or head coach Jeff Capel, knew that Hugley would miss this season and had an entire offseason to prepare.  They really didn't know for sure until Hugley announced in early January he wouldn't be playing the rest of the season.

Earlier in the season, Hugley's absence was greatly felt.  Pitt was literally living and dying by the 3-pointer with their absolute inability to do anything inside the paint.  Fede and the Diaz-Graham twins were getting bullied underneath and the Panthers' guard play carried the team.  

In the last several games, however, Fede seems to have found himself.  In addition to looking like he's put on some weight, he also learned to dunk.  The 7-footer threw down a powerful dunk against Boston College Tuesday night, and has been dunking pretty consistently since mid-January.

It has allowed the offense to play a bit more balanced, although they still heavily rely on the 3-ball.  It has also allowed for more open looks since defenders actually have to double Fede when he gets the ball deep down low.  Fede has the ability to both jam the ball home and has had some pretty nice footwork as of late to convert some layups off the backboard.  He also has found the open guy outside and has assisted on several 3-pointers recently.  

He is the game changer that Pitt needed.  When Pitt was relying solely on 3-pointers, they became easy to defend.  They were almost completely one dimensional.  Now, they require a much more complex defensive game plan.  And clearly it has worked for the Panthers since they are on a 6-game winning streak, have won 18 of their last 22 games, and are 1st place in the ACC conference.  

It also needs to be noted how good Fede has been defensively.  He nearly made Armando Bacot a non-factor late in the game in the Panthers win against North Carolina, despite Bacot getting away with a lot of shoving underneath.  Fede also shut down Boston College's premiere big-man, Qinten Post, who typically averages 16.1 points per game and 6.1 rebounds.  Post had just 7 points and 5 rebounds on Tuesday night.  Post was also visibly shaken by the Oakland Zoo late in the game as well.

So while Pitt's guard play has been fantastic this season, and they will still heavily depend on them down the stretch, the play of Fede Federiko has added a whole new dimension to this offense.  It is much more balanced and even the threat of a Fede dunk down low has opened up even more open looks for Pitt's guards.  If the team MVP award actually went to the most valuable instead of the most outstanding, it may just be Fede.  Especially after having to unknowingly fill the massive shoes left behind by John Hugley.