PITTSBURGH — Pitt’s first contest under new head coach Jeff Capel is still a few days away, when the Panthers will officially open their 2018-19 season by hosting Youngstown State at Petersen Events Center.
But we’ll get our first look at the Panthers tonight, as they host Pitt-Johnstown in their first official exhibition game.
Unlike last season, when Pitt had just two returning regulars, the Panthers will be bringing back many more holdovers, but it should still be a new-look rotation with the addition of three talented freshmen, graduate transfer Sidy n’Dir and 2017-18 transfer Malik Ellison gaining NCAA eligibility.
The Panthers played Dayton last Saturday in a private scrimmage last Saturday, and it sounds like the starting lineup Capel used then will be the one that at least starts the 2018-19 season for the Panthers.
True freshmen Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens both started at guard, with Johnson being the primary ball handler, but Capel suggested he trusts two or three people in his lineup to run the offense.
In a four-guard lineup, Pitt used both Ellison and Jared Wilson-Frame on the wings, with Terrell Brown at center.
It’s not the biggest lineup in the ACC, and at times, it might end up being the smallest. That’s one of the reasons Capel has placed an emphasis on team toughness as part of what he wants his first Pitt’s squad’s identity to be.
“We have to gang rebounds,” he said. “We don’t have a dominant rebounder, so we have to do it together. At times, and maybe a lot of the time, we’ll be small. There has to be a toughness about us every time we’re out there and there has to be a togetherness about us every time we’re out there and we have to fight together.”
It’s also going to put some individual defensive pressure on Ellison and Wilson-Frame, who at 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-6 are going to be at a serious height disadvantage as the No. 4 when Pitt plays man-to-man defense, which seems to be their preference.
On the flip side, it should give the Panthers a quickness and speed advantage on the offensive side of the ball, and that’s something they’d like to highlight more this year.
“We’ve got a lot of athletes,” Ellison said. “It’s a lot of up-tempo basketball. That’s what the game is turning into nowadays. It’s fun. It’s fun to watch when you have a lot of highlight plays, a lot of dunks, a lot of threes.”
Behind the starting five at guard are Khameron Davis and n’Dir, who is still coming off a foot/ankle injury; Shamiel Stevenson and Au’Diese Toney, who has also been banged up, working behind Ellison and Wilson-Frame on the wings and Kene Chukwuka and Peace Illegomah backing up Brown in the paint.
“We’re trying to get everyone healthy,” Capel said. “There are a lot of things we need to continue to work on and get better with.”