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Nine straight losses isn’t normally the time to be positive about a team but I believe Pitt basketball is the exception.
The story line on Saturday against No. 22 Virginia Tech was similar to every Pitt game this month: play hard and competitively, have a chance late in the second half, can’t make plays down the stretch and lose a close game.
PITT’S 2019 LOSSES IN FEBRUARY:
at Wake Forest: 78-76
NC State: 79-76
at Boston College: 66-57
Virginia Tech: 70-64
Compare this to a year ago when we saw these final scores at this time of the year—not one of them was a single-digit loss.
North Carolina: 96-65
Boston College: 81-58
Florida State: 88-75
Notre Dame: 73-56
I get that the bottom-line is still winning and coming close should never be something to brag about. However, the reality is Jeff Capel inherited a roster with no building blocks, very little talent and is competing in the best basketball conference in the country.
Despite the obvious disparity in talent, Jeff Capel has kept this team engaged and playing for a full forty minutes, which isn’t always easy to do when you’re losing.
Probably the worst thing to happen to this team was the early expectations that were created by the enthusiasm that followed Capel’s hire and the 10-3 start in non-conference play.
While the talent level is improved from last year, it’s no where near close to having enough pieces to battle with the elite programs in the ACC.
Trey McGowens, Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney are definite pieces to build around but Pitt needs more. A lot more.
This week, Pitt received commitments from Gerald Drumgoole and Karim Coulibaly who will increase the talent on the roster but Capel will still need a couple more recruiting classes before the Panthers are really ready to consistently win.
The good news for Pitt fans is that Capel is one of the best recruiters in the country and will no doubt attract talent to make Pitt a winner again. Plus, unlike other sports, it only takes a couple really talented players to make a basketball program good.
Despite what Pitt’s final record turns out to be, the best thing to come out of this season is that Capel has gotten Pitt fans interested in basketball again.
A year ago, fans wanted nothing to do with Pitt basketball and it was just a source of negativity and misery. That’s not the case in 2019.
Despite the losing, the crowds at Peterson Events Center have improved because of the light at the end of the tunnel. The Oakland Zoo is alive again and being a positive influence for the program. During the height of the Dixon era, you’d be hard pressed to find a more impactful student section than the Oakland Zoo.
Sports fans in Pittsburgh are smart and can sense when something is real and something is being built.
Capel is building something but it’s going to take take time.
Hopefully, Pitt basketball fans realize that and continue to show this support next year and don’t become frustrated and want instant gratification.
Jeff Capel is a winner and will once again make Pitt basketball a national program.
He just needs time.