The hiring a year ago of Jeff Capel injected instant life and enthusiasm to the basketball program, which had grown become stale and apathetic under Jamie Dixon and Kevin Stallings.
Considering his resume, Pitt fans immediately started envisioning highly rated recruiting classes and dreamed of making long runs in the NCAA Tournament.
Although Pitt improved their win total by six games over the previous season in 2018-19, reality settled in and rational people began to understand that there’s no quick fix for rebuilding a program.
It’s going to take a couple good recruiting classes and players developing, but the good news for Pitt is that recruiting happens to be Capel’s specialty.
The other thing that Pitt fans can hang their hats on are the teams in this year’s Final Four: Texas Tech, Auburn, Virginia and Michigan State. Aside from Michigan State, advancing this far in the NCAA Tournament is foreign territory for the other three teams.
Virginia is back in the Final Four for the first time since 1984 and Auburn and Texas Tech have advanced for the first time ever. If these three programs can get there, so can Pitt.
Virginia: prior to 2012, Virginia had only two 20-win seasons in the past 16 years. One solid coaching hire in plucking Tony Bennett from Washington State has completely altered the landscape in Charlottesville. Ten years into his tenure, the Cavaliers have made the Big Dance six straight seasons.
Texas Tech: Prior to last season, Texas Tech only qualified for the tournament once in the last 12 years and only advanced to the Sweet 16 once since 1996. But Chris Beard has turned things around quickly, making the Elite Eight in his first season and the Final Four in his second.
Auburn: prior to last season, Auburn has had only four 20-win seasons since 1987 and before Bruce Pearl arrived, the Tigers hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament in 15 years.
If these programs can make a run in March like this, then so can Pitt. The common ingredient for Auburn, Virginia and Texas Tech’s success is their head coaches. Bennett, Beard and Pearl are exceptional coaches.
Unlike Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas and Arizona, these rosters aren’t dominated by five-star players. Of course they have some highly rated players but not on the level of those blue-blood programs.
Unlike in college football, you don’t need a roster fill of four- and five-star players to make a run and achieve large success in college basketball.
In hoops, you need two really good players, a few above average players and a good coach.
All the signs point toward Capel being that coach that can sustain long-term success, now he’s looking for those two impact players.
Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens showed this season that they can be special but they need help. As the season went on, they wore down because of their youth and the fact that they were missing someone inside.
Capel’s top off-season priority is to add that down low presence. Junior college four-center Khadim Sy is someone that fits that description and a player Pitt is trying very hard to land.
If Capel gets his man, Sy could be the type of player that can take Pitt from a 14-win team to one that qualifies for the tournament.
That’s how quick things can change in college basketball.
Provided Capel lives up to his reputation as being one of the top recruiters in basketball, brings in above average talent and an impact player or two, it’s not unrealistic to think that Pitt can be this year’s Texas Tech or Auburn and be in a Final Four in the not-too-distant future.