PITTSBURGH — Pitt will host ACC foe Florida State at the revamped Petersen Events Center in their season opener on Wednesday night.
With the ACC Network having their power, the conference basketball schedule is taking a different route in the 2019-20 season. Many of the ACC teams will play conference opponents in their first regular season game of the year.
“It’s very different, obviously,” Head coach Jeff Capel said. “With it being a conference game, and (against) such a talented and athletic opponent right away.”
Drawing Florida State isn’t the worst luck for the Panthers to open the season against — if you were to base it off of last season’s results.
In Capel’s first season at Pitt, his team knocked off Florida State 75-62 at the Pete on Jan. 14. That Leonard Hamilton coached Seminole team made it to the Sweet 16 – until they were bounced by No. 1 seed Gonzaga.
This year, both teams are going to have to iron out some wrinkles, with the addition of new guys and the subtraction of key pieces that the teams saw in their lone meeting last season.
Florida State lost four of their top six guys from that Sweet 16 team (including Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele, who are now with the Los Angeles Clippers). This season, the Seminoles are led by veteran guards Trent Forrestt and C.J. Walker, who were both in the starting lineup a year ago.
Pitt, on the other hand, is returning their top two scorers (Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens) and have added three freshmen (Gerald Drumgoole Jr., Justin Champagnie, and Abdoul Karim Coulibaly) and two transfers (Ryan Murphy and Eric Hamilton), that are all going to be in the Panthers rotation.
“It’s a big test,” sophomore Au’Diese Toney said about opening with a team with Florida State’s talent. “But it will be good to see where our team is at.”
Capel isn’t nearly as excited for the opening matchup as his players are.
“For a coach, it’s like a nightmare,” Capel said. “You’re constantly questioning, ‘Are you prepared?’ ‘Have you done enough?’. … All these different things go through your head, as a coach.”
But Capel still knows how much of a big time game it is and what it means for his players, his program, and the fan base.
“We are excited that it’s at home,” Capel said. “We are hopeful that we will have an amazing crowd and that we can come out and play worthy enough — of having a chance to win the game.”
One of the keys to a Panther win will probably be the play of McGowens, who had his coming out party against Florida State a season ago. He led the Panthers with 30 points and seven rebounds, in just his fourth career ACC game.
McGowens knows that the Florida State defense is going to be paying a little more attention to him, this time around.
“They are going to try to take away some things,” McGowens said. “But during the summer I tried to strengthen my weaknesses.”
With both teams opening up with each other, neither Hamilton nor Capel are able to watch film on each other, so last years meeting will play a bigger role than it would have if they had met a second time last year.
“That’s one of the things that makes it hard — playing this type of game early,” Capel said. “You don’t have anything on this years FSU team. So all we can go by is last year.”
But it makes it a little easier for Capel, who’s been around ACC basketball for years — but is only in his second season as a head coach. Capel is familiar with Hamilton and how he runs his teams.
“They’re going to be disruptive defensively, they are going to be athletic all over the glass and they want to create offense from their defense,” Capel said. “We know that about them. But we don’t know the improvements (that have have made individually).”
Tomorrow night will certainly tell a good bit about how substantial of a jump this Pitt team/program has taken in just the second year with Capel in charge — but it’s still a young group and they will surely benefit from getting as much game time together as possible, especially against a team with Florida State’s talent level.