The curtain rises tonight on the 2019 Pitt men’s basketball season as the Panthers host Florida State at The Pete. Jeff Capel has no doubt added more talent to the roster but will it result in more wins considering they play in the toughest conference in college basketball.
In his first season at Pitt, Capel’s team finished with an overall record of 14-19 and 3-15 in the ACC.
How will things go in year #2? PSN’s staff of writers share their thoughts and give predictions on their outlook for Pitt.
Pitt will be much improved, with key cogs Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens amd Au’Diese Toney a year older and with a year of experience under their belts.
The Panthers also have complimented those players with a better supporting staff this time around. Justin Champagne and Gerald Drumgoole provide length and athleticism on the wings and Karim Coulibaly and Eric Hamilton will help provide quality depth and rebounding in the post.
Pitt is still going to be a small team that is going to get frequently out-rebounded, but with more backcourt depth, they should be able to play more aggressive defensively and turn teams over more.
To me, the biggest factor yet to be determined is how much the returning three outside starters will be able to improve their outside shooting. That could swing this prediction one way or another.
Record Prediction: 16-15, 8-12 ACC
The biggest improvement that I think Pitt will have this year will be competing within the conference. While they’re not to the point of challenging Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia, I believe they’ll hold their own with everyone else. I’d be shocked if Pitt doesn’t double their conference win total of last season (3).
Three things to look for: 1) Trey McGowens becoming consistent and helping Xavier Johnson in being the stars and on-court leaders for Pitt. McGowens has the talent to lead the Panthers in scoring and I believe he’ll do it and become their go-to guy on offense. 2) Speaking of consistency, Terrell Brown needs to show that for Capel. Pitt needs productivity from their front court to take pressure off Johnson and McGowens. Newcomer Eric Hamilton will provide some but Brown has to be the player that Capel can rely on. 3) Which newcomer will become the leader of the freshman class? Justin Champagnie, Gerald Drumgoole, Karim Coulibaly will all have considerable playing time but who will take advantage of it. If this team is going to exceed expectation, they’ll need a third scoring option to go along with Johnson and McGowens. My guess is that it’ll be Drumgoole, who has the talent to be a double-double guy on a lot of nights.
The future of Pitt basketball under Capel is bright and they’ll make improvements from last season.
Record Prediction: 19-12, 9-11 ACC
I think Pitt will win almost all of their conference games against the teams that are the bottom feeders. Unlike last year, when two of their three wins were in upset fashion over the likes of Louisville and Florida State. I think Pitt is better than Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Georgia Tech. They should take care of those teams. Other than that, the only teams I have Pitt beating are Miami and Clemson at home. Maybe Pitt is due to beat one of the blue bloods, but I wouldn’t bank on it. Playing both Louisville and North Carolina twice in conference play (both top-10 in the country) is not a good sign for Pitt. Both teams are big and experienced. Playing Syracuse twice is not ideal either, even though the Panthers have fared well against the Orange in past years. I wouldn’t like seeing this Pitt team face a zone.
Johnson and McGowens have to play well, that’s a given, but I think a massive key to Pitt’s success comes down to either Eric Hamilton or Terrell Brown having a solid year.
Record Prediction: 15-16, 6-14 ACC
To all the people who don’t think this team is ready for the NCAA Tournament, you’re probably right. But Pitt under Jeff Capel seems to be “on schedule”, which would mean making the big dance next year. This year, it’s about learning how to win in the ACC and avoiding the extended game losing streaks that bedeviled the team the last three years.
For the Panthers it will come down to who they’re playing on a given night. While they’re not ready to take down blue bloods like Duke, UNC, Virginia or Louisville, they should be able to compete against everyone else — although Syracuse’s zone may be too much to overcome — especially at home. The ACC is very top heavy this season and the Panthers should be able to win seven games in conference. Pair that with nine wins against their out of conference slate and you have a team that breaks the .500 mark and gets back to the postseason, just not THE postseason.
Xavier Johnson had the second highest usage rate in the ACC last year behind only R.J. Barrett and was first in free throws made. There’s no reason to think he can’t duplicate that again. He could end up being a 1st team ACC player and average close to 20 points a game.
Record Prediction: 16-15, 7-13 ACC
Top Player: Xavier Johnson
Upgraded frontcourt depth and improved shooting from Johnson and McGowens will propel the Panthers to their first season over .500 since 2015-16. Pitt will have at least one upset of a perennial power in the ACC, and Johnson will make an all-conference team.
Record: 18-13, 8-12 ACC