When you’re a fan of a particular program, you obviously want to see them win and are disappointed when they don’t.
Fans create expectations for their favorite team and voice their displeasure when they feel they aren’t being met. That’s OK too because any credible program should be expected to win and achieve certain things during the course of a season.
The problems start when unrealistic expectations are created and the criticism that is certain to come with an unhappy fan base.
I’m bringing this up because I believe Pitt fans need to have realistic expectations and should be careful not to be too critical defending on what happens in the last 15 games of the season.
Pitt enters today’s game against North Carolina with a record of 11-6 and 2-4 in the ACC. Since the start of the New Year, the Panthers have lost three of their four games and each of those losses have been particularly frustrating because they realistically could’ve won all of them.
They got ice cold down the stretch against Wake Forest, didn’t show up for the tip against Miami and lost in overtime against Louisville after holding a seven point lead with three minutes left in regulation.
The glass half full perspective in evaluating those games and Pitt’s season as a whole to this point is that it’s evident that they’re a better team than last season and Jeff Capel has this program headed in the right direction.
This 2019 team has already beaten a Top 15 team in Florida State, beat power conference programs in Kansas State, Northwestern, North Carolina and Rutgers, a team that currently is projected to be a NCAA Tournament team. Compare that to a year ago when their biggest wins came against St. Louis, Florida State and Louisville.
Two things that this team is still missing are experience and talented depth.
A veteran team probably would’ve handled the situations in the games against Wake, Miami, Louisville and Nicholls State differently and chances are Pitt wins a couple of those games. Although Capel and his assistants did a nice job adding players to the roster like Justin Champagnie, Ryan Murphy, Eric Hamilton and Karim Coulibaly, the overall depth to consistently win isn’t where it needs to be… yet.
I say yet because next year, Capel will add some size to his front court in 4-star center John Hugley (6’9″, 240), 3-star forward Max Amadasun (6’10”, 230), 3-star forward Noah Collier (6’8″, 210) along with Delaware transfer Ithiel Horton, who’ll give them another guard that can score.
Those four players could be joined by another player or two as Capel is working on adding two more high level players who would reclassify to 2020.
Regardless if he’s able to close the deal on those players, the additions particularly to the front-court will be huge because they’re so badly needed. The front court players on this year’s team just aren’t filling up the scoresheet enough for Pitt to consistently win. Hugley, Amadasun and Collier are players that can do that and should provide immediate help and will make things easier for the Panther guards.
Capel came to Pitt with the earned reputation of being one of the top recruiters in the country but like rebuilding a program, recruiting takes time. It wasn’t that long ago that Pitt finished winless in the ACC, so you can’t expect high level players to instantly want to come to Oakland.
Regardless of how great a recruiter Capel is, to expect that to immediately happen isn’t realistic. Capel has gotten Pitt to be a finalist with a handful of 4-5 star recruits but hasn’t been able to close the deal. High level recruits need to see some evidence that Pitt is heading in the right direction before they seriously consider committing to the program.
The second half of their schedule becomes more manageable so if Pitt is able to finish the season with 16 or 17 wins, that’s improvement that the Pitt staff can show recruits in the Class of 2021 and beyond. Many recruiting insiders believe Capel has built a solid relationship with blue-chip recruits juniors and next year’s class will be his highest rated since coming to Pitt. Don’t forget, 2022 5-star guard Jalen Hood-Schifino has already committed to play at Pitt.
As Pitt fans are finding out, raising a program from the dead isn’t easy and doesn’t happen in one year or with one recruiting class.
It takes a few years but the good news is that Heather Lyke picked the perfect man for this heavy lift and if fans can have patience and perspective, it won’t be long before the Pitt basketball team is dancing in March.