For most of the first two seasons of Jeff Capel’s tenure as head coach, Pitt has played a lineup that consisted mostly of perimeter players and one interior player.
Players like 6-foot-6 Justin Champagnie and Au’Diese Toney have been joined on the outside by more traditional guards like Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and Ryan Murphy.
Assuming that pattern remains the same in 2020-21, there will be some pretty considerable battles for minutes compared to players’ previous roles, particularly for those four guard spots.
Newest Pitt guard Nike Sibande is still waiting to hear about an NCAA waiver for the 2020-21 season. If that gets approve, Pitt will have five players who averaged 159 minutes per game in their last season of competition to share between four sports with 160 minutes per game.
That leaves one minute per game for the likes of sophomore Gerald Drumgoole, Jr, who averaged nine minutes per game last season, and incoming freshman Femi Odukale.
Those players will play more than that, which means that minutes will likely be reduced for Pitt’s quintet of returning guards. That can certainly be a good thing, as one of the biggest themes in Pitt’s second-half struggles the last two years has been a lack of depth for Capel to turn to.
“It’s really hard and frustrating because you don’t have the fresh legs playing 30 minutes a game,” Toney said after a loss at Florida State in February.
Now, Pitt will have those fresh legs, with players likely seeing fewer minutes than they have in the past.
That can help on offense, giving Capel multiple options to turn to if someone isn’t haven’t a great day shooting. It can also allow Capel an expanded playbook on defense, where in the past he infrequently applied full-court pressure and frequently went to a zone to protect exhausted players, even though the Panthers weren’t particularly proficient in that defense.
In fact, Horton, Johnson, Odukale and Sibande would seem to have the skillset of a fantastic trapping backcourt, something Capel has said he would like to do more of in the past, but he didn’t have the depth.
On the wings, freshmen Noah Collier and Will Jeffress should be able to slot in behind Champagnie and Toney, who essentially played the 2019-20 season without a backup. Pitt’s loss at Louisville early last season happened when Toney got into foul trouble and Pitt didn’t have another defender that they could match up against Cardinals star wing Jordan Nwora.
The battle for time at the one forward spot should be intense, as well, with senior Terrell Brown and sophomore Karim Abdoul Coulibaly joined by a pair of freshmen, headlined by four-star John Hugley, that could make it a four-man competition for those 40 minutes per game.
Predicting the contributions of freshmen is always difficult, but the fact that two of Pitt’s newcomers are experienced veterans and that there are multiple additions at each position mean that individually, there aren’t a ton of minutes where freshmen will be needed to perform. If they do, it can only be a bonus.
Pitt has shown glimpses of its potential under Capel over the first two years, with games like Pitt’s wins over Florida State and Louisville showing the increased talent level of the squad.
That has also come with a level of frustration from fans as Pitt also failed to take care of business at times against some lesser lights.
With increased depth and overall talent, that should be less of a problem for the Panthers in the near future.