The 2020-21 college basketball season has arrived and although they’ll be coronavirus-induced bumps in the road all the way until March, a number of programs will tipoff their season today, including the Pitt Panthers.
This will be Jeff Capel’s third season with the Panthers and he’ll be looking to make more progress in terms of wins on the court. Although Pitt improved their win total last season increased from his first year (14-19 to 16-17), Capel wants that to improve in 2020. That might be difficult because of a condensed non-conference schedule but regardless of the final win total, this should be Capel’s best team since arriving two years ago.
Not only are the Panthers returning a nice core of players like Justin Champagnie, Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney but they’re also added a quality 2020 recruiting class with John Hugley, Noah Collier, Femi Odukale and William Jeffress.
The 2020 season will tipoff tonight at 7 PM as the Panthers take on St. Francis, PA at The Pete.
To get a bit more insight on this years team, Pittsburgh Sports Now spoke with Jeff Hathhorn, the sports director at 93.7 “The Fan” and a close follower of Panthers basketball.
PSN: Would you agree that this is Jeff Capel’s most talented and deepest team since taking over?
Jeff Hathhorn: Yes, most definitely. I really like this recruiting class and the diversity of it. I guess I put Ithiel Horton in this recruiting class as guy that can make a difference. The other thing is that I really like that they’re still a quick team and didn’t get a bunch of plodding big men. He added players that can really move, which I think fits his style and with the guys that are currently in place like X, Toney and Champagnie. I believe that these guys will compliment them well.
— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) November 25, 2020
PSN: What do you believe the strength of this team will be?
JH: I’m going to say because I still need to see them shoot it better. It looks on paper that they will have better shooters and I still need to see them rebound better but they have added some size. I’m going to say their transition on both sides. What I mean by that is, I believe their defense is going to lead to transition and easy offense. Their speed on defense and their ability to run on offense with guys that are mobile, I believe that will be the strength. Until I see them being able to shoot it from outside and if Nike Sibande gets in and if Horton turns out to be what everybody hopes and if one of the freshman steps up, then maybe I’ll switch it but until then, I think it will be their defense and transition.
PSN: Rebounding was an issue last year, will that improve this year?
JH: They don’t have the huge size, although Hugley should help as a rebounder, I want to say that Karim Coulibaly learned something from last year. I think in moments, he gave them something, no where near enough but I thought he showed some promise in some games. Not just non-conference games but some good minutes in ACC play. If his game grows and maybe competition in practice will help too. I think they’re going to still have to rebound as a committee but I think they have better rebounders by far even with the loss of Eric Hamilton, than they did last year.
PSN: I think the key to the team will be Xavier Johnson. What are your expectations for him this year?
JH: Two of his good buddies just went in the draft and he knew they were having great years and I think he wanted to follow in their footsteps. He put a lot of pressure on himself and things started to go sideways. After games, we’d be upstairs in the press box working on coverage and we’d look down and after the game, X was out there getting in more shots and practicing my himself. It wasn’t a matter of him not working last year, I think he just put too much pressure on himself and tried to do too many things himself. Their would be games where he tried to take the last shot, because he felt as though he had to, although he wasn’t the best option. I don’t think it was as much selfishness as he just put pressure on himself. Plus, with McGowens gone, I think [Trey] being in his ear was a bit of an issue for him as well. He talked the other day about having Champagnie this year plus being able to kick it out to Horton on the wing. I think things like that will only make him a better player.
PSN: Jeff Capel brought up the name Ithiel Horton a lot last year, what are you hearing about the type of impact he can have this year?
JH: The first thing you hear about him is how hard he worked last year even though he had no chance of playing, I think that’s encouraging. He’s got a really good shot, I’ve seen it from the little bits of practice that I was able to watch. He can shoot the ball. He’s not big so he can’t create like some bigger 3-point shooters can but I think with their ability to move the ball and their speed on offense, I think that’s going to create open shots. I like Horton. I don’t see him as a 15 point a game guy and I don’t know if he’ll even score as much as McGowens did, but I think he’s a guy that is capable of doing for 18 or 20 in a game and won’t disappear like McGowens did. He’s a guaranteed 7, 8, 9 point a game guy and will bring consistency and effort which is always a plus.
PSN: Looking at the freshman, which one do you think will have the biggest impact and which would be the surprise of the class?
JH: I’m torn on this because I really like Jeffress but he just turned 17. I mean, playing that level of basketball and just turning 17. I think overall, Jeffress will be the best player but I’m not sure if he’ll make an immediate impact. To answer your question, I’ll go with Hugley in terms of impact this year. He appears though to have an ACC body already as a freshman. With that 6’9″, 250 body, he’ll be able to rebound immediately and that fills a need for them, which means he’ll see more minutes. As far as surprise guy, Noah Collier, he’s a guy that not a lot of teams recruited but he’s 6’8″, can still put a lot of muscle on. I’ve now heard two players mention that Collier is surprising a lot of people. I think Collier would be my guy as the player that’s under the radar.
— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) November 14, 2020