The Pitt men’s basketball team are legitimately playing an important basketball game tonight.
Honestly, when’s the last time we were able to say that and mean it?
Off the top of my head I can’t answer that question but I can say that this is a visible sign of the progress Jeff Capel and his staff have made in just three seasons in Oakland.
Pitt enters tonight’s matchup against Duke with a record of 7-2 and coming off an impressive 96-76 domination of Syracuse. This season, Capel’s team have earned wins over Syracuse (twice), at Miami and at Northwestern and their play and improvement are getting noticed by people throughout the basketball world.
Pitt’s resume to this point has them ranked in Andy Katz’s Top 35 Power Rankings along with getting projected by some to be a team that will get an invitation to NCAA’s March Madness. That alone should have Pitt fans excited and encouraged for the future of this program under Capel.
Want to know something else that will really get people excited? Beat Duke tonight on a national stage with a million or so people watching on ESPN.
This isn’t the Duke teams that we’ve seen over the last couple decades. They’re 5-3 and not ranked for the first time since 2016. Forget about that because it doesn’t matter. Duke is still Duke. Mike Krzyzewski is the arguably the greatest college basketball coach of all-time, their roster is filled with 5-star talent and as I have mentioned, they’re Duke.
Despite their struggles this season, Duke still is ranked No. 24 in the current KenPom rankings and would qualify as another quality win for Pitt as they attempt to build a resume worthy of being considered to be a part of March Madness. More importantly, beating a blue-blood program like Duke would be evidence to everyone involved in the program and to recruits around the country that the work that Capel has done the last two seasons is working and that Pitt basketball is back.
Since joining the ACC, Pitt has only beaten Duke once. But for the first time, a win tonight wouldn’t seem like a big upset. Odds-makers in Vegas currently have Duke as a slight 3.5 point favorite for the team’s matchup at The Pete.
Justin Champagnie, Au’Diese Toney, Xavier Johnson are playing as well as a unit as we’ve seen since coming to Pitt and if they can stay out of foul trouble, should keep this game competitive till the end.
While tonight’s game has plenty of value for Pitt, it isn’t a must win and the balloon of optimism that’s building shouldn’t be burst with a loss. This program is noticeably better than when Capel took over three years ago and even last year.
It isn’t easy to raise a program from the dead, but Capel is well on his way of doing that and a win tonight over his mentor would be more concrete evidence: Pitt basketball is alive and well.