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Vukovcan: Is Pitt Basketball Making Any Progress?



The third season of the Jeff Capel era isn’t ending as hoped and actually appears to be spiraling out of control.

The worst part is that games aren’t the only thing the Panthers are losing. Not only has Pitt lost seven of their last eight games, but they’ve lost two important members of their rotation.

Last month, prized 4-star center John Hugley was suspended indefinitely from the team following his arrest. Capel hasn’t given any indication as to whether Hugley will return to the program next season but from all indications, that does not appear likely.

The latest exit from the program was announced on Wednesday as Capel announced that starting point guard Xavier Johnson has left the team and will be entering the transfer portal. It’s not a good sign or look when your three-year starter leaves the team with three games left in the season. The fact that it’s happening this late tells me that Capel had no problem with Johnson leaving and might have even given him a nudge, considering what he’s had to watch from him the last two seasons.

Whether you were a fan of Johnson’s or not, there’s no denying that this is a loss for Pitt and adds to the uncertainty of next year and beyond.

Considering what’s happened over the last year, it’s not an overreaction to call the situation a total mess.

Following last season, talented sophomore shooting guard and Johnson’s backcourt mate Trey McGowens decided to transfer from Pitt to Nebraska. Then this season, Hugley, who was supposed to provide a big lift for Pitt at forward, is a question mark to return, Johnson leaves and as of now, Pitt hasn’t signed a player for its Class of 2021. Not to mention, freshmen Will Jeffress and Noah Collier have gotten essentially no playing time as the season has gone on.

I’m not trying to paint a picture of doom and gloom for the future of the program but, on the surface, things don’t look real encouraging for next season.

While things can always change in a heartbeat with the addition of an impact recruit or a transfer, the Panthers could be in for a long year in 2021-22. As things stand right now, they have no experience at point guard, they have a huge hole at center and run the risk of losing their most talented player Justin Champagnie, to the NBA Draft. If that should happen, that’s not a very promising scenario when you have to compete in the ACC.

Let me be clear about this. I believe Jeff Capel is a good head coach and is a good fit for Pitt but heading into his fourth season, I expected Pitt to be further along as a program than they are. Many of the holes that existed when he took over still here today.

*They have no presence in the middle at center. A big man that can provide offense or that is a defensive presence is needed an Pitt doesn’t have it.

*They lack a consistent outside 3-point shooter. They haven’t had a reliable outside shooter possibly going back to Ashton Gibbs.

*They lack the overall depth to be competitive in the ACC. Johnson, Champagnie and Au’Diese Toney gave Pitt a chance to win on a nightly basis when they were all playing well. However, if one of two of them were off, Pitt doesn’t have the secondary scorers to make up for their lost production. Nike Sibande was supposed to be that type of player but it didn’t happen this year. Ithiel Horton has done it in small spurts, but nowhere near consistent enough to make the impact that many people were hoping for.

So what now and how will things ever change for Pitt?

The easy answer is that Capel and his staff have to do a better job of bringing in talent and some of those players have to be able to make an immediate impact.

I’m sure many Pitt fans have mixed reaction today on both the departure of Johnson and the future of the program.

While it’s justified to be disappointed with this season, it’s too early to have real questions about its leadership. Capel’s reputation was built on his ability to recruit players and that’s going to be the only way he changes things here at Pitt.

It should be an active off-season, let’s see what magic Capel can make because if he can’t, then some legitimate questions will start being asked.


Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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1 year ago

After the disaster of the first game this year, many people probably questioned what Capel is doing. It seems that this team has been constantly distracted and unfocused. THAT can be laid directly at the feet of Capel. This team has truly underperformed. As the season has progressed its clear that Capel has an issue on his hands. Between Hugley’s arrest, numerous technicals, and foul issues, lackadaisical play (at times) and bad losses to bad teams, Capel seems to have a discipline issue. These players don’t seem to respect him. While lesser programs that play in less prestigious conferences can… Read more »

1 year ago

To early to worry about Capel. Go look at the first 3-5 year records of Hurley at ASU, Smart at Texas, Enfield at USC and even Hamilton at FSU. Some of these are mirror images of what we are seeing at Pitt and actually, most of these guys didn’t step into as bad a situation as we had here and, probably have an easier time recruiting given the atmosphere/situation at these schools. Patience.

1 year ago

I don’t know what they’re doing.

Jim Garland
Jim Garland
1 year ago

You wrote that you think Jeff Capel is a good coach and is a good fit for Pitt…why is that exactly? Do you see evidence in the conference W/L record? How about recruiting? How about fan interest/excitement in the program? Many believe that recruiting has improved. But prior to Johnson and Toney leaving, their roster had two guys capable of holding their own against the AAC’s top echelon. Now they’re down to one. That’s not building a competitive roster. That’s bottom 1/3 in the conference. Again. Alternatively, if you think Capel’s a good fit for Pitt because anybody good enough… Read more »

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