Despite some personnel issues Pitt head coach Jeff Capel has plenty of players ready to start the 2020-21 season on Tuesday.
After losing Jamarius Burton and Nike Sibande to knee surgery and the suspension of Ithiel Horton before the start of the season, Capel still has nine scholarship players and a well-seasoned walk-on in Onye Ezeakudo and a 10-man rotation is about as deep as most college basketball teams go, anyway.
But it’s the kind of pieces that Capel has left at his disposal that seems that it could be a problem for the Panthers. Burton and Sibande were likely to play shooting guard and wing roles for the Panthers this year, with Horton serving as a backup to Burton and point guard Femi Odukale.
Burton has been out for a month, so the team has had time to adjust to his absence, but Sibande was hurt in the team’s preseason game last week and Horton’s suspension, the latest blow, coming just a day before the opener.
“Everyone has to step up a little bit more in [Horton’s] absence,” Capel said. “We’ve looked at guys in some different positions. We’ll make some adjustments and we’ll be OK.”
Some of those guys may be include playing Ezeakudo more than he has in the past, either in place of Odukale or alongside him. Sophomore Will Jeffress, junior college transfer Chris Payton and freshman Nate Santos can all play the wing. Mo Gueye could play a smaller role than his 6-foot-10 stature would suggest, as well, according to Capel.
“Mo can swing to a wing position for us,” he said. “We’ll be OK. We’ll figure it out. We’ll be okay and we’ll adjust.
At least until Burton comes back, figuring it out will be about the best plan the Panthers can hope to have. Unfortunately for Pitt, the season opens with two tough tests with The Citadel and West Virginia this week.