As the season nears, Pittsburgh Sports Now concludes its previews of all three division one teams in the area, finishing with the University of Pittsburgh.
Head Coach: Jeff Capel
Capel enters year four of his tenure at Pitt with a record of 40-48 and a revamped roster looking to turn some heads in the ACC.
Last Year’s Record: 10-12 (6-10 in ACC)
Milan Brown was promoted from Assistant Coach to Associate Head Coach
Kyle Cieplicki was hired as Chief of Staff
Gilbert Brown was hired as Director of Player and Alumni Development
Jake Presutti was brought in as Assistant AD of Scouting
Ronald Ramon left Pitt to become an Assistant Coach at Fordham
Last Year’s Losses
Justin Champagnie – Toronto Raptors, NBA
Pitt’s biggest star of the Jeff-Capel era, Champagnie left the Panthers program this offseason to pursue his professional basketball dreams. After going un-drafted, Champagnie signed with the Toronto Raptors in a seemingly perfect fit. He made the opening day roster and will look to contribute off the bench and hover between the G-League affiliate and big-league squad this year.
Au’Diese Toney – Arkansas
Toney transferred out of Pitt at the end of last season and decided to take his talents down to Arkansas to play for Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks. Arkansas was picked No. 3 in the recent SEC preseason poll.
Xavier Johnson – Indiana
‘X’ left the Pitt program towards the end of last season and transferred to Indiana to play for new head coach Mike Woodson and the Hoosiers. Indiana is picked right around the middle of the Big Ten in most preseason power rankings and projections.
Abdoul-Karim Coulibaly – St. Bonaventure
Coulibaly entered the transfer portal back in March and shortly after chose St. Bonaventure, who many are taking as their preseason pick to win the Atlantic 10.
Terrell Brown – San Diego
Brown graduated from Pitt in the spring and decided to spend this upcoming season playing for San Diego, who was ranked No. 9 in the recent WCC preseason poll.
Leading Scorers Returning
Ithiel Horton – Redshirt Junior*
Horton’s status is unknown at this time due to legal issues over the weekend. He was arrested on the South Side for allegedly assaulting a police officer.
In 22 games last season, Horton averaged 8.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per contest. He shot 38% from the field as well as 37% from three-point range.
Nike Sibande – Senior
In the recent exhibition against Gannon, Sibande tore his ACL and will be sidelined for the entire season. This injury is a major, major blow for the Panthers, as Sibande was the team’s best individual shot creator, and was likely to be the team’s best scorer. In just 14 games last season due to transfer rules, he averaged 6.9 points and 3 rebounds per game. Sibande was one of the most explosive players on the roster and shot the best three-point percentage on the team last year at 44%. With Sibande sidelined for the year, Pitt loses a veteran, a potent shooter, an explosive guard. All of that on top of the fact that Sibande never really had the chance to get going last year due to transfer issues. He was bound to have a big year for Pitt and would have been a key piece for a Pitt team that was already looking for all of the offensive help that it could get. The loss of Sibande poses another massive challenge for Capel.
Femi Odukale – Sophomore
Odukale saw his role increase throughout the year and produced well for a freshman. In 22 games, he scored an average of 6.6 points per game and dished out the second-most assists on the team with 49. He averaged 46% from the field as well as 33% from three-point range, while only shooting 24 threes all year. All eyes are on Odukale this season as the team lacks high-level scorers, something that he can certainly become this season. He has been praised by his teammates this offseason for his leadership abilities and his on-court production. In the exhibition against Gannon, Odukale played about as clean of a game as possible, dropping 20 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, all with zero turnovers.
Mo Gueye – Graduate Transfer
Gueye transferred to Pitt this offseason after four years at Stony Brook in which he won numerous awards for his outstanding play in the AEC. A 6-foot-9, 210-pound power forward, Gueye has a very lanky frame and runs the floor like a gazelle. Gueye has been the talk of the town after media was allowed into Pitt’s first practice as well as its scrimmage, in which he posted 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks. The question for Gueye, making the jump up to ACC competition, will be whether or not he can handle the power of ACC big men down low and whether or not he can effectively get to the basket. He has all the intangibles to be a solid player this year for the Panthers on both the inside and outside as well as defensively where he made his presence known at Stony Brook.
Jamarius Burton – Transfer from Texas Tech
Burton, a 6-foot-4 senior guard, comes in after two years at Wichita State and most recently one season at Texas Tech. While at Wichita State, Burton showed steady improvement from his freshman to sophomore season, increasing his scoring average from 6 to 10.3 points per game. At Texas Tech, Burton’s offensive role was not nearly as large as he was a part of a crowded, ubertalented guard room. Burton impressed PSN with his ball-handling skills and overall comfort running the offense in practice this offseason, however, back on October 9 he underwent a procedure on his knee that will force him to miss a few games in the beginning of the season. Expect him to play a significant role at the one and the two once he returns from his injury. With Horton now sidelined too, Burton is going to need to score a heavy load of the points while helping Odukale out at the point as well.
Dan Oladapo – Transfer from Oakland
Oladapo went from one Oakland to another this offseason, transferring to Pitt after two seasons in the Horizon League. A 6-foot-7, 220-pound four man, Oladapo put up strong numbers in both seasons, averaging 11 points and 7.5 rebounds per game over the two-year span. A hard-nosed, tough rebounder with solid touch around the rim, Oladapo will certainly provide hustle to this Pitt team as well as some scoring. While not the best three-point shooter on the team, look for Oladapo to rotate in and out at the four and play significant minutes for this Pitt team.
Chris Payton – JuCo Prospect from Indian Hills CC
This offseason, Jeff Capel brought in Payton, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound small forward who is probably the most energetic player on the roster this year for Pitt. Payton averaged a double-double (12.5 points, 10 rebounds) last season with Indian Hills CC and looked like he certainly fits the ACC level of play when PSN took a look at him at practice. Payton did not play much in the team’s scrimmage against Maryland, but provides an intriguing skill set that will allow him to grow under Capel over the next few years. Don’t expect him to start from the first game on, but Payton looks like a guy who could definitely see his minutes increase as the year goes on. For however long Horton is out, expect Payton’s role at the three to increase in the beginning of the season.
Nate Santos – High School Prospect from The Loomis Chaffee School
Santos, an Illinois native, was the lone signee from the 2021 high school recruiting class for Capel and the Panthers. A 6-foot-7 wing, Santos is looking to make his mark as a freshman around the outside using his smooth three-point stroke. The 20-year-old freshman comes to Pitt after spending a year on the prep level up in Connecticut. Prior to his time in prep school, he was ranked as highly as the No. 63 prospect in the entire nation, but suffered a torn ACL which kept him sidelined for the majority of his junior and senior years. Expect Santos to be in the rotation at the 2 and the three as this team can use all of the shooters that it can get, especially if Horton is sidelined for a long period of time.
What’s the Story?
The Panthers were predicted to finish second-to-last in the recent ACC preseason poll, and have a lot of work to do this season if they want to turn things around.
The bottom line with this Pitt team is that it is going to need to score. Defensively, Pitt has some strong pieces, but offensively both the returning players and newcomers are going to have to put the ball in the basket.
Femi Odukale looked like a stud towards the end of last season. While he struggled shooting from the outside and from the free-throw line, Odukale looked like a true point guard, facilitating, setting up his teammates, and driving to create points for himself. Pitt is going to need Odukale to average north of 10-15 points and to handle a lot of minutes in the beginning of the year, at least until Burton is back. Walk-on Onye Ezeakudo gave Capel some solid minutes last season, and will definitely see the floor again this year. While he is not going to be a top scorer, look for Ezeakudo to run the offense and set up his teammates while playing tough D off the bench.
At the two and the three positions, Pitt was initially looking to Ithiel Horton and Nike Sibande to handle the scoring load, but after a torn ACL for Sibande and legal troubles for Horton, those positions are really up in the air and thin for the Panthers. William Jeffress will play a heavy amount of minutes for Pitt this season, and will most likely be in the starting lineup come game one at the two spot. Still just 18 years old, Jeffress is going to have to give Pitt some offensive production and show some improvement in his sophomore campaign for him to keep his spot in the rotation. Santos and Payton are two more options at the wing spot, and both will have large roles in their first season with the Panthers.
Down low, Pitt is going to lean on Hugley heavily. A true-big man, the 6-foot-9 Hugley is a bit undersized but is very powerful and skilled around the rim, which should allow him to be a force this year. Collier was solid on defense last year, but did not show much offensively. Gueye will not be very physical down low, but has great touch and provides a lengthy shot-blocking presence that Pitt has not had in a while. Oladapo is a bit of a mystery, as his numbers from Oakland were very impressive, but he did not play much or produce any stats in the recent scrimmage against Maryland. He still looks ready for the jump and provided some loud plays in the team’s first practice. Averaging 12 and 10 Horizon League is no joke, so he has it in him to put up big numbers on both sides of the ball.