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Pitt Basketball

Winning Ugly: Breakdown of Pitt’s Non-Conference Performance



When talking about Pitt’s 2021-22 season, Nike Sibande (torn ACL) and Ithiel Horton (suspension) have to be included in the conversation.

In his final five games of the 2020-21 season, Sibande averaged 15 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He made a three-point field goal in each of the team’s last six games of the year and shot 44% from deep across all 14 games that he played in. Heading into the season, he was bound to be this team’s best playmaker, potentially its best shooter, and potentially its best player overall.

Horton, who was suspended from the team after an arrest on the South Side just before the season, is also a huge missing piece for the Panthers. Last season, he had nine games with at least three three-pointers, scored 15 or more six different times, and made 43 three-pointers on the year, which led the team. Although he was inconsistent at times, he was still the biggest threat on the team from beyond the arch and therefore required attention at all times from opposing defenses.

If Horton and Sibande were on the floor this season, the paint would open up for John Hugley, who has shown that he is one of the most powerful bigs in the ACC. Femi Odukale, one of the most skilled slashers in the league, would have more room to work. And much, much more. The two are undoubtedly huge losses for Pitt.

However, Pitt has to deal with those losses, as every team does. As unfortunate as it is, every year, there are countless ACL tears across the country. There are suspensions everywhere. So, what have the Panthers done without the two?

Through 12 games, Pitt has won five and lost seven.

Pitt’s best wins have come over Quad 2 teams St. John’s (without Julian Champagnie) and Towson. Its worst losses have come to UMBC and The Citadel, who both rank outside the top 225 teams in the country according to the NCAA’s NET rankings.

The Panthers are averaging just 60.7 points per game, which ranks No. 334 in the country. That puts them one position behind an 0-10 Mississippi Valley State squad in scoring offense.

However, for as bad as Pitt’s numbers look, the team has embraced the fact that it is going to have to win ugly.

That is the story of the first half of the year for Pitt.

While that does not seem like something that can be sustainable, the Panthers have proven through 12 games that they can hang around teams by playing ugly basketball, and defeat teams behind timely buckets and solid defense.

After Pitt’s first game of the year, its season opening loss to The Citadel, it appeared as though the Panthers would not be able to beat anyone all year.

Then came the West Virginia loss, and things looked bad. The Panthers had 32 turnovers and struggled to score the ball once again.

After that game, the Panthers finally tasted victory, winning two straight over UNC Wilmington and Towson.

Guys like Dan Oladapo, Nate Santos, and William Jeffress started to play a bigger role and gave the Panthers some scoring options outside of Hugley. Jamarius Burton was back with the team. The Panthers were now showing that they can fight, and although the opponents were not the best, they were coming out on top with wins.

Right when it looked like Pitt had turned things around, Vanderbilt came into town and ran Pitt out of the gym. The Commodores held Hugley to just one point, and the Panthers could not find any scoring help outside of Odukale.

Days later, UMBC dubbed Pitt by 10. Another embarrassing loss for the Panthers, who had Minnesota and Virginia, two power five programs, up next on the schedule.

Pitt lost both of those by one point. As close as it gets. And while those were both losses and the team was now on a four-game losing streak, this was where things started to turn around for Pitt.

The Panthers held Minnesota to just 54 points. The team was defending well. Hugley looked like a star once again. Against Virginia, Pitt held the Cavaliers to just 57 points. Burton was starting to look more comfortable, as was Mo Gueye. Walk-on Onye Ezeakudo scored a career-high 8. Once again, and this time against a better opponent, the Panthers had battled down to the last possession.

Since that four-game losing streak, Pitt has won three of its last four, taking down Colgate, St. John’s, and Jacksonville.

The St. John’s win, at the mecca, Madison Square Garden, was one of the biggest wins that Pitt has earned during Capel’s tenure with the program. The Panthers came from behind, battled all the way through, and then came through with a game-winning jumper as time expired off the hands of Burton on the biggest basketball stage in the world.

Now, Burton has emerged as a high-level scorer, putting up as high as 20 points against St. John’s. Gueye looks as though he has adjusted to the level of play, is getting the ball more, and is creating more. Hugley has continued to put up 10+ points per game and is drawing double teams down low in seemingly every game. Not to mention Odukale, the reigning ACC Co-Player of the Week, is finally finding his stride scoring the ball.

So, as bad as Pitt’s team stats look, as bad as the Panthers’ losses to The Citadel, to UMBC, to Monmouth look, the Panthers have proven that through all of the adversity that they have faced, they are going to keep fighting. They have multiple players who are almost there, who have had huge games and bad games. They are close, and no matter what, they are going to keep fighting.

Whether that equates to a successful ACC run over the next couple of months? Who knows? The conference has had a down year overall, which could mean that Pitt can will its way to some wins down the road. There are 11 teams in the ACC with at least four losses already, which is not common for the league.

Teams like Notre Dame, Boston College, and Georgia Tech look beatable. Teams like Duke and UNC? Probably not, at least for Pitt. Then in between, there are many teams which we just don’t quite know about just yet.

It is going to be an interesting conference slate for the Panthers, but if we learned one thing about them in the first half of the season, it is that they will fight. Whether it was against Virginia or whether it was against Towson, the Panthers showed that they will use heart, toughness, and togetherness to their advantage and will their way to victories.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Mark Recker
Mark Recker
9 months ago

Looking at the pic of Hugley attached to this article, it’s hard to believe that there are clowns on here that continue to insist that he’s fat.


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