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Opinion

Michalowski: Pitt Would Have the Talent to Compete in ACC with Full Lineup

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On Wednesday night, with a commanding win at North Carolina, Pitt extended its season-long winning streak to three games, with two of the three wins coming on the road.

However, just nine days prior to the nine-point victory over the Tar Heels, it appeared as though the program was nearing rock bottom under Jeff Capel.

Just days after falling down by as much as 27 in a loss to Virginia Tech, the Panthers fell to the Hokies for a second-straight time, this time crashing to the tune of an embarrassing final score of 74-47. Pitt’s losing streak was up to a season-high four games.

But then, something clicked for Pitt. Something clearly changed when the Panthers traveled down to face one of the most dominant home court teams in the ACC in Florida State.

“Obviously, Ithiel [Horton] was outstanding all game,” Capel said after the Panthers’ five-point road win over the Seminoles. “Our guys found him, and he delivered and made shots. I am really glad I took Jerry’s advice last time and got him more minutes.”

Horton, for the first time all season, played more than 30 minutes for Pitt in the win at FSU. In 37 minutes of action, the sharp-shooter lived up to his reputation and drained seven three-pointers, five of which came in his triumphant 17-point second half showing. In a game in which Femi Odukale, Mo Gueye, and John Hugley combined for just 16 points, Horton was the guy who led the way in scoring for the first time since he had returned from his suspension.

The Panthers had found something that they had dearly missed.

Up next came NC State, who Pitt took down behind a 15-point second-half outburst from guess who? Horton once again. In that win, he scored 17 points in 39 minutes to pair with Jamarius Burton’s 17 and John Hugley’s 21 and carry the Panthers to the ‘W.’

“It helps a lot,” Hugley said about Horton being back on the court after the win over NC State. “It opens up the court more. If I am getting doubled, I just kick it out to him. If I am getting fronted help-side, I just skip it to IT corner. It all works out perfectly having him back.”

After that came Wednesday night’s winning effort, in which, for the first time all season, Pitt had five players score in double-digits. Horton, going 5 for 5 from three-point range and 4 for 4 from the free-throw line, paved the way with 19 points. Hugley, in a highly-anticipated matchup against UNC big man Armando Bacot, followed with 18 of his own. Then came Burton, Gueye, and Odukale, who added 14, 11, and 10 points, respectively. Pitt, especially in the first half, looked like a completely different team than the one that fell to Virginia Tech by 27 just nine days prior.

“Look, getting in rhythm is also our guys understanding how to play with him,” Capel said about Horton’s quest for comfort. “It doesn’t just happen, get an understanding of what a weapon he is for us, and that helps everyone. It helps Femi and JB on their penetration, it helps John inside, it helps Mo, and so just getting back into the rhythm of playing but also playing with us, and us with him. So all of those things. Again, he played 40 minutes tonight and he wasn’t tired. That is another great sign for us.”

The Panthers have now won each game in which Horton has played at least 30 minutes. In those games, he has clearly been the difference for a Pitt team that has been searching for weapons within itself all season, that is, ever since Horton’s suspension and guard Nike Sibande’s season-ending torn ACL. Had those two been with Pitt all year long? The Panthers would be competing near the top of the ACC.

First reason? Sibande’s scoring and shot-creating prowess, something this team has lacked all year.

In Pitt’s last five games of last season, Sibande, well-known for his explosive athleticism and offensive creativity, averaged 15 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. A solid ball-handler, Sibande excels both on and off the ball, and would have been yet another blessing, like Horton has been, for this Pitt team. His ability to blow by defenders with pump fakes and dribble moves would pull defenses out, opening things up for the team’s star down low, Hugley. His crisp passing ability and his quickness would allow other guards, including Horton, to move without the ball and find open space. And above all, he would make this team look multi-dimensional. All year, it has been a story of mostly one, or maybe two players having good nights in Pitt’s wins. However, with Sibande out there, the team would have a new kind of depth and could throw out diverse lineups to use its stars to their best ability.

“I thought that it was within reach for us, especially when we got Ithiel back, and knowing that it was going to take him a little time to get in rhythm,” Capel said about the team’s recent growth. “But, we were close to being whole. That’s the main thing, the team that we felt that we would have at the beginning of the year before we started playing games. We had to get adjusted to who we were and it took a while when we were down two really, really talented guys. Two guys in the back court that we thought would be two of our better players. But we continued to battle, we got experience, we stayed together which is really huge, and as we have gotten close to whole, we are still not there, we won’t be, but this is as whole as we will be, we have gotten better because we’ve shown up and we’ve worked and we’ve put in the time and that is something hopefully we can continue to do.”

Next? The conference is down, and way down. Especially with how poor the ACC has been this season as a whole, the Panthers, with Sibande and Horton playing all year, would have a legitimate chance to contend in the top half of the conference.

Currently, they sit in tenth place out of fifteen teams, just two wins behind the No. 7 team in the conference. They have already beaten three of the teams ahead of them in the standings, and two of those wins have come with Horton back playing a big role. The Panthers have also fallen by five points or less five times in league play, with close losses by one-point to Virginia and Notre Dame, by three points to Louisville, and by five points to Virginia and Virginia Tech. In each of those losses, Pitt needed just a bit more. The fight was there, but the depth, the overall talent, and the points were not.

However, now, with Horton back, the Panthers have four players averaging at least 11 points per game, have picked up three-straight conference wins, and have shown flashes of what could have been.

Had Sibande and Horton been out there all season, as Pitt initially prepared for, they would have made a massive difference, and would have the Panthers in contention with the top teams in the ACC.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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TMG
TMG
9 months ago

Where are the SHMUCKS at?! Pitt Can’t compete. They won’t win a single game in the ACC. They won’t finish any higher than LAST! Caple is terrible and should be fired IMMEDIATELY!

Keep up the fight fellas…. H2P

Rob Radich
Rob Radich
9 months ago
Reply to  TMG

11-15. 4 straight losing seasons under Capel. No recruits for next year. Delusional fanboy, get a grip.

Send it in !
Send it in !
9 months ago
Reply to  Rob Radich

Maybe it’s one of Capel’s staff members. They don’t have much to do, since they don’t recruit.

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago
Reply to  Send it in !

Maybe Rob Radich & Send It In! are the same person.

Send it in !
Send it in !
9 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo Grimm

Wrong again. You should rename yourself. Clueless in Oakland.

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago
Reply to  Send it in !

Nope, same person. Now post something racist, you know that you want to.

Mark Recker is a jerk
Mark Recker is a jerk
9 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo Grimm

Maybe you’re mark recker

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago

Not sure who that is but if you say he’s a jerk that’s good enough for me. You know, because Send It In! is never wrong….except for all those moronic predictions about Pitt Basketball.

Mark Recker is a jerk
Mark Recker is a jerk
9 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo Grimm

Jumbo mark someday you’ll graduate to the sixth grade.

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago

Says the guy who replies with childish insults.

Krackerjack Kid
Krackerjack Kid
9 months ago
Reply to  TMG

Pitt beat a very average UNC team last night. How many minutes did each team go, for several stretches at a time, without scoring? Bad fouls and sloppy play, with some flashes athleticism and skill. Granted, Pitt has won three on a row. Great. But when you look at the last four years, recruiting, off-court issues and chemistry, there is nothing that tells me this team under Capel is build for the long haul. I don’t anyone is rooting against Capel, but can anyone seriously state that he’s done a good job so far? It seems that Capel underestimated the… Read more »

Send it in !
Send it in !
9 months ago

Good analysis. Some folks can not (or won’t) look at the Big Picture. Snapshots of one moment, as in beating a very avg Carolina team is similar to last year when Pitt beat Duke. And is very shortsighted. But fanboys are like that.

Rob Radich
Rob Radich
9 months ago
Reply to  Send it in !

Just wondering how many other ACC programs have ZERO recruits coming in.

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago
Reply to  Rob Radich

Send It In! logs out, Rob Radich logs in. Interesting that they share the same views on everything. It’s almost as if they’re the same person.

Mark Recker is a jerk
Mark Recker is a jerk
9 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo Grimm

mark recker is that u?

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago

Is this Rob? Or Send It In? Or maybe it’s Krackerjack? Or Giovanni? No matter, you should take off your tin foil hat before you make a fool of yourself…..again.

Mtgj
Mtgj
9 months ago

If they just won the Notre dame and Virginia games like they should have then they would be a middle of the pack team. The acc is awful this year, It’s a shame pitt couldn’t capitalize on that.
Next year is a massive year for this team. Capel needs to find a point guard in the portal and make sure everyone comes back. I think they can be pretty good next year.

MDR
MDR
9 months ago
Reply to  Mtgj

Gueye is out of eligibility and that is a shame. I think another year for him would be huge. Burton I am not sure if he has another year. If they bring back Burton, get a solid PG or another big that can shoot, this team will compete next year. Do agree they need a more natural PG.

Mtgj
Mtgj
9 months ago
Reply to  MDR

Yeah, It’s not that I dislike odukake, I just think he is better as a wing and maybe a backup point guard. This team needs a natural point guard to run things.
I watched a few Indians games this year and Xavier Johnson is playing so controlled this year, He is bringing the ball up and getting his team into its offense. He is playing really well, I always thought he got into trouble when he tried to do to much.

Send it in !
Send it in !
9 months ago
Reply to  Mtgj

Exactly, in 4 years Capel has yet to recruit a PG. That’s almost unimaginable in 4 going on 5 years. And one of the huge problems on this team. No-one to distribute the ball to the right player or to create a play and then dish to the right player. Pitt won last night, despite themselves…they still had 18 turnovers, with Odukale having 7 of them.

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago
Reply to  Send it in !

Considering that Xavier Johnson has been a starting point guard for 4 years at 2 different programs, it’s pretty clear to everyone with a basketball IQ over 12 that he’s a point guard.

Send it in !
Send it in !
9 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo Grimm

LOL….check what he played in HS….putz. It wasn’t PG. He was a turnover machine at Pitt, when he couldn’t finish his own drive. Your overall IQ is lower than 12…with your personal attacks. But that’s all you got.

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago
Reply to  Send it in !

So you’re basing his career on high school? He’s a Division 1 point guard. Ask Capel, ask Mike Woodson, ask about 30 other coaches who recruited him when he entered the transfer portal. Again, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Mark Recker is a jerk
Mark Recker is a jerk
9 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo Grimm

Calm down mark

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago

Looks like you finally figured out what the rest of the world has known for years, Johnson is a point guard.

Hank
Hank
9 months ago

f everyone of the guards that can come back does Pitt will have 4 starting caliber players for 3 spots. Nike, Burton, Horton, & Femi. Getting a power forward to fill Mo’s minutes will be the biggest need in the transfer portal. It should be an attractive spot to fill with the success Mo had and with the success Champagnie had at Pitt. If they can keep the starters from this years team and add Nike and a good PF then next year should be Capel’s best team.

Send it in !
Send it in !
9 months ago

These are very easy articles to write…right after an unexpected win. Let’s take a look at the whole 4 years, and where the program is headed. Still no winning seasons, and no recruits for next year. NOT A SINGLE ONE ! And btw Nike is not a distributor of the ball, he’s just another 2 guard, so he’d be taking minutes from Horton. Also Horton has been decent, pretty good. Does one expect him to shoot 5 for 5 from 3 all the time. lol

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago
Reply to  Send it in !

McGowans, Toney & Johnson all were signed during the summer, just a few months before the season. Plenty of time on the recruiting calendar. Also, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Send it in !
Send it in !
9 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo Grimm

Again….the complete opposite is true. 2 of them were recruited in April. And again the opposite is true….you are clueless. April is far from a few months before the season that starts in November. Clueless putz.

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago
Reply to  Send it in !

Capel was hired in March & all 3 were signed during the summer. Doesn’t matter when they were recruited Sturg. I’m right, you’re wrong.

Mark Recker is a jerk
Mark Recker is a jerk
9 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo Grimm

Okay mark, you’re right again

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago

The name’s Jimbo & yes I am right again. And Send It In! keeps his/her streak alive.

Last edited 9 months ago by Jimbo Grimm
Mark Recker is a jerk
Mark Recker is a jerk
9 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo Grimm

It’s jumbo mark recker grime

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago

Looks like you’re day drinking again Pap. Never a good idea.

Mark Recker is a jerk
Mark Recker is a jerk
9 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo Grimm

Mark’s bipolar is kicking in again

Send it in !
Send it in !
9 months ago

Granted Pitt is better with Horton. Duh. Could they be any worse pre-Horton. He’s a shooter. Capel has failed to recruit any PG’s for 4, going on 5 years. He didn’t even get a PG from the transfer portal. And he’s failed to recruit any shooters. So in 4 going on 5 years (as he’s recruited NOBODY for 2022) he’s failed to recruit a PG and failed to recruit a Shooter. As Horton is a transfer, as are any others you want to label shooters, who really aren’t. Those being Nike & Burton.

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago
Reply to  Send it in !

So you’re saying that Pitt is better with Horton? Wow, some serious insight there. You should apply for a network analyst job. Jay Bilas got nothing on you.

Send it in !
Send it in !
9 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo Grimm

You are clearly demented pal. Any insight would be more than you can provide.

Jimbo Grimm
Jimbo Grimm
9 months ago
Reply to  Send it in !

But Pitt is better with Horton right? Just checking to see if you still believe this.

AMF
AMF
9 months ago

The most recent win was most impressive as were
the previous two to a lesser exent.Let’s see how
they fare in the final four regulation season games,
three against the better conference teams.If there
is still success,the ACC playoffs could be a big
opportunity, as Duke is the only upper level
challenge. Remember how Ben Howland took
his 2nd year team into the Big East playoffs
after a modest regular season and took them
to the finals. PItt basketball never looked back
for the next 10 to 12 years

Dukes

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