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Opinion

Vukovcan: Capel, Veterans Will Lead Pitt to Winning Season

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The Pitt basketball fan base is starving for a winner and desperately want a return to their glory days of Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon when the regular season was merely a tune up for a spot in the NCAA tournament.

While it’s only been six years since the last time the Panthers went dancing in March, it feels like sixty years with the struggles this once proud program has gone through since the departure of Dixon.

Over the last six seasons, Pitt has averaged only 12 wins per season as they compiled a record of 75-110, with a high of 16 wins in both 2016 and 2019.

Tonight, Jeff Capel begins his fifth season as Pitt head coach as the Panthers host UT-Martin. The question entering this season is will the 2022-23 season be any different for Pitt or will the program continue to slide and lose the interest of fans by the end of the calendar year?

I’m going to say something that hasn’t been dared to be mentioned in years and that’s I believe there’s legitimate hope for Pitt this year and in the future.

No, I’m not predicting they will be a top team in the ACC, but I do believe this will be Capel’s first winning season at Pitt. I’ll have a complete prediction coming up.

What’s the reason for optimism?

To win in college basketball you need three things: a star, veteran guards and depth. I believe this Pitt team has all three of those things.

Despite early struggles, John Hugley has worked hard to get better and has become the face of Pitt basketball. Hugley is not just a good player on what has been a bad team but the big man from Ohio has developed into a player that’s talented enough to play and shine on any team in the country. That’s a credit to Hugley and the coaches at Pitt for their work to improve his game.

Hugley will miss tonight’s season opener but isn’t expected to be out for much longer. I will say that although I’m optimistic about this season, any extended absence from No. 4 will completely change my outlook.

The biggest thing that the Pitt staff was able to do this offseason was to add not just veteran guards but ones that can play and contribute from day one. Nelly Cummings and Greg Elliott aren’t going to be superstars or first-team All-ACC players, but Pitt has added a couple players that will bring leadership, the ability to score both from outside and in the lane as well as get their teammates involved.

Pitt hasn’t had a well-rounded player and leader like Cummings in quite some time and his presence will be noticeable starting tonight.

The other element of this Panther team that gives me hope is that they finally have a handful of players that can put the ball in the basketball and average double-digits. On any given night, it will be anyone’s guess as to who will lead the team in scoring. Hugley, Cummings, Elliott, Nike Sibande, Jamarius Burton and Blake Hinson are all capable of scoring and getting hot for a few stretches of games.

When you only have a couple of players with the realistic capabilities, it kills your team when they go cold. However, I believe Pitt has six players that could be their leading scorer on any given game, which allows for certain players to go into slumps and also for the younger players on the roster to develop.

So, what’s all of this going to add up to? My official prediction is for Pitt to finish 18-13 and 8th in the ACC. I’m so optimistic that I’m projecting Pitt to receive a bid to the NIT, which would be their first postseason appearance since 2015.

The NIT isn’t the NCAA Tournament, but it’s going to be the first step in the rebirth of Pitt basketball.

I’m sure many of you are laughing hilariously at this and think I’m losing my mind, but the start of any season should be filled with optimism and that’s what I have for this 2022 Pitt men’s basketball team.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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TJ
TJ
1 month ago

Someone’s got to believe. I haven’t seen the guys play yet and certainly, as you said, there is some talent and leadership. Lot’s of new faces so I hope everything gels. I’m excited for this season and a return to winning. H2P !

Dukes

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