NEW YORK — Heading into this basketball season, Pitt fans could envision success in the near future.
Pitt’s star, John Hugley, was returning to the court. Jamarius Burton — one of the other leading scorers from last year’s team — was too. As was Nike Sibande. Then, the Panthers went out this offseason and bolstered their roster through the transfer portal, adding Nelly Cummings, Blake Hinson, and Greg Elliott — three veteran players with high-major experience.
Although two of the three games came without Hugley, the Panthers have not quite looked like a team so far in the early portion of the season.
Since the season opener, in Pitt’s two challenges against West Virginia and Michigan, there were no signs of a team playing together.
“I thought we got off to a good start, we were right there early,” head coach Jeff Capel said after the game. “But when adversity hits, the past two games, we’ve dropped the rope. That’s where we have to be better, that’s where we have to grow up. There has to be more of a toughness — both mentally and physically — in those moments.”
In the 91-60 loss to Michigan on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center, the Panthers turned the ball over 13 times, with nine of those TOs coming from their starting five. Pitt only had eight points from its bench players. After only giving up 38 points in the first half — and holding the Wolverines’ lead to just six at the break — the Panthers gave up a whopping 53 in the second half. The Panthers also made just 12 of their 20 free-throw attempts (60%) in the loss.
Pitt still has lots of work to do on both sides of the ball. If it wants to compete with the big dogs, the ranked teams, the NCAA Tournament-bound teams on its schedule this season, it has to learn how to play together.
MICHIGAN — NOT A ONE MAN BAND WHATSOEVER
On Wednesday night, Michigan dominated Pitt, handing the Panthers another 25+ point loss early in year five of the Capel era.
Heading into the game, all eyes were on Hunter Dickinson, Michigan’s 7-foot-1, All-American big man who came in averaging more than 26 points per game.
Michigan looks very ready for #Pitt’s pick and roll every time. Not letting Nelly Cummings or Jamarius Burton get eat looks inside to John Hugley IV or Fede Federiko. Hunter Dickinson will do that to you though.
— Christopher Carter (@CarterCritiques) November 16, 2022
Pitt did a solid job on Dickinson, holding him to just 11 points on 5-for-11 shooting. However, Dickinson impacted the game in other ways, too. When Pitt would send double teams over his way, he would find the open man seemingly instantly.
Michigan opened up the floor tremendously, giving its guards room to distribute (Dug McDaniel – 8 assists, Kobe Bufkin – 4 assists), its wings room to create and hit shots from outside (Jett Howard – 17 points, Joey Baker – 14 points), and its big man to play without any pressure on his shoulders. The Wolverines dominated in this win, earning a well-rounded victory in round one of this year’s Legends Classic.
“Those guys stepped up and made shots tonight,” Capel said about Michigan’s pieces surrounding Dickinson. “Those other guys.”
HUGLEY MAKES SEASON DEBUT, SHOWS FLASHES
Pitt center John Hugley returned to the court on Wednesday, playing in his first game of the season after injuring his knee before the season.
“It’s pretty impressive for a young man to come off of injury, come out, and be ready to go to help his teammates,” Michigan head coach Juwan Howard said about Pitt’s Hugley. “I wish him well throughout the year, and more importantly to have a healthy season for Pitt. He’s tough in there. He’s a load. He’s also skilled too. Not just tough and a load, but he’s skillful. He’s a competitor.”
— George Michalowski (@MichalowskiCBB) November 16, 2022
The 6-foot-9 junior played 22 minutes, scoring nine points and grabbing one rebound. For his first game back, Hugley displayed lots of positive signs, including his usual physicality and aggression. Hugley also hit his first three-point attempt of the season right out of the gates to start the game off. He was going up against one of the most potent bigs in the nation in Dickinson, and even though he had only practiced for five days leading up to his debut, he certainly showed some flashes of the same, dominant Hugley that Pitt fans witnessed last season.
The Panthers will play in the consolation game on Thursday at 7 p.m. to wrap up the Legends Classic against VCU.
Pitt sits at 1-2 on the year with two 25+ point losses. With its full team back now — although Hugley will likely still play with a limit on his minutes — the Panthers have a big game in front of them to finish off the run in Brooklyn strong.
VCU will be without its star guard, Ace Baldwin, who missed Wednesday night’s first-round loss to ASU due to a wrist injury. The Rams looked to 6-foot-4 guard Jayden Nunn (13 points), 6-foot-7 forward Jamir Watkins (10 points), and 6-foot-8 forward Brandon Johns (10 points) in their game against ASU. As a team, the Rams hit 6 of their 23 three-point attempts and turned the ball over 16 times in the loss.
After the Legends Classic, Pitt heads home to face Alabama State, Fairleigh Dickinson, and William and Mary throughout Thanksgiving week.