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Opinion

Michalowski: We’ll Learn a Lot About Pitt Over These Next Three Games

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After stringing together three-straight wins, Jeff Capel’s Pitt Panthers now sit at 4-3 on the year.

You can roughly summarize the Panthers’ first seven games with three simple bullet points:

  • They’ve lost to the good teams.
  • They’ve been embarrassed by the better-than-just-good teams.
  • They’ve beaten the really awful teams (after slow starts)

But more went into these wins and losses than just those points. Pitt’s best player heading into the season, John Hugley, injured his knee weeks before the season and missed several games. He’s just getting back up to speed now. Jamarius Burton missed a game with a knee inflammation.

So, let’s dig into the recent games and break down what we know about the Panthers so far.

Last week, Pitt played three teams ranked in the 300s according to Kenpom.com. That is, out of the 363 teams in Division I college hoops, Pitt played some of the absolute worst competition out there. Alabama State is ranked No. 347. Fairleigh Dickinson, No. 346. William and Mary, No. 316.

First came Alabama State. The Panthers went 3 for 14 from deep as then 0-4 Alabama State took a three-point lead into the break. Days later, Pitt held a seven-point lead at the half over Fairleigh Dickinson. One of the worst teams in the entire country once again hung in there with the Panthers, who hit just five of their 16 three-point tries to get started. Pitt then trailed by four at the half against William and Mary in the third game of the week, turning the ball over seven times to the Tribe’s three in the first frame. Another slow start.

Pitt took control in the second half of all three of those games and walked away with three W’s. But we’re seven games into year five of the Capel era. You can’t bank on coming out slow and figuring it out in the second half. There are no excuses to start slow against teams like this.

The Panthers won all three with strong second-half performances. But in year five of Capel’s tenure with as much talent, veteran experience, and star power as this Panther team has this year, these games should have been cake walks.

Pitt trailed at halftime in two of the three games. The Panthers had seven first-half turnovers in each of the three games. They missed more than ten three-point attempts in two of the three games. With a significantly stronger schedule on the horizon, there is no more time for slow starts and sloppy play.

It’s time to learn something about this team. Hugley’s back at full strength dropping near double-double numbers each game. Burton has been a steady force so far. Cummings has started to settle into his role as the team’s point guard. Nike Sibande has shaken off the rust and looks like he can consistently create like he did pre-injury. The team has faced adversity, injuries, and intense late-game situations.

Pitt’s next three opponents each rank in the top 80 in the country, once again according to the great Ken Pomeroy. Northwestern (5-1) is ranked as the No. 48 team in the nation. NC State (6-1) is ranked at No. 50. Vanderbilt (3-3) sits at No. 78.

The Panthers take on the Wildcats tonight in Evanston, Ill. at 9 p.m. on ESPN2. Northwestern is led by three guards who are all averaging more than ten points per contest this season: Boo Buie, Chase Audige, and Ty Berry. Two 6-foot-9 seniors — Robbie Beran and Tydus Verhoeven — make up the starting front court. Through six games, the Wildcats rank fourth in Division I in opponent points per game, allowing just 51.7 points per contest so far. Northwestern most recently fell to Auburn in a low-scoring 43-42 ballgame.

Then comes NC State in Pitt’s first conference matchup of the year. The Wolfpack will look to 6-foot-1 high-scoring guard Jarkel Joiner and last year’s All-ACC freshmen-team selection Terquavion Smith to lead the way this season. They’ll also rely on 6-foot-10 veteran big man Dusan Mahorcic for consistent inside production. Should be a tough matchup for Pitt in its first conference road game of the year in Raleigh.

The third matchup of this crucial three-game stretch will come against Jerry Stackhouse’s Vanderbilt Commodores. Stackhouse has four different players averaging more than 11 points per game early on this year, led by 6-foot-7 versatile forward, Myles Stute. Vandy has some talented guards on the roster as well as a budding 7-footer in Liam Robbins. However, this team was picked to finish 12th in the SEC this year. Stackhouse’s program has struggled in recent years, and Pitt should win games like these.

How many of these three will Pitt win? We will surely learn a lot more about this team across these next couple of weeks.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Burton Tee
Burton Tee
2 months ago

I think we have learned a lot already over 5 seasons.

It’s that Capel is unable to build a culture of winning.

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