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Opinion

Vukovcan: Friday’s Success Should Be Sign of What’s to Come for Pitt Football and Basketball

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To say it was an outstanding day on Friday for the Pitt athletic department would be an extreme understatement.

Despite entering their respective games against ranked opponents as underdogs, the Pitt football and basketball teams overcame odds and deficits to impressively defeat No. 18 UCLA and No. 25 North Carolina.

Yes, the two Panther teams were able to add wins to their season records, but the potential impact goes well beyond a single win.

Pittsburgh Panthers guard Nelly Cummings (0) December 30, 2022 David Hague/PSN

For Jeff Capel’s squad, it was a home win over one of the most well-known programs in basketball and a team that started this season ranked No. 1 and played in the national championship game last season. However, the most important part of the win was that they might have opened the eyes of some very important people.

Aside from having a nice crowd and atmosphere at The Pete, Pitt hosted as an impressive group of recruits on unofficial visits as they’ve done in a long, long time.

Sitting courtside for Pitt’s 76-74 win were a group of four- and five-star recruits that Capel is hoping will wear Panther uniforms one day:
2024 4-star guard Jalil Bethea
2025 5-star forward Alier Maluk
2025 5-star guard Meleek Thomas
2024 3-star guard Brandin Cummings
2023 4-star guard Carlton Carrington (current Pitt commit)
2023 3-star guard Amere Brown 

Pitt is now 3-0 and tied for first place with Miami and Clemson atop the ACC conference. The Panthers are being mentioned as a team possibly getting a bid for March Madness and for the first time since Jamie Dixon left, there’s some legitimate buzz about Pitt basketball.

If this excitement is to continue, Pitt needs to be able to attract the caliber of players that were in the crowd yesterday, especially the local ones.

As far as the football team, considering the opt-outs, transfers, opposition and in-game deficit that they faced, that was as impressive a win as they’ve had all year.

The talking point following the ACC Championship in 2021 was whether or not that success was a one-year deal or was it the start of a long-term winning football program being built by Narduzzi and company.

After the results of the Sun Bowl, it’s fair to say that 2021 wasn’t a fluke and Narduzzi is building a really good, really successful football program.

*Pitt finished 2022 with five consecutive wins.
*Have won 20 games over the last two seasons, the first time that’s happened since 1981-82.
*Pitt’s win over No. 18 UCLA was its first win over an AP-ranked team in a bowl game since beating Texas A&M in the Sun Bowl back in 1989.

While Pitt doesn’t get the national headlines as teams like Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, etc., the job that Narduzzi and his coaches do getting the most of their talent and developing mostly 3-star recruits into NFL-ready players is impressive as any Power Five team in the country.

This isn’t my opinion. It’s a fact. Just look at the recent examples of players Pitt is putting into the NFL, which will continue this April with names like Calijah Kancey, Israel Abanikanda, SirVocea Dennis, Erick Hallet and others. While other programs boast about their attendance, fight song or conference they play in, Pitt just continues to win and get their players to the league.

After some rocky patches, especially with the basketball team, I think fans can stop waiting for something bad to happen or for another loss and enjoy the fact that Pitt basketball appears to be close to returning.

I’m not saying that they’re fully back but that appears to be just a matter of time. Thanks to a tremendous job by Capel bringing in talent in the transfer portal and some key recruits like Federiko Federiko, Pitt will be entering every game this season with a chance to win, something they haven’t been able to say in a long, long time.

With the incoming class of recruits, along with players that are scheduled to return (although that’s not always a guarantee), Pitt should be in the same position next year.

The moral of this story and big picture importance is something fans should keep in mind: the most important programs in Pitt’s athletic programs are finally stable.

Both Narduzzi and Capel have their faults, as do every coach in the country. No one is perfect and nor should fans expect them to be.

It’s time that Pitt fans realize and appreciate the fact that the football and basketball programs are in pretty good hands.

Enjoy what’s going on because winning is fun and with what Narduzzi and Capel are doing, a lot more days like Friday are in the future.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Geoff Moorer
Geoff Moorer
1 month ago

Well written! Both programs are poised for a run of success. Pitt and most fans dont realize how hard it is to win at the major college level, especially consistently.

TJ
TJ
1 month ago

Agreed. The best is yet to come. Happy New Year. H2P!

Dixon
Dixon
1 month ago

Absolutely great day to be a fan of the Blue and Gold. Exciting games that went right down to the last second…can’t ask for much more than that. Hoping for more of the same in ’23.

Agent Zero
Agent Zero
1 month ago

Great article Mike!As a realistic season ticket holding football fan.I can’t remember when I’ve been this excited for the program.Are they going to compete for National Championships.?Most likely not!But with the expansion of the playoffs.They have a chance of getting into the conversation.But 20 wins in the last 2 seasons is great accomplishment

I have to see more from the basketball team,but can’t deny that Capel has it looking like they are going in the right direction.Just think he needs to hit on some of these recruits to really jumpstart this program.

Jane
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Agent Zero

Just wish coach played more guys ..: his teams Tend to get tired halfway through the ACC play …

Agent Zero
Agent Zero
1 month ago
Reply to  Jane

I can’t agree with that..Green,Bentley,Danielson,Hayes all played alot during the season.They went 7-8 deep during games..Could they have played another LB?Perhaps but the depth there is a little light with acam Bright transferring and George hurt.Also they showed depth on the backend as well..

Eric payne
Eric payne
1 month ago
Reply to  Agent Zero

I think that she was referring to the Basketball team.

LuAnn Bair
LuAnn Bair
1 month ago

Great article and those like me that new both of these teams could do what the feel the fans need to be there more . I do have a question I’m anxious to see if there is any follow up with those basketball recruits to see what they thought? Pittisit4ever@gmail.com

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