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Opinion

Vukovcan: Finally, Jeff Capel Has Made Pitt Basketball Relevant Again

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Hey Pitt fans, how does it feel to have a men’s basketball team again?

While it’s still too early to start planning a trip to watch Pitt play in March Madness, it’s not too early to see that Pitt is once again a relevant basketball team capable of winning on any night.

For the second straight game, despite trailing a ranked team by double-digits, the Panthers fought and made clutch plays down the stretch to beat a ranked team, this time No. 11 Virginia, 68-65.

This follows an impressive win against North Carolina, who started the season ranked No. 1 in the country.

In case you were wondering, this is the first time Pitt has beaten ranked opponents in back-back-games since February of 2011 and it’s their first 4-0 start in the ACC since 2013-14.

Pitt starts today with a record 11-4 and 4-0 in the ACC, which has them in a tie for first place with Clemson and Miami. Up next is a matchup at The Pete against Clemson, so they have another tough matchup in front of them.

This basketball program has been irrelevant for seven years, so it still has more work to do to win back the trust of fans that stopped following them and also the national media.

Pittsburgh Panthers Bench January 3, 2023 David Hague/PSN

The obvious evidence of that, prior to last night’s win, Pitt had won 9 of their last 10 games, including wins over Syracuse, NC State and Northwestern. However, when the latest AP Top 25 rankings were released on Monday, Pitt didn’t receive a single vote.

While that’s borderline ridiculous, it’s not surprising.

Until this season, Pitt had completely fallen off the basketball map and the minds of writers. The win last night will change that and a win this Saturday over Clemson, not only will it get them ranked but in serious conversation for a spot in the tournament.

While what happens over the next couple of months is still uncertain, one thing that’s crystal clear is that any talk of Jeff Capel being on the hot seat is over.

A large section of the fan base is still reluctant to praise Capel and credit him for what’s happening with Pitt hoops, but they need to start now.

While going through obvious struggles and making some mistakes in his first few years trying to raise this program from the dead, Capel is pushing all the right buttons this year.

The biggest reason for the success this season, is his handling and talent evaluation of the transfer portal.

Capel, his assistants and other people connected with the Pitt program hit a grand slam with the additions of Blake Hinson, Nelly Cummings, Jamarius Burton, Greg Elliott and JuCo prospect Federiko Federiko.

With thousands of kids in the portal, it’s not as easy as most people think to bring kids in. Capel and company identified the proper kids, made sure they’d fit in both on and off the court and then closed the deal to get them to sign. He nailed it with all four of them as well as Federiko.

With the transfer portal being here to stay and it will no doubt be a large vehicle for Capel to load his yearly roster, Pitt will still need to bring in top end high school players.

Things are off to a good start with Pitt’s recruiting class for 2023 being ranked in the Top 20 and a commitment today from class of 2024 guard Brandin Cummings.

Brandin Cummings on Commitment to Pitt: ‘It’s Clear that Pitt Basketball is Back’

The commitment of Cummings, along with the buzz created with the 11-4 start, can’t hurt with Capel trying to land elite talent the WPIAL will producing over the next years, led by five-star recruits Alier Maluk and Meleek Thomas, who has been in attendance for both of Pitt’s recent ranked wins.

With the additions of these 2023 recruits and the projected return of Hinson, Dior Johnson, John Hugley and the Diaz-Graham twins, Pitt looks to be in solid shape for next season.

While it’s taken longer than most people wanted, thanks to patience from the Pitt administration and the execution of Capel and his staff, (cross your fingers), Pitt basketball could turn into an attraction and hot ticket again.

It’s critical for an athletic department to have both a strong basketball and football program. Pat Narduzzi’s squad is doing their part and now after six lean years, Pitt basketball is starting to see the fruits of the hiring of Capel.

Pitt Panther basketball won’t be 100% back until they hear their name called on Selection Sunday but if the start of this season is any indication, that’s going to come a lot sooner rather than later.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Terry
Terry
25 days ago

CONGRATULATIONS to Coach Capel for re-booting the PITT bb program after Stallings & the previous AD reduced the team to a dumpster fire. Also, Thanks to current AD Heather Lyke for believing in Jeff Capel & his Coaching Staff to get Piit Basketball back to relevancy in College basketball…
Keep going TEAM, the PITT Nation is behind your eye of the tiger mentality season!!
Go PITT & surprise the Basketball 🏀 College World!!!

Cignetti & Friends
Cignetti & Friends
25 days ago
Reply to  Terry

Whoa there son…..it’s January 4th….let’s wait for about another 2 months for all these congratulatory remarks. Hopefully they will be warranted at that time !

TJ
TJ
25 days ago

hah .. so true. we need to keep it going. but, we all know Pitt fans … if the team loses 2 or 3 in a row, the cries again will start to fire Capel.

Ed Rose
Ed Rose
25 days ago
Reply to  TJ

It is actually pathetic how so called fans behave. If you are a true fan you support the team win or lose. This team is fun to watch and plays hard. Not going to the games is their loss.

Jane
Jane
25 days ago

I like the team … but they have done this before!

TJ
TJ
25 days ago

Certainly winning changes many things. Still plenty of season left but so far, great memories have been made. Let’s see if they can keep it up. Seems like Federiko is growing into the position nicely. With some weight training and more coaching/development, I think he could be a major force as an upperclassman. H2P !

Pittband
Pittband
25 days ago
Reply to  TJ

Possible that F squared will only play this year in college. If he continues to shine, that becomes probable., aka Steve Adams.

Pittband
Pittband
25 days ago

What hasn’t entered into the discussion is John Hughley. When healthy? Will he be mature enough to blend with the group or expect it to bend to his wants.

Pitt guy
Pitt guy
24 days ago

RaDICK ……… Nothing negative to say ? I’ll say what you should say ….Capel has done a great job and the team is playing good ! That’s all RaDICK just say it

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