The loss on Saturday withstanding, the start to the 2022-23 season for Pitt has been both exciting and encouraging.
Not many people would’ve predicted an 11-5 overall record and 4-1 in the ACC, but that’s where the Panthers currently sit heading into Wednesday’s showdown against Duke.
After six seasons of really bad basketball, Pitt fans are slowly but surely getting into this team and finally have a team that’s competitive enough to be in every game on their schedule.
It remains to be seen how long this solid play will last and if they accomplish something that wasn’t on anyone’s radar at the start of the season, which is earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament in March.
Prior to Saturday’s loss to Clemson at The Pete, most national bracketologists had the Panthers as one of their 68 teams, ranging anywhere from a No. 7 to a No. 11 seed.
Everyone has a right and hell, after what they’ve been forced to watch over the last handful of years, should get really excited about what they’re seeing on the court this season. Guys like Blake Hinson and Jamarius Burton are playing like First Team All-ACC players, Greg Elliott has added a threat of an outside scorer, something that’s been non-existent for years and Nelly Cummings has been a rock at point guard and has provided the veteran presence that any NCAA Tournament team needs.
While all of that is true, it’s not enough for Pitt to get to where they want to go and that’s dancing in March.
In order for Jeff Capel’s team to have a realistic chance to earn a tournament bid or to maximize the talent on this year’s team, John Hugley is needed.
I’ve read and heard talk from fans that this team is ok without Hugley, and his return would ruin the chemistry that currently exists.
Sorry, but that’s pure nonsense.
I get it, Pitt has 11 wins and looks good but I don’t believe they’re able to sustain this for the rest of the season.
Unfortunately, too many people are forgetting the talent that Hugley possesses and the impact he brings to a team.
In reality, with Burton not being 100%, Hugley was the lone offensive threat on Pitt’s 2021-22 team. Despite having no help from the outside and opposing teams doubling him virtually every time he got the ball, Hugley was an All-ACC honorable mention player.
— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) March 7, 2022
Hugley played in all 31 games for Pitt this season, one of four players to do so, and he led the team in points, rebounds and field goal percentage. With 14.7 points on 46.7 percent shooting from the field, he stepped up as Pitt’s top scorer. And with 7.9 rebounds per game, he provided an offensive and defensive presence in grabbing nearly three offensive and five defense boards per game.
Hugley is the piece that this current team is missing.
Federiko Federiko is averaging 5.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and has been the most pleasant surprise on the team. However, he needs help.
The grind of an ACC will eventually catch up to him and not to mention, if he gets in foul trouble or Pitt sustains an injury, this team would be in trouble.
Capel has done a great job with his rotation and using the pieces that he has at his disposal but using just six and seven guys will eventually catch up to this team.
Whether it’s the first guy coming off the bench or eventually returning to his spot as starting center, Pitt is in desperate need of Hugley.
Unfortunately, this season has been a nightmare for the Cleveland native, as it started with a knee injury, followed by ineffectiveness due to being out of shape because of the injury. All of that has been followed up by him being sidelined since December 10.
Pitt has not given an exact reason for Hugley’s absence other than to say he’s not hurt, is not being disciplined and is in no legal trouble. All of that has led to people speculating, which is something I won’t do.
First and foremost, basketball aside, I hope everything is ok with Hugley and if so, that he’s able to make a return this season.
If that happens, it’s not too late for Hugley to fill the void that this team is missing, which is a down low scoring presence along with someone that can dominate on the glass. Even if it’s not entirely what we got last season, if everything is ok with him physically, Hugley has the talent to dominate any game that he plays in.
Basketball is once again fun in Pittsburgh and making a return to the tournament would add to that. But the only realistic chance for that is for Capel and Pitt to get a return of a healthy and productive John Hugley.