I put out a question on social media earlier this week asking fans to send me questions about this year’s Pitt basketball team.
Let’s dive into my answers.
Q & A
Dave Yazz – @dyarksky – Does Will Jeffress make an impact this year and what’s more impressive the freshman guards or George Michalowski’s golf game?
Thanks for the question Dave. I think Jeffress definitely works his way into an important role this year. I don’t see him starting because he hasn’t seen game action in over one year and Austin seems to be putting up solid numbers at his position so far this exhibition season. But I could see him becoming a piece Pitt looks to for defensive help on opposing wings. Any offensive production he could provide would be great for the team. We have yet to see any flashes of offense from Jeffress (2.4 and 3.4 points per game on rough shooting numbers in two years) but you can bet that he’s ready to show something after sitting out for a year.
As for the second question, I think right now, the freshmen guards are more impressive than my golf game. They’ve got top-100 level talent, and I do not (yet). They’ve looked awesome so far and I’ve only heard good things coming out of Pitt about their confidence and skills. On the other hand, my golf game has seen better days. Maybe when the transfer portal slows down next summer I’ll be able to shoot low (and not lose 27 balls per round) at Grandview. I’ve got a lot of work to do to compete with you.
Tony Tennyson – @tony_tennyson – How much do you think M. H Jr. will play at guard?
I think he will definitely have an opportunity. In the first few games, I think we’ll see Mike Hueitt Jr. crack the rotation for 5-7 minutes per game. From there, it’s going to rely on how quickly he can learn. Joining the team in September isn’t easy. He’s got to be up to speed, confident, and has to make the most of his opportunity to earn more minutes in a talented back court.
Brookline Jesus – @romanaround412 – Will I have to sell my house to afford tickets by the time acc play comes around?
Possibly. I don’t know what the prices will look like for those early-January home games against Carolina and Duke, but the Panthers’ schedule may have them sitting around 8-9 wins after the non-con which would equal lots of hype around those games like last year. If you want to check out the first ACC matchup, tickets for the Clemson game start at $30..
Nate Yarnell (Aka The Sheriff) Hive – @one1man1army – Will we beat Duke by 30 or 40?
Tough one here. Duke is +1100 to win the Natty this year and Pitt is +25,000. I’ll leave it at that. A 30-point win over Duke would be huge for Pitt’s NET ranking too..
Scaztastic – @scaztastic – What does coach envision his rotation numbers being? And in conference play? I’m curious about the big guys being on the court together.
I don’t know what Capel’s ideal rotation looks like, but if I had to guess, this is what I’d see happening. My projected starting lineup for night one is: Carrington, Leggett, Austin, Hinson, Federiko. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lowe was in there at the one. This is my projected rotation for the first few games of the season. I’m excited to look back after 3 games and see how this compares to Pitt’s.
Blake Hinson – 30 MPG
Ishmael Leggett – 27 MPG
Federiko Federiko – 26 MPG
Zack Austin – 25 MPG
Carlton Carrington- 23 MPG
Jaland Lowe – 22 MPG
Will Jeffress – 14 MPG
Guillermo Diaz-Graham – 14 MPG
Jorge Diaz-Graham – 14 MPG
Mike Hueitt Jr. – 5 MPG
As far as the bigs go, I think you will rarely if ever see Federiko and GDG out there together. Aside from those two, JDG can share the court with either one to give Pitt more length inside and have Hinson out on the wing. Federiko’s speed and strength will allow him to play more than 26 minutes when needed, but I think with GDG’s shooting ability, Pitt can confuse teams with the Spaniard at the five while also giving Federiko a rest.
Jimmy Sciulli @the_YIM – Are they real contenders in the ACC (top 4-5 team in the conference) or is it a building year with one all conference player? Who carries the weight as the second scorer behind Hinson?
I think Pitt could finish in the top five of the league. I’ll probably have them a bit lower in my preseason prediction, but it’s possible. I don’t think they’ll finish outside of the top 8 teams in the league. A lot of things would have to go right for them to be top five: Hinson has to be a First Team All-ACC player. The guards have to grow up quickly – and by that, I mean, they have to produce offensively and hold their own defensively. They have to move on if they make mistakes. Last year’s team excelled at that. With young guards, you never know how your team will respond.
I wouldn’t categorize this season as just a building year with one all-conference player. I think Leggett has a chance to put up big numbers, and he’d be my prediction for the second-leading scorer and another All-ACC team member. Carrington next. I’m psyched to see him play.
Tom Parry – @tomparr14916922 – “Who is scoring the ball other than Blake?”
I think Pitt has several options to look to this year for points. Leggett seems to be able to score in a number of ways. Carrington has a strong mid-range game and loves to score. Austin has made 60+ threes in each of his last two seasons. Lowe can shoot it well and has nice touch around the rim so I could see him putting together solid scoring numbers. If the twins shoot the ball better, we could see them add 6, 7, 8 points per game this year off the bench. I expect Federiko’s numbers to increase as well down low. I could see him putting up 7-10 points per game in his rim-running role.
Ben – @realbenjaminsch – Will they make the NCAA Tournament?
Tough to say at the moment. I’d love to wait 10 games, see how the guards do in the early slate, and make the call confidently. But at this point, I’d say it’s certainly possible. The team believes it can make it back to the dance, and Capel now has a taste of what it takes at Pitt. It’s a whole different team than last year, but I feel that the team has enough talent to get there.
Dan – @dob20 – Hearing a lot about the freshman guards and we all know what Hinson brings. But should we expect any potential big jumps in production from any of the returnees?”
I think Federiko’s numbers will increase on all fronts with a year under his belt and more familiarity on both ends – his and the coaching staff’s – regarding his strengths. I could see the Diaz-Graham twins getting more opportunities this year as well with their added weight and experience. Will they start? I don’t think we’ll see too much of that. But they showed flashes last year of outside shooting and inside scoring as well that leads me to believe that they can double their scoring numbers in an increased role.
Matthew Scabilloni – @matt_scabs – Do you think the defense will be better than last season?
Looking at the team on paper, I think that Pitt will be better defensively than last year. Hinson should be an improved defender, as he is both lighter and stronger than he was last year. Federiko improved as last year went on and should again be one of the best rim protectors in the country. Austin joins the team with a history of blocking shots at a high level (2+ per game each of the last two years) and is very athletic. The guards are going to have to learn how to defend at the D-1 level. I’d say in the back court, the defense is going to have a lot of room for improvement early on. But up front, Pitt looks like it’ll be better on the defensive end.
Leglock22 – @leglock2468 – Guard play.. Front court is all back
The big story of the preseason has been Pitt’s back court, and rightfully so. It’s brand new. No more Burton, Cummings, Elliott, and Sibande this year.
Ishmael Leggett can absolutely produce at the division one level. People always worry about players making the jump from mid-major to high-major, but I think Leggett will handle it just fine. Last year against high majors, he had the following numbers:
Kansas State – 13 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists
Boston College – 10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists
Providence – 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists
Leggett now has two full seasons under his belt and more talent around him that will open up the floor. I think he’s a high-major caliber guard. Carrington and Lowe are interesting cases as well. Just one year ago, the two were playing ball for their high school teams, and less than a week from now, they will be taking the floor for their first division one basketball game. Soon enough, they’ll be tasked with guarding and competing against experienced guards such as Will Richard (Florida), Nick Honor (Missouri), and Chase Hunter (Clemson). Check out my preview for Lowe here.
Grant Loniero – @grantloniero – Will the team make a run in the ACC and how do you think the team builds off of last year’s success?
I think Pitt has a chance to finish in the top 7 of the conference this year. I explained this above a bit more. As far as building off of last year, I think the team, although it has plenty of new faces, learned a tremendous amount of lessons last season that it will take through this year.
All of the following are reasons that I believe Pitt will build off of last year and not take a step back this year: We saw the Diaz-Graham’s grow up in front of our eyes in March, facing off against bigger players on a big stage. They know what to expect and what to work on, and they’ve added strength. We saw Federiko go from a backup big to one of the ACC’s best rim protectors. We saw Hinson shine in some of the biggest possible moments in college basketball. Last but not least, Capel. He knows what it takes to lead a Pitt team and rally the fan base. He knows what it takes to get the most out of Hinson, to get the most out of the young bigs, and to build elite team chemistry in less than a year.
Dan Skantar (Facebook) – Why can’t we play the City Game? Have the black uniforms been incinerated yet?
That’s a question for Pitt. I wish there was still a City Game, especially this year. The Dukes look like they’re in position to compete for an Atlantic 10 title and they certainly have NCAA Tournament aspirations like Pitt.
I haven’t heard anything on the black uniforms. Last year’s team seemed to love ’em though.
Greg Troyer (Facebook) – Will this team establish a team first identity? – Laura Dudley (Facebook) – Whether we’ll have a cohesive team with a team leader.
I’m going to answer these together.
These are certainly questions that I can’t wait to see Pitt answer this year. It seems as though the team accepts that this is Hinson’s team. His personality and skill set set him up to be the number one leader on the team for this year, and that in itself will be thrilling to watch. Aside from Blake, Leggett seems to be taking on a leadership role and helping out the younger guards. Naturally, with one junior and two freshmen as the team’s top three guards, they’ll learn from the vet. I think as far as the preseason goes, it went about as smooth as possible from a team cohesion standpoint. Seems like they all play for each other and are close off the court. The trip to beautiful Barcelona and Tenerife definitely was a major positive.
John Kraemer (Facebook) – The new guards Carrington, Leggett, Hueitt, and Lowe have huge shoes to fill. Question: Will they be able to lead the team (like Nelly), provide instant scoring (like Greg and Nike) and be able to carry the team on their backs at crunch time (like Jamarius)? The two silky sooth Freshmen seem to have incredible potential (Bub & Jaland) but hopefully don’t get manhandled in conference. The transfers (Ishmael and Mike) may need to play a bigger role early on compared to later in the season.
Thanks for the Q! They definitely have huge shoes to fill — all of last year’s guards are playing pro ball overseas right now. I think in terms of leadership, Leggett certainly has shown so far that he can be a leader. I can’t wait to watch the young guys in high-pressure environments. Will they be able to lead in the hard moments? That’s what last year’s team did so well and that’s what allowed them to make a run and turn the season around starting with the VCU game in Brooklyn.
Greg was effective on the wing, almost always scoring from beyond the arch. I don’t think any of these guards will live out there for all of their points, but I do think all three of the main guards (Carrington, Leggett, and Lowe) can shoot it well from deep. Leggett and Carrington seem to be the two that will provide “instant scoring,” whereas with Lowe I see more of a distributor who will take the open shots, rather than create one-on-one looking for his own shot.