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One-on-One with Jeff Capel Pt. 1: Culture Change at Pitt, Lack of ACC Respect

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Despite not being selected for the 2024 NCAA Men’s Tournament, it’s safe to say that Jeff Capel has the Pitt men’s basketball program back on solid ground.

For proof of that you just have to look at the teams record the last two seasons compared to the previous four. From the 2018-19 season until 2021-22 season, Pitt won a total of 51 games and 21 in the ACC. Over the last two seasons, Capel’s teams have collected 46 total wins and 26 in the ACC.

It also goes beyond wins, even in the games Pitt loses, more often than not they’re extremely competitive on the court and no longer look outmatched, something that wasn’t always the case in previous years.

That is something that Capel and his coaching staff can and will use this offseason on the recruiting trail as well as when they pursue players in the transfer portal.

This afternoon, Pittsburgh Sports Now’s Mike Vukovcan had the chance to talk with Capel about a variety of topics and as per usual, he was articulate, opinionated and all answers were well thought out.

It’s recruiting season for the Pitt staff as they look to fill some holes that currently exist on the roster. Given the success of the last two seasons and players that the program has produced and sending off to the NBA such as Blake Hinson and Bub Carrington, I started off by asking Capel is this the most confident that he’s been as Pitt’s coach heading into an offseason in terms of what his program is able to sell a potential player.

“The thing I’m most proud of is that we’ve changed the culture,” said Capel. “We have really, really good guys that love the University of Pittsburgh, love wearing this jersey, they’re grateful and appreciative for the opportunity to be here. That’s one of the things that I’ve learned with the 2022-23 team and it’s something that I’m going to fight to continue to have- good guys that are grateful and appreciative. I think that’s the reason why we’ve been able to win. I think that’s the reason why when we started off 1-5 last season, internally we didn’t panic. Because we felt really good about who we are, the way we were doing things, we just had to learn how to do them at a little higher level and to be more consistent with what we were doing.”

“I was confident last season and I’m confident now because of the group of guys we have coming back, the two guys that we signed we feel really good about them as people and their talent, and I feel confident that we’ll add the necessary pieces to fit with this culture we have and with the needs that we have going forward.”

Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Jeff Capel November 6, 2023 David Hague/PSN

Pitt will be adding a handful of players to their 2024-25 roster. In order to maintain that strong culture, I asked Capel about the safeguards he goes through with possible transfers and how he goes about properly vetting them in order to make sure they won’t negatively impact what he currently has going on.

“The portal is a different animal,” said Capel. “It’s like speed dating–I never did that–but I see it on movies and that’s what it reminds me of. You have to be able to gather information quickly. You have to look into their backgrounds and find out as much as you can. But for me, the biggest thing is to be able to get in front of people. Being able to go visit them, to be able to get them on our campus, spend time with them, look at them eye to eye, watch how they interact with their family or their coaches.”

“The last couple of years what’s really helped is being able to get out and get in front of people. When I first got here and took the job, we couldn’t get out as much because we had some restrictions with NCAA stuff, self-imposed penalties. After my second year is when the world shutdown, we had 18 months where we couldn’t go out our have anyone on campus. So, the thing that’s helped us is being able to get out and get face to face with people. It’s also been big to get kids on campus and see how they interact with our guys and then talking to our guys because they know the culture. We asked them, how would they fit, what do you think, do you think they fit who we are as a program?”

Ish Leggett

Pitt basketball

Speaking of their program, the NCAA Tournament committee didn’t feel as though Pitt’s program was tournament worthy. A reason for that could be the overall national perception of the ACC Conference as a whole. Prior to the tournament, Capel led the charge in speaking out about how the ACC Conference wasn’t getting enough respect and it was a problem that the conference as a whole needed to work to fix. Capel continued that way of thinking today and was very opinionated and passionate about ACC basketball.

“We’re coaches, we know basketball. Some of these talking heads have never played basketball,” said Capel. “They’re numbers people, they can read numbers and read a computer projection. That’s good. Look, when you look at the best NBA teams, the best basketball programs, it’s a mixture of both. Analytical stuff is great, and I’ve gotten into it more over the last couple of years. But when you look at the best programs, it’s a mixture of analytics but it’s also the eye test, it’s also knowing basketball. I think everyone in our league knew how good our league was. I wish I could give you a reason or give you an understanding of why this national narrative is the why it’s been. I have some thoughts on what I think it is or what I think the reason is, but I don’t know if it’s true.”

“It’s easy to pile on a person or a talking head and say whatever or that this person is being like this against the league. Well, these talking heads don’t have anything to do with the selection committee. I think it’s really important for us as a league to get on the same page and to figure out as a league, what do we have to do collectively to get more teams in the NCAA Tournament. For the last two years, we’ve gotten in five and the 5th team has barely gotten in. This year, you can say the 5th team was NC State and they had to go on a miracle run, then Virginia was in the First Four. Last year, I didn’t think we should have been in the first four, but we were. What’s the reason for that and what do we need to do as a league to make sure we get more teams in? It’s proven and this year is not different, when we get to the tournament we perform and we do really, really well. We have to figure it out. The Big 12 they have a guy on TV on their network that promotes their league. Hell, he did one of our games this year and while he was doing our game, he was talking about the Big 12 and how good the Big 12 is. We don’t have a mouthpiece, a national mouthpiece for our league, we need to figure that out.”

Piggybacking off of Capel’s point about the Big 12 and the ACC needing a national TV mouthpiece, is it a just a coincidence the seeming love affair the national media has for the Mountain West Conference and the head scratching high number of teams they get into the tournament? What television network carries Mountain West Games? CBS Sports Network. What network is the home of NCAA March Madness? CBS Sports. Coincidence?

“I think our league has worked so hard to try and work on to improve football, and Coach K used to say this, and I think he’s 100% right,” said Capel. “I think the league has taken basketball for granted because when I was going up, you had Coach K and Coach Smith and then once Coach Smith retired, it was Coach K and Coach Williams. You always had that and once those two retired, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think we as a league, as coaches, need to be on the same page. That’s what these other leagues have done, they’re on the same page with basketball. Football is obviously very important and should be important, but we have to figure this out. It’s no one else’s fault but ours. I think the narrative, the national perception, the talking heads are messed up, but we need to fix it and need to stop making excuses and blame everyone else. It’s time we figured this out.”

The next thing we got into was the narrative that Pitt had a poor non-conference schedule, which ultimately was a huge factor into them not receiving an NCAA invitation.

“I don’t regret anything we did with our schedule last year,” said Capel. “I hate the fact that West Virginia’s season was changed last summer with the unfortunate thing that happened with Coach Huggins. That put a wrench into what I’m sure what they thought was going to be an outstanding team. We didn’t schedule Oregon State, we were in a tournament and unfortunately, we didn’t beat Florida, or we would have had a chance to play Baylor. We beat Oregon State and don’t have anything to do with what they do after that. We didn’t schedule Missouri, they were given to us by the league or the TV networks or whoever else does that. They were an NCAA team the year before and were returning four guys from their top seven or eight. It just happened that way last year.”

“Look, do we need to look at things differently, absolutely and that’s something we will do. We’ll try and figure out what we need to do to put ourselves in the best position. Does that mean we need to schedule another high major team? With some of the bye games we had, do we need to look at that differently? Do we need to play at some neutral sites? Do we need to play more road games? All of those things will be things we will look at and try and figure out so that if we perform as well as have in the ACC that we’re not in the position that we were in this year.”

Could that mean scheduling Duquesne?

That’s something we talked about next, along with the position Capel feels Pitt is in, in terms of NIL money and they’re ability to compete for players.

That will be Part Two of our discussion and we’ll have that for you tomorrow on PSN.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Joe
Joe
1 month ago

One of the items the ACC needs to improve is the ACCN. I understand the HQ is in NC. The league has expanded beyond the Original 7 but the mindset has not. More often than not PITT and the other non Original 7 are fit in the last 15 quarter of the show. The studio hosts for conference freshamn of the year did not include Bob Carrington. All teams should be covered to the point that they probably need game reports from each school. The only way the perception of the conference is going to improve is if all the… Read more »

GFF
GFF
1 month ago

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