The Opponent: Pitt Panthers
Date: November 24, 2021
Time: 8 PM CT, ACC Network
Last year: 10-12 (6-10 ACC), 97th in KenPom
Jeff Capel, the guy who I definitely did not want when the Vanderbilt job came open when Kevin Stallings left for Pitt, ironically replaced Stallings at Pitt. A decade or so ago, Capel was the head coach at Oklahoma for five years, where he put up a 96-69 record — but only 43-51 when he didn’t have Blake Griffin on the team — and also got the Sooners in deep shit with the NCAA. But then, he went to spend a few years as a Duke assistant, which is like the basketball version of the Nick Saban School For Coaches Who Can’t Coach Good, except that it’s only open to Duke grads. And then he got the Pitt job in 2018.
Anyway, Capel’s 40-48 in three years at Pitt so clearly he learned a lot from Mike Krzyzewski.
And unfortunately for Pitt, their top three scorers are gone. Justin Champagnie (18.0 ppg/11.1 rpg) left for the NBA and is now on a two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors. The team’s second-leading scorer, Au’Diese Toney (14.4 ppg/5.9 rpg), transferred to Arkansas, while Xavier Johnson (14.2 ppg/5.7 apg) is now at Indiana. So it’s been a while since a player like Champagnie would be more than even-money to return to school, but it’s hard to build a program if your good players are bailing for other schools. Also out is 6’8” Karim Coulibaly (5.2 ppg/3.9 rpg/no relation to Darius), who transferred to St. Bonaventure.
Well, at the very least, Pitt’s five-man 2020 recruiting class, which looked promising at the time (ranked 30th nationally by 247 Sports), returns intact. 6’5” Femi Odukale (6.6 ppg/2.2 apg), 6’9” John Hugley (5.1 ppg/4.3 rpg), 6’7” William Jeffress (2.4 ppg/2.2 rpg), 6’8” Noah Collier (0.8 ppg/1.3 rpg), and 6’10” Max Amadasun (0.5 ppg/0.8 rpg) at least give Pitt something resembling a young core.
The problem is that none of the five were particularly efficient as freshmen. That means that among the returnees, Pitt will probably lean on 6’3” junior Ithiel Horton (8.9 ppg/2.3 rpg), who shot 37 percent from three last season. 6’4” super senior Nike Sibande (6.9 ppg/3.0 rpg) and 6’0” senior Onyebuchi Ezeukado (1.2 ppg/0.6 apg) round out the returnees.
Like, well, pretty much everybody, Jeff Capel hit up the transfer portal, but he didn’t find any obvious difference makers. 6’9” Stony Brook transfer Mouhamadou Gueye is a defensive game-changer (3.1 blocks per game); offense is a different matter (44.6 percent on twos.) 6’7” Oakland transfer Dan Oladapo (12.9 ppg/8.8 rpg) should find a role, and I don’t know what to make of 6’4” senior Jamarius Burton, who averaged 10.3 ppg two years ago at Wichita State and 4.3 last season at Texas Tech.
Other than that, Pitt added a couple of 6’7” wings in Chris Payton from Indian Hills CC and Nate Santos, a freshman. Both were rated as three-star recruits.
Sometimes with these things, it really is as simple as looking at who’s going in and who’s going out. Jeff Capel has always been a coach who’s been about as good as his team’s talent level, which was great when he had Blake Griffin and not so much at any other point in his career.
But, yeah, Pitt loses their three best players from last season and a fourth guy who had some upside, and replaces them with a few transfers who are probably worse. In the era of the transfer portal you’re going to get some programs like this who come out worse because they can’t keep their own players around. I think this is probably one of the two or three worst teams in the ACC, and a team that Vanderbilt will have a decent shot at beating even on the road.