Head Coach: Jeff Capel (5th season)
2021 in Review
Record: 11-21 (6-14)
ACC Finish: 12th place
KenPom Ranking: 195 (243 Offense, 147 Defense)
ACC Tournament: 66-46 L vs Boston College
Jeff Capel has not finished better than 11th in his four years at the helm for Pitt. So last season’s lack of success was nothing new.
The Panthers’ 2021 season got off to a brutal start with a 15-point home loss to The Citadel (KenPom 241). Other home non-conference losses were to UMBC (KP 240) and Monmouth (KP 158). Mixed in with those bad losses were some quality wins, over St. John’s and NCAA Tournament-bound Colgate.
Pitt had the looks of one of the worst teams in the ACC entering conference play, but they ended up being a difficult out for stretches of the season. They lost their first three ACC games against Virginia, Notre Dame and Louisville by a combined five points. The highlight of the season was a three-game win streak in early February that featured a 76-67 road win over National Runner-Up North Carolina.
Capel failed to capitalize off of that momentum, and the rest of the season was an absolute mess. They followed up the UNC win with a home loss to Georgia Tech and ended the season with four straight 20+ point losses.
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Who’s Out: Femi Odukale (Seton Hall), Ithiel Horton (UCF), Mouhamadou Gueye
Who’s In: Nelly Cummings (Colgate), Greg Elliott (Marquette), Blake Hinson (Iowa State) Federiko (JUCO) Jorge Diaz Graham, Guillermo Diaz Graham
Projected Starting Lineup:
Gr. G Jamarius Burton (6-4, 200)
Gr. G Nelly Cummings (6-0, 185)
Mr. G Nike Sibande (6-4, 185)
Jr. F Blake Hinson (6-7, 235)
Jr. F John Hugley IV (6-9, 265)
Off the Bench:
Jr. F William Jeffress (6-7, 205 lbs)
Gr. G Greg Elliott (6-3, 180)
So. F Nate Santos (6-7, 210)
Fr. F Guillermo Diaz Graham (7-0, 205)
Fr. F Jorge Diaz Graham (6-11, 190)
So. C Federiko (6-11, 220)
Fr. G Dior Johnson (6-3, 180)*
Pitt loses a few key players rotation in Femi Odukale (10.8 PPG, 3.4 AST), Ithiel Horton (9.8 PPG), and Mouhamadou Gueye (9.8 PPG, 2.1 BLK). Odukale was the team’s primary ball handler, Horton averaged 20.3 PPG over the Panthers’ three-game win streak in February and Gueye made more three pointers than anyone else on the team. These guys were big contributors but this year’s roster is more talented, and the pieces will fit together a lot better.
It all starts with 6-9, 265-lb. John Hugley down low, who might be the best big man in the conference not named Armando Bacot. Hugley (14.8 PPG, 7.9 REB) flat out took over in several ACC game last season and is a dominant offensive presence in the post. He got to the free throw line more than any other player in the ACC last season, and he knocked them down at a high rate (71% FTs).
Jamarius Burton is a fifth year player who played at Wichita State and Texas Tech before joining the Panthers last season. Burton (12.4 PPG) was the team’s go-to perimeter scorer. From Dec. 3 – Feb. 5, he scored in double figures in every contest. He’s a smart and experienced guard who does a lot of things well but needs to take a step forward with his long range shooting, he only made 26 threes last season.
An interesting returning piece is guard Nike Sibande, who has been in college since 2017. He played three years at Miami Ohio before transferring to Pitt in 2020-21 and missed all of last season with an ACL tear. Sibande has made 203 three-pointers in his college career and is a talented scorer. In the most he played for Pitt, he scored 24 points in an ACC Tournament matchup against Miami.
Capel’s backcourt became even more experienced with the additions he made in the transfer portal. Nelly Cummings (14.7 PPG, 3.4 AST) is also in his sixth year of college, and spent his last three starting every game for Colgate, who has put up a strong fight in the NCAA Tournament as a 14-seeded the last two seasons. Cummings leadership brings, good decision making and shooting to this Pitt team and is one of the most under-the-radar transfers in the entire league.
Greg Elliott is entering his sixth year as well, spending his entire career at Marquette before going portaling. Elliott (7.0 PPG) thrived in a bench role for the Golden Eagles, bringing energy, defensive intensity and a reliable outside shot. He’s a career 40.9% three-point shooter.
An unfortunate situation is that of Dior Johnson, an uber-talented freshman who was a late signee but can’t stay out of trouble. The 18-year-old is currently suspended from the team after being charged with assault back in October. It doesn’t appear as if he will play this season, but if he does, he could be a star.
Another interesting addition is Blake Hinson. He’s a bit of a wildcard because he spent the last two seasons at Iowa State but did not play a single minute for various reasons. Before that, he played two seasons at Ole Miss where he averaged 9.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, and made 33% of his threes.
Junior William Jeffress is a strong defender on the wing who started half of Pitt’s games last season. He’s limited offensively and shot an abysmal 29.8% from the field in 2021-22. It’ll be difficult for him to play as much as he did last year unless he improves as a shooter. Sophomore Nate Santos is in the same boat as a wing who can defend but doesn’t shoot it well. Santos’ minutes dwindled in ACC play and I don’t expect him to be much of a factor.
Capel brings in three frontcourt guys who will battle for minutes behind Hugley. Federiko is an athletic rim-running big who played JUCO ball last year and is originally from Finland. The 6-11 Federiko is raw but has a lot of potential. The Diaz Graham twins, Guillermo and Jorge, enter as under-the-radar freshman who went to IMG Academy. Guillermo is a bit taller at 7-0 205 lbs compared to Jorge at 6-11, 190 lbs. The twins can both handle and shoot the ball well for their size, but they definitely need to put on some weight.
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ACC Prediction: 10th Place
I’m a little higher on Pitt than most. If Dior Johnson wasn’t in trouble, it’s possible I’d have the Panthers finishing even higher in the ACC.
Hugley will challenge for All-ACC honors and will continue to be a nightmare for a lot of teams to deal with. Pitt will play through him on the block, and if he isn’t doubled, he’s getting a great look or heading to the free throw line almost every time. And now that he’s surrounded by an experienced supporting cast of guys who can shoot the ball from deep, I think Pitt could be tough to match up with offensively. Burton, Cummings, Elliott and Sibande make up a veteran backcourt, and they all have different strengths. With Johnson out of the fold, I think Sibande has the most star power amongst the guards.
Blake Hinson is a bit of an unknown considering he hasn’t played a college basketball game in two years but the reports on him in preseason have been great — he scored 28 in the first half of a scrimmage last week.
Capel has not shown that he is capable of making Pitt a mid-tier ACC team, but I love Hugley and the way the pieces fit around him. The Panthers need to take a step forward defensively alongside their bolstered group of shooters. If that happens, Pitt will surprise people.
When does Pittsburgh play Wake Forest?
Jan. 25 Wake Forest at Pittsburgh
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