Our standard caveat about the Covid season is that everyone deserves a pass. It pains us to say it but we can’t say that absolutely about Jeff Capel and Pitt.
The reason why we can’t say it is because there was so much turmoil at the end of the season that is still unexplained. Pitt had some potential last year but things went south after an 8-2 start. The Panthers quickly fell to 9-9 and finished 10-12. Pitt missed six games due to Covid.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
Within just a few days, and at a key part of the season, Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney either left the team or were removed from it (both were called mutual decisions) and both were key players.
That just doesn’t happen in a healthy situation.
But it’s worth remembering that Capel had been publicly frustrated with Johnson, a talented player, for most of his Pitt career. He had called him out several times for a lack of judgement and poor decisions.
Toney was totally inexplicable from the outside. He was playing and fairly well and seemed to be in a good spot.
His departure meant that Capel’s first class - Johnson, Toney and Trey McGowen - are all gone.
And it was a pretty promising class too,
For his part, Capel was more than gracious, saying that “It’s been an interesting week, to say the least. We wish those two well. They’re both good kids. As I’ve said all year, this has been an incredibly difficult year with everything that’s going on and the pandemic and stuff with mental health and pressures and the things they feel. As I’ve said all year, I hope people don’t judge these kids, both on and off the court for decisions they make. There are a lot of factors that go into these decisions.”
Gerald Drumgoole and Abdoul Kari Coulibaly followed them into the portal. Coulibaly wasn’t a great player but he was a functional big man and Pitt didn't have many. Drumgoole didn’t play much and probably won’t be missed.
Capel and his staff did a great job helping Justin Champagnie to develop into a very, very good college basketball player. He averaged 18 ppg and 11.1 rpg but wasn’t drafted. It just underscores how brutally competitive the NBA is. Champagnie signed with Toronto but if he doesn’t stick in the NBA, he could play for 20 years overseas. He has a good chance to make really nice money wherever he ends up.
So after the turmoil, who’s back? Glad you asked:
- Nike Sibande - 6-4 senior
- Chayce Smith 6-3 senior
- Ithiel Horton - 6-3 junior
- Curtis Aiken - 6-1 junior
- Femi Odukale - 6-5 sophomore
- Noah Collier - 6-8 sophomore
- John Hugley - 6-9 sophomore
- William Jeffress - 6-7 sophomore
- Max Amadasun - 6-10 sophomore
The returning backcourt isn’t too bad. Odukale stepped in and did well, all things considered. After taking over at point, he pulled heavy minutes, averaging 35 per game after Johnson’s departure. He averaged 15 ppg in those last four games and racked up 28 against Miami in the ACC Tournament. He also averaged 3.2 apg and did a great job of valuing the ball, avoiding the turnovers that drove Capel crazy when Johnson made them.
He looks to be up to the job.
Sibande and Horton are more offensively oriented.
Sibande, remember, was caught in NCAA limbo and missed the first five games. He had a 23 point game against Wake Forest and with more stability should improve. He’s taking his bonus year incidentally.
Like a lot of guys who transfer upstream, Georgia Tech’s Bubba Parham for instance, Horton was inconsistent. He should be better this year and that gives Pitt a decent building block of a backcourt.
John Hugley was expected to be a major factor last season but his legal problems - he was hit with three felony charges involving a car - but there was some indication that the whole thing was either blown out of proportion or was a misunderstanding.
Whatever happened, the charges are gone and he’s back. We didn't see enough to get a good feel for his game but he did have seven points and seven boards against Louisville in his final game as a freshman.
Amadasun only played in four games on a team that really needed big men. He was just a freshman so maybe he’ll be better, but early returns are not encouraging. We’ll know when the season gets going.
Jeffress got off to a good start his freshman year, getting around 17 mpg. He didn’t have a big statistical impact but he has plenty of time to learn: apparently he was the youngest player in the ACC since Brad Daugherty in 1982. And he’s also apparently strikingly mature. He’s someone to keep an eye on.
Collier might turn out eventually but he’s still pretty thin and that makes life tough in the ACC.
Smith and Aiken’s fathers, Charles and Curtis Sr., both played for Pitt. The sons have not been major factors though.
So who’s new?
- Mouhamadou Gueye 6-9 Grad
- Dan Oladapo 6-7 Senior
- Jamarius Burton - 6-4 Senior
- Chris Payton 6-7 Junior
Gueye is a slim center who was a significant defensive presence. He averaged 3.1 blocks last year and was a decent rebounder with 6.7 per outing.
If he gives Pitt reliable defense inside he’ll be a big deal.
Oladapo comes over Oakland and is said to be - well he said this himself actually - “...a six-foot-eight, versatile forward who loves the game of basketball. Someone who is passionate about winning and someone that’s a fun loving, caring person on and off the court.”
Like Gueye, he should help Pitt’s defense and might be Capel’s best rebounder too.
Burton started out at Wichita State then transferred to Texas Tech. He should be a solid contributor and able to help on both ends.
- Nate Santos
Santos is a class of one. He may have deserved more recruiting love but he had two bad breaks: the first was an ACL injury in 2019; the second was Covid, which meant he couldn’t get well and truly analyzed in person.
ESPN’s Adam Finkelstein tweeted that he brings “good size, athleticism and shot making.”
And that’s a plus, adding to an athletic core.
But that’s what we said last year too. Capel may or may not be on thin ice, we wouldn’t know, but Mike Vukovcan hints around at some real problems in the program in this video and says “Jeff Capel needs to get a better control of his program.”
Sometimes getting rid of difficult guys isn’t the worst thing in the world, addition by subtraction and all of that.
Whatever happened, this year is a clean slate. The talent might be less, but if the chemistry is better, it won’t matter as much.
Whatever else happens, Capel needs to show some progress soon. He’s a very capable guy so we certainly think he can straighten the issues out and get Pitt moving again.
If not, Pitt may be looking for a new coach again soon.