Three things to watch as Pitt basketball opens season vs. Florida State |

Three things to watch as Pitt basketball opens season vs. Florida State

Jerry DiPaola
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Pitt’s Au’Diese Toney leaps for a shot on net during an inter-team scrimmage on Friday night, Oct. 11, 2019 during Pitt’s annual Blue and Gold Madness Event to kick-off the basketball season at Peterson Events Center.

Pitt’s basketball opener Wednesday night against ACC opponent Florida State represents a departure from traditional nonconference scheduling procedures across the nation.

Which, in many cases, revolves around teams trying to stack up wins before the conference season starts.

That’s part of the reason Pitt has won 21 of its past 22 openers (16 of 17 at Petersen Events Center).

This one is different.

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The Pete will get all dressed up for the ESPNU cameras, and the team benches — more importantly, the other team’s bench — will be almost within arm’s reach of the Oakland Zoo, whose members now can look and shout directly into the cameras for the entire game.

Here are some thoughts to ponder as the opener approaches:

1. Let’s do this every year

The college basketball season opened Tuesday with No. 1 Michigan State clashing with No. 2 Kentucky, and No. 3 Kansas meeting No. 4 Duke.

Pitt gets Florida State, a Sweet 16 participant from a year ago, which is a far cry from Pitt vs. Niagara, Eastern Michigan, Navy or Youngstown State (four of the past five opening-night opponents). Pitt opened with Gonzaga in Okinawa, Japan, in a game that was suspended at halftime because of poor court conditions.

The Florida State opener is similar to Pitt’s first football game this season against Virginia, currently the leader in the ACC Coastal.

Pat Narduzzi’s team lost and might have had a better chance to win if the game was played this weekend. But who wants to start the season with Pitt 62, Delaware 0 (the 2014 opener)?

The 2019-20 version of Pitt basketball could be the best team since Jamie Dixon left.

2. What about the freshmen?

How much will coach Jeff Capel rely on freshmen Gerald Drumgoole, Justin Champagnie and Karim Coulibaly during the nonconference schedule?

Capel doesn’t have a lot of experienced depth. Other than transfers Eric Hamilton and Ryan Murphy, 6-foot-10 junior center Terrell Brown is the only regular above the sophomore class.

To judge the freshmen on one game against a good Florida State team wouldn’t be fair. Where Pitt stands after the 2020-21 season would make for a better barometer on Capel’s first recruiting class.

3. Three keys to a good season

Let’s call them Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney.

All three sophomores played at least 25 minutes per game last season, which gives Capel a solid base on which to build his second Pitt team.

They also are becoming leaders, unafraid to counsel players who are new to the program, even though Johnson is the oldest of the three at only 20 years, 23 days.

Pitt is one of only three ACC teams to return last season’s leaders in scoring (Johnson), rebounding (Toney), steals (McGowens) and blocks (Brown).

No longer wondering how good they can be, the ACC will push back. How the three sophomores react to increased scrutiny and defenses aimed directly at them largely will define Pitt’s season.

Get the latest news about Pitt basketball and all things Panthers athletics.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Pitt
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