ShareThis Page
Pitt

Three things we learned about Pitt basketball

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, 6:48 p.m.
Pitt guard Xavier Johnson (1) dunks over West Virginia forward Logan Routt during the first half Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va.
Pitt guard Xavier Johnson (1) dunks over West Virginia forward Logan Routt during the first half Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va.
Pitt guard Xavier Johnson drives past West Virginia guard James Bolden (3) during the first half Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va.
Pitt guard Xavier Johnson drives past West Virginia guard James Bolden (3) during the first half Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va.

First, Pitt coach Jeff Capel needed to turn the page. He did that without hesitation, inserting three freshmen into the starting lineup from the start of the season.

Then, Pitt started to win at a little faster pace than a year ago. The Panthers take a 7-3 record into its current weeklong break for final exams, compared to 5-5 under former coach Kevin Stallings. Baby steps but progress nonetheless.

In 24 days, however, the difficult part starts, with the ACC opener Jan. 5 against No. 12 North Carolina at Petersen Events Center. Overall, Pitt will play seven of 18 conference games against schools presently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

Is this young team ready for that gauntlet of opponents? Who knows? But these players will do nothing less than attack all foes with gusto, win or lose.

Here are three things we’ve learned about Pitt through the first month of the season:

1. Pitt’s rebounding could be a seasonlong issue

The Panthers are challenged in the height department, with five starters who average only 5.4 inches over 6 feet. If that sounds like an excuse, Capel won’t accept it.

Pitt is not a good rebounding team, a deficiency that could be improved — but not until next year — by 6-10, 230-pound four-star high school center Qudus Wahab. He plays at Flint Hill School in Oakton, Va., and he said he will announce his choice of colleges Thursday from among Pitt, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Georgetown and Connecticut.

The Panthers are ranked 225th among 351 NCAA schools in offensive rebounding (9.8), with an overall margin of plus-1.2 (184th).

Capel explained the issue on the defensive boards:

“We still have guys at times leaking out,” he said, referring to players getting a head start on the fast break. “We have to gang rebound, all five guys.”

It’s a case of simple mathematics. The more arms and bodies flying to the ball, the better chance Pitt has to gain possession.

Freshman guard Au’Diese Toney, 6-6, leads the team with 6.2 rebounds per game, better than older, taller teammates Kene Chukwuka (5.1) and Terrell Brown (4.3).

2. These guys are not afraid of anyone

The loss to West Virginia on Saturday was a sloppy mess, with Pitt’s flow constantly interrupted by 26 fouls and 24 turnovers.

But they played with courage. Freshman guard Xavier Johnson said he was proud of teammate and roommate Trey McGowens for the way he constantly attacked the rim, even though it was often guarded by WVU’s Sagaba Konate.

Konate is 60 pounds heftier and 5 inches taller than McGowens and Johnson, who combined for 39 of Pitt’s 59 points.

3. Capel is building his program his way with his players

Newcomers have accounted for 68 percent of the scoring, with 28 double-figure games, led by Johnson (10) and McGowens (seven).

And they have plenty of time to accomplish much more. Toney and Johnson turned 19 within the past two months. McGowens won’t see his 19th birthday until two months after the end of the season.

Johnson leads the team in six important categories:

• Assists (49)

• Minutes (29.5)

• Scoring (16.8 points)

• 3-point shooting (42.4 percent)

• Free-throwing shooting (82 percent, tied with McGowens).

• Turnovers (35)

Capel will learn to live with that last one.

It’s unfair to compare previous Pitt guards to Johnson. Those players weren’t asked to carry the same load as freshmen as Johnson. But he already has scored more points (168) in his first season than Ashton Gibbs, Vonteego Cummings, Curtis Aiken and Darrelle Porter.

Meanwhile, Capel hasn’t forgotten about two important holdovers from last season.

Even though he is not in the starting lineup as he was 14 times in 2017-18, senior Jared Wilson-Frame is second in scoring (12.6) and the team’s most active 3-point shooter (24 of 58, 41.4).

Junior center Kene Chukwuka, 6-9, is a hard-working rebounder (5.1 per game) and a player who often gathers players together for those important but brief on-court meetings Capel demands.

Chukwuka has started nine games — one more than last season — and leads the team in field-goal percentage (21 of 39, 53.8).

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

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me