Pitt’s Jeff Capel seeks improvement, will worry about ACC standings, 2020 later | TribLIVE.com

Pitt’s Jeff Capel seeks improvement, will worry about ACC standings, 2020 later

Jerry DiPaola
Pittsburgh’s Xavier Johnson, left, shoots after getting by Clemson’s David Skara during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The words “last place” never slipped through Jeff Capel’s lips after Pitt’s loss to Clemson.

Capel doesn’t concern himself with won/loss records or standings in the conference — numbers that tend to fascinate the public and media. He has a team to coach.

His thoughts over the last three games of the regular season, including a visit to No. 2 Virginia at 2 p.m. Saturday, will be focused solely on his team improving.

In the end, the ACC office will tell him where he stands and the team Pitt will play March 12 in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

The future will take care of itself, a fact he made clear Wednesday when a reporter suggested that this offseason will be key to the development of his young team.

“We are concentrating on right now,” he said, with authority. He also hinted at change, saying, “We don’t know what our team is going to be after the season.”

Change is necessary. Another influx of talent must occur, but Capel, understandably, won’t talk specifics until this season ends.

Here are three thoughts as the Panthers (12-16, 2-13), unknowingly or not, try to escape last place.

1. Repeat of last season?

A case can be made that, other than two games almost two months ago, this season is unraveling in the same way the final days of the Kevin Stallings era ended. Again, Pitt is last among 15 ACC schools.

While losing to Wake Forest (11-16, 4-11) and Georgia Tech (12-17, 4-12), Pitt has lost 11 in a row.

It’s different than last year, though, because freshmen Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney are more talented than anyone Stallings would have brought back last season.

But here’s a thought: How does Pitt replace senior Jared Wilson-Frame’s 3-pointers? He is the third Pitt player with 70 or more (74) in consecutive seasons. Only Ashton Gibbs (2009-11) and Jason Matthews (1990-91) had done it previously.

Wilson-Frame did it this season while taking 38 fewer attempts and showing leadership on and off the court. Big loss.

2. Can Capel hit the jackpot again?

In the middle of a difficult situation last year, with players transferring or threatening same, he recruited well in his first months on the job.

“We needed talent, point-blank, period,” he said.

The fact that he got it speaks well of his recruiting ties and ability to close deals.

Capel admits to getting lucky with the freshmen. McGowens and Toney reclassified, or they still would be in high school. Johnson became a free agent after an assistant coach left Nebraska.

But Capel also sold them on what he plans to build at Pitt. Don’t underestimate his ability in that area.

Pitt already has commitments from 6-foot-8 center Karim Coulibaly and 6-6 forward Gerald Drumgoole. Getting a ‘yes’ from 6-11, 215-pound Ibrahima Diallo would be another step in the right direction.

3. Check out company Johnson keeps

In the Clemson game, Johnson scored in double digits (14 points) for the 25th time. In Pitt history, only Sam Clancy and DeJuan Blair have done that as freshmen. That also makes Johnson the only freshman guard to do it.

Also, only Vonteego Cummings, Brandin Knight, Carl Krauser and Lamar Patterson had 450 points and 125 assists in a season. Johnson joined them, with 462 and 126.

Most impressive, his scoring average in the ACC (16.7) is better than what it was (16.3) through the nonconference games. He does it when it matters, too.

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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