Pitt’s Jeff Capel senses ‘different level of urgency’ for opener against Florida State
When Pitt lines up against Florida State on Wednesday in the season opener, sophomore Au’Diese Toney has the easy job.
All he must do is try to position his 6-foot-6, 210-pound frame in such a way to help outrebound a strong, athletic Seminoles front line that includes 260-pounders Balsa Koprivica and Dominik Olejniczak, who are 7-1 and 7-foot, respectively.
It is coach Jeff Capel who might have trouble sleeping.
He has a team with several new faces, including three freshmen, who must confront not only an ACC opponent in its opener, which will be televised by ESPNU, but one that won 29 games and reached the Sweet 16 last season.
“For a player, I’m sure they love it because you want to be in those types of games,” Capel said. “For a coach, it’s like a nightmare because you are constantly questioning, ‘Are you prepared? Have you done enough?’
“We’re excited about it. We’re excited that it’s at home. We’re hopeful that we have an amazing crowd, that we can come out and play worthy enough that we have a chance to win the game. It’s very different, and it calls for a different level of urgency.”
The excitement of the opener should attract a good crowd. And the reconfigured Petersen Events Center, with the Oakland Zoo nearly on top of both benches, ratchets up the intensity. But Capel is less worried about those accessories than he is with the new look of his second Pitt team.
“As my dad used to say, ‘We have enough to say grace over thinking about Florida State.’ ”
In last season’s 75-62 Pitt victory against Florida State, Toney had a team-high eight rebounds. The Panthers, who scored 38 points from the free-throw line, caught the Seminoles in the midst of a three-game losing streak in early January before they closed with a 16-3 finish.
It was one of only three ACC victories for the Panthers, who have changed considerably in less than a year’s time, Toney said.
“Mostly it’s growth and maturity,” said Toney, one of three freshmen in Pitt’s starting lineup last season who return as team leaders. “This year, we know what to expect more. It’s good to have a big test for the first game to see where the team is at.”
The loss of 3-point shot artist Jared Wilson-Frame, who exhausted his eligibility last season, means Toney and sophomores Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens must be able to shoot over defenses, not merely slash through them.
Capel hopes freshmen Gerald Drumgoole, Karim Coulibaly and Justin Champagnie and junior-college transfer Ryan Murphy can help compensate for the loss of Wilson-Frame.
“It’s a big loss because of his ability to shoot the basketball and spread the defense,” Capel said. “I don’t know if we have one guy who can do that. Also, Jared is very experienced. He has a really good feel for how to play basketball.
“I don’t know if we have one person, but collectively, overall, I think, we’ve improved the talent level. Hopefully, we can have multiple guys step up and shoot the ball. Ryan Murphy, we think he can shoot the ball, but he has to be able to show it in games.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .