What’s missing from Pitt basketball might not be all bad | TribLIVE.com

What’s missing from Pitt basketball might not be all bad

Jerry DiPaola
Pittsburgh guard Xavier Johnson (1) tries to go up for a shot as Virginia guard Braxton Key (2) and Virginia forward Jay Huff (30) defend during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, March 2, 2019. Virginia defeated Pittsburgh 73-49. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia guard Ty Jerome (left) passes the ball to Virginia center Jack Salt (right) around Pitt forward Kene Chukwuka (15) during an NCAA college basketball game in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, March 2, 2019.

With only two regular-season games left, plenty still is missing from the Pitt basketball program.

Atop that list are victories. The Panthers (12-17, 2-14) are last in the 15-team ACC for the second consecutive season and will try to end its 12-game losing streak Tuesday at Miami (12-16, 4-12).

Points also have been scarce recently, with Pitt failing to reach 50 in the past two games. In a 73-49 loss at Virginia on Saturday, Xavier Johnson, who is 11th in the ACC in scoring (16 per game), was held without a field goal for the first time.

Because of his upbringing and his experiences at Duke, coach Jeff Capel agonizes over the losing. But he said Monday there are other elements missing from his program that offer hope his players are following the right track.

“When you go through losing streaks, it becomes very difficult for everyone,” he said. “Sometimes, you can have selfishness, jealousy, all those things.”

He said he’s seen none of those things.

Capel added, “I don’t think there’s been much hanging of the heads or making excuses.

“For the most part, guys have had a good attitude about working and trying to get better, trying to correct some of the things we need to do to get a win.”

The most significant difference between last season — when Pitt lost all 19 conference games — and this year is the two victories in early January.

That seems like a long time ago, but they still matter to Capel, especially the 75-62 victory against Florida State (23-6, 11-5), which was ranked No. 11 at the time and is No. 14 in the most recent Associated Press Top 25.

Pitt also beat Louisville (19-11, 10-7), which is getting votes in the AP poll and will join at least seven other conference members in the NCAA Tournament.

Capel also is encouraged by attendance at Petersen Events Center. The average of 6,639 is still second-worst in 17 seasons at the Pete, but 61.2 percent better than last year (4,117). The crowd of 12,881 for the Duke game Jan. 22 was the seventh-best in the building’s history.

There is energy at the Pete that was absent last year and probably will increase next year when the benches are flipped to the Oakland Zoo side of the court, meaning the students will be on camera from the opening tip.

In order to build a team worthy of attention, Capel has a lot of work to do, much of it outside the Pete in the living rooms of recruits. He hopes the small victories Pitt has achieved this season will help build a foundation and attract better players, even if results don’t immediately show up on the scoreboard.

Recovering from a 7-38 conference record that dates to the final days of Jamie Dixon is hard to do.

“I knew it was going to be a major rebuild,” Capel said. “I knew it was going to take time. When you’re trying to build something that’s sustainable, you want to make sure you have a solid foundation.

“We’re not trying to put together a good team or good teams. We’re trying to establish a program and try to make it become good and try to make it become elite, which it once was.”

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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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