As Pitt begins year No. 4 under coach Jeff Capel, expectations are not exactly as high as ever.
If anything, the opposite is true.
Picked to finish next to last in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Panthers tip off their 2021-22 season Tuesday as they host The Citadel in nonconference action.
In Capel’s first three seasons, Pitt finished under .500 each year and did not to end higher than 12th in the ACC standings. The Panthers have not posted a winning record since 2015-16 — Jamie Dixon’s final season as coach — and have not won an NCAA Tournament game since 2014.
“We’ve had opportunities to (turn things around), but we haven’t been worthy of doing it because we haven’t been together,” said Capel, whose team finished 10-12 last season. “And so that part is frustrating, but I know we’re headed in the right direction.”
Pitt received some bad news this week when senior guard Nike Sibande sustained a season-ending ACL tear during Monday’s exhibition game. He averaged 6.9 points and 3.0 rebounds in 2020-21 and was expected to shoulder a major load this season.
Sibande was to be the second-leading returning scorer on the team, trailing only Ithiel Horton, a redshirt junior who averaged 8.9 points on 37.1 percent 3-point shooting a season ago. Horton is the only returning starter from last year’s squad, which featured Justin Champagnie (18.0 points per game), Au’Diese Toney (14.4) and Xavier Johnson (14.2).
“We are more connected as a group this year,” Horton said. “A lot of our players have put aside their personal goals, and I think we are buying into the team concept. We all need each other to win this year. I think that everybody understands how important each other’s role is to this team.”
The Citadel has three starters returning from a team that went 13-12 last season. Hayden Brown is the headliner — and the Southern Conference’s Preseason Player of the Year — after averaging 18.8 points and 10.5 rebounds a season ago.
“Hayden doesn’t have to do anything more than just lead us, which he does instinctively and naturally,” Bulldogs coach Duggar Baucom said. “He’s always engaged and plays hard. We just want him to play with passion, but play smartly, because we need him on the court.”
Brown recorded 37 points in a January win over Chattanooga, the highest point total by a Southern Conference player all season.
–Field Level Media