Mid-season grades: Panthers find success despite individual shortcomings

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Carolyn Pallof | Senior Staff Photographer

Staff writer Carson Zaremski has given Justin Champagnie an “A” for his performance so far this season.

By Carson Zaremski, Staff Writer

Following an incredible comeback victory over Syracuse on Jan. 6th, a team Pitt had lost to seven straight times, it’s time to break down mid-season grades for the Panthers roster, coach Jeff Capel and the Panthers’ overall performance. Each will receive a grade based on performance, factoring in preseason expectations.

G Xavier Johnson, C+

Junior guard Xavier Johnson has started the season with familiar struggles he’s shown throughout his career in Pittsburgh. Johnson consistently struggles with foul trouble early, winding up with two fouls in the first half in six of the nine games this season, and three of those games with two fouls within the first six minutes. Johnson also struggles with turning the ball over, averaging 3.1 turnovers per game, but he makes up for this by leading the Panthers with 5.6 assists per game.

Johnson’s leadership and his ability to create offense provides great value to this team. If he can cut down on turning the ball over and play more patiently on the defensive end, he can take the Panthers to the next level.

G Ithiel Horton, C-

Transfer sophomore guard Ithiel Horton has shown flashes of his capabilities, but has yet to establish himself as a consistent scoring threat. In the four best performances of Horton’s eight games played this season, Horton has 14 or more points per game, shooting 18 of 37 from deep. However, in the other five games, Horton averaged just 3.6 points per game, shooting a mere two of 17 from beyond the arc.

Horton has shown his peak capabilities, but he must work on his consistency, as the Panthers desperately need reliable shooters.

F Au’Diese Toney, A-

Junior wing Au’Diese Toney has had one of the more surprising starts to the season, establishing himself as a capable three-level scorer and one of Pitt’s top three players on both sides of the court.

Toney has increased his stats from last season in nearly every key area — FG%, 3P%, points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game and blocks per game. As one of the biggest contributors this season, Toney has established himself as Pitt’s best defender and a serious scoring threat on the offensive side of the ball.

F Justin Champagnie, A

Sophomore wing Justin Champagnie had an unbelievable start to his 2020-21 campaign before a knee injury sidelined him for about a month. Champagnie leads the Panthers in points per game, rebounds per game and blocks per game. He also accomplished historic back-to-back 20-point and 20-rebound games against Northwestern and Gardner-Webb.

Champagnie currently ranks second in the country in rebounds per game, proving his dominance cleaning the glass. His biggest area of needed improvement comes in his 3-point shot, but regardless, he has shown dominance.

C Abdoul Karim Coulibaly, C-

Sophomore forward Abdoul Karim Coulibaly has had a somewhat underwhelming start to his sophomore season with the Panthers, averaging 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Coulibaly remains fairly consistent, scoring in every game so far, but hasn’t reached double digits yet.

On the upside, Coulibaly hasn’t missed a free throw yet this season. He needs to become a more reliable rebounder and scorer, especially with the recent news of first-year forward John Hugley’s suspension.

G Femi Odukale, B-

In games where Johnson got into foul trouble, first-year guard Femi Odukale has stepped up in a big way for the Panthers. Although he struggled early on, Odukale has already shown progression, averaging 10.3 points and four rebounds in his past three performances.

Odukale’s ability to drive to the basket and shoot from beyond the arc has helped him grow into one of Pitt’s most surprising first-year players, showing a ton of potential for his future.

F William Jeffress, D

First-year wing William Jeffress has performed underwhelmingly to say the least. Jeffress has shot just 25.7% from the field, second worst among scholarship players, and yet receives more minutes than anybody else coming off the bench.

Jeffress, still only 17 years old, has a high ceiling type of potential, but needs to work on shot selection and occasionally show more effort on the court, especially when getting back on defense.

F Noah Collier, C-

First-year wing Noah Collier has averaged only one point and 1.3 rebounds per game while playing an average of just 10 minutes per game. His size and athletic ability gives him immense potential, so we will have to wait and see what role he plays the rest of the season.

F Terrell Brown, B

Senior forward Terrell Brown has not received the minutes he saw in past seasons with the Panthers. But with the absence of Hugley and Collier in Pitt’s first matchup with Syracuse, Brown played 21 minutes, scoring eight points, including a dunk and an alley-oop.

Brown has struggled to finish strong at the rim in the past and hasn’t shown that next gear needed to play at a high level of basketball. But this season seems different, as Brown seems to use more muscle at the rim and works hard with every minute he is given in the game. Brown’s role with Pitt will greatly increase following the recent suspension of Hugley.

G Gerald Drumgoole, D+

Sophomore wing Gerald Drumgoole has received very little playing time and therefore has very few stats to show for it. In the little time Drumgoole has seen, he plays at 100%, diving for loose balls and going hard to the rim. Unfortunately, he continues to struggle shooting the ball and occasionally tries to do too much.

G Nike Sibande, TBD

Transfer senior guard Nike Sibande has only played in two games thus far this season due to his immediate eligibility battle with the NCAA. After the NCAA’s announcement allowing all transfers immediate eligibility, Sibande stepped in for the Panthers road game against Miami right away.

Sibande has potential to help the Panthers’ 3-point scoring, shooting 50% from beyond the arc this season while the team as a whole struggles from deep.

C John Hugley, N/A

Before his indefinite suspension, John Hugley had emerged as the Panthers’ best first-year player. Hugley led all the rookies in both points and rebounds, showing glimpses of dominance down low and potential as a great rebounder, scorer and defender in the future. He also led all bigs on the Pitt roster in both points and rebounds, showing a ton of potential thus far this season. The status of his season, and his entire Pitt future, now remain in jeopardy.

Head Coach Jeff Capel, B

Capel has proven himself as a recruiter, but not necessarily as a coach. His offense has appeared a mess in past seasons, but this year has started to show some promise in his coaching ability.

Pitt has now won seven of its last eight games, with the lone loss against Louisville, after Capel tested positive for COVID-19. In games that Capel has coached, Pitt averages 16.6 assists per game, but only mustered six in the game without him.

Capel started his Pitt career off 0-5 against Syracuse and their zone defense, but he successfully coached the Panthers to an Orange sweep this year. He must continue to provide steady leadership for the team to have a shot at the tournament.

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