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Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
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Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
By James Carter, Staff Writer • June 20, 2024
Opinion | NHL needs to bring specialty jerseys back
By Jameson Keebler, Senior Staff Columnist • June 19, 2024
Opinion | Hold your elected officials morally responsible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 18, 2024

Pitt men’s basketball reflects on past and future

First-year+guard+Carlton+Carrington+%287%29+drives+past+a+Florida+State+defender+in+the+Petersen+Events+Center+on+Mar.+5.
Nate Yonamine | Assistant Visual Editor
First-year guard Carlton Carrington (7) drives past a Florida State defender in the Petersen Events Center on Mar. 5.

Two years ago, on March 8, 2022, Pitt men’s basketball finished yet another atrocious season under head coach Jeff Capel, posting an 11-22 record. Capel went to the post-game press conference after getting routed by Boston College and decided to let everyone know the truth of his current roster.

“We have to get better players. I mean, that’s the reality of it,” Capel said. “It’s nothing against — it’s not anything personal. We have to continue to add better players. We have to recruit better … We have to continue to develop guys. We have to continue to help them reach their potential as players.”

Capel made due on this comment. He added Nelly Cummings, Greg Ellliot and Blake Hinson via the transfer portal. He recruited Federiko Federiko and two lanky Spaniards in the Diaz Graham twins. He also developed Jamarius Burton and Nike Sibande into ACC award winners. 

In the 2022-23 season, Capel’s newly constructed roster returned the Panthers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016 and gave Pitt basketball fans something to cheer for in March.

But there were doubts about Capel’s philosophy entering the 2023 off-season. He lost three starters, and many wondered if Capel obtaining all of these upperclassmen was just a “flash in the pan.” The 2023-24 season was a testing ground for Pitt fans to see if the 2022-23 was just a brief season of success. 

The 2023-24 season started off looking like Capel’s philosophy was a one-hit wonder. The first-year guards, Carlton “Bub” Carrington and Jaland Lowe, along with junior transfer guard Ishmael Leggett, were not making the difference that the newcomers did the prior season.

Pitt was struggling and couldn’t win key games early in the non conference. This included a 71-62 loss to Missouri. The first-years struggled against the Tigers, shooting 5-15 from the field and had only four assists to the five turnovers they committed. 

But Hinson didn’t see this game as a struggle for the first-years.

“They’re not struggling, they’re learning,” Hinson said. “They’re learning. They’re better than me at handling the ball, let me tell you that. They’re going to be fine. They’re just going to get these learning lessons and become the best freshmen in the conference.”

The first-years did just as Hinson said. During the latter half of the season, they were dominant and showed how talented they are in the ACC Tournament on a national stage. 

In the ACC Tournament, Carrington was the only first-year in the conference to earn an All-Tournament Team honor, in large part due to his 24-point performance against North Carolina. 

Lowe, however, didn’t earn an All-Tournament team honor — but came very close. The Missouri City, Texas, native averaged 14 points, 4.5 assists and did not commit a turnover in the ACC Tournament. 

Like the two first-years, Leggett struggled at the beginning of the year but learned how to play Power Six basketball in the final two months of the season.

The guard from Prince George’s County, Maryland — just 30 minutes from Capital One Arena — showed his best in the ACC Tournament. Leggett had a season-high 30 points, eight rebounds and five steals against Wake Forest, earning himself a spot on the All-Tournament team alongside Carrington.

During Leggett’s stellar performance against Wake Forest, Lowe saw something he sees every day from the junior guard.

“I saw a dog, I saw a leader,” Lowe said. “I saw one of the best players in the country. That’s what I saw tonight. That’s what we see day in and day out from him.”

Sophomore center Guillermo Diaz Graham impressed in the ACC Tournament as well. He completed the tournament shooting 4-7 from beyond the arc, scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Diaz Graham also finished a layup that closed out the Panthers’ 81-69 victory over Wake Forest.

Even with the Panthers’ impressive showing in Washington, D.C., they didn’t earn a bid to March Madness in 2024 like they did in 2023. 

Pitt’s failure to earn a bid to March Madness is disappointing for Panthers fans, but in 2023-24, the program showed that it was growing with Capel at the helm.

Pitt has two first-year guards looking to return for next season. Carrington believes he and Lowe are one of the best duos in the country and that Pitt should have made the NCAA Tournament in 2024.

“I feel like me and Jaland are one of the best backcourts in the country,” Carrington said. “We showed that we belong on the big stage.” 

Although their name wasn’t called during this season’s Selection Sunday, Carrington believes the Panthers will do some damage next season.

“We [will] come back stronger, better,” Carrington said. “I feel like we can definitely make some real noise next year for sure.”

Panthers fans can have their reasons to take caution with Carrington’s remarks. Pitt is losing an All-ACC First-Team player in Hinson, who was the most important player to the 2023-24 squad with his unwavering confidence.

Pitt, however, is most likely returning two first-years who went toe-to-toe with a team that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, a guard who scored 30 against a top-five seed in the ACC Tournament, a center that can get hot from deep and many other key pieces.

The program has come a long way since March 8, 2022. Capel has obtained his “better players,” and other ACC coaches are taking notice.

“Coach Capel does a fantastic job,” North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis said. “The players that they have there, not only are they big-time college players, they’ve got future NBA players over there.”

The ACC Tournament may not have earned Pitt a bid to March Madness, but its efforts gave Panthers fans reason for optimism in the coming seasons. 

 

About the Contributor
Matthew Scabilloni, Senior Staff Writer